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ASK ANDREW
1996 Was Ten Years Ago? WTF January 8th, 2006

Andrew Long - 1:51 EST

SERIOUSLY, where does the time go? Apparently, into a giant void called "My Mom's House," if the past month is any indication. Yes, I have finally surfaced from my various moving difficulties to darken your weekends, so I'm afraid I'll just have to answer all those delightful letters you've written to Matt. On the downside, I also answered a heavily virus-ridden email in qna@, so to spammers of the world: we were better off without you in 1996!

There, I said it. I guess I don't really mean it, of course; without the intarweb I'd be a pale imitation of myself, or at least done university by now, so I suppose the scourge of spammers is a bearable one for now. For those wondering about the boring minutiae of my absence, essentially it boiled down to me going through the drawn-out process of quitting work, to promote no further ridiculous commute, and sitting around at my mom's. I'll say one thing for it; it certainly gave me an appreciation for how very much time you can kill cooking, so who knows: perhaps I'll share some recipes with you just like Matty. Then again, that would smack of shameless copycattery, so I think I'll just keep my delicious food to myself. I get most of my stuff off the internet anyway, so it's not as though anyone with access to Google needs my help. I like to think I have that certain je ne sais quoi, of course, but I suspect that's just self-aggrandizing nonsense, much as everyone keeps assuring me I am in fact a purveyor of deliciousness. One thing is for certain, however; if you wish to cook more, I cannot recommend enough the purchase of a giant meat cleaver. They make cooking ten times more enjoyable if used properly (read: if used with gusto).

In any event, I have watched a great deal of Cold Cases, seen a good many British crime dramas, winced as various Israeli prime ministers were felled by strokes, Wolf Blitzer proven horribly wrong in Virginia, some other junk I'm probably blotting out due to its depressing nature, and completed a good many crosswords. Also, the Leafs went on a 6 game winning streak and then promptly derailed when Darcy Tucker's stomach decided to shred in mid-onetimer. Huzzah!

So what have you been up to, my little chickadees? PEEP AT ME, I CRAVE YOUR ATTENTION!




L E T T E R S
Ah, the suck morass... I know it well


I am curious if you ever played a game that at first drew you in, and you found yourself wanting to see the next segment no matter what...until you reach a point in the middle when it took a sudden downturn into suckitude. (I know, it's not a real word).

ANDREW


Pshh... Usage is nine-tenths of a word's wordiness, so I say suckitude is a word! In any event, yes, I have experienced the problem you describe many times, when RPGs slide into that dull stretch where you're doing the same thing for the sixth or seventh time and you realize it. It happened a lot with older games, actually; Secret of Mana is a good example, when you think of the Tower of Light and the Moon Palace, both of which were poor excuses for levels. Thankfully, in an action RPG even bad stretches don't last for long, and so that game was redeemed, ultimately, by the last few levels. Many others, sadly, do not receive such absolution, though, and the problem remains one of my biggest stumbling blocks in finishing games (I'm looking at you, Star Ocean 2).

Xenogears (on the old Playstation One) is the game that did it to me. I loved the first CD, but when I got to the second one...well, if I wanted a novel, I could read a real one which has better plot.

ANDREW


You probably shouldn't say that within earshot of any of your fellow readers. They have this crazy attachment to that game that borders on ferocity. I guess gamers as a whole just didn't consider things of such broadly stroked, painstakingly expositioned religious and philosophical significance before Xenosaga came around. Still, I can't help but wonder if the giant robots didn't play a rather large role in making us more receptive to the epistemological intricacies of life...Either way, it seems to have sufficed in getting most people through that legendary disc, a feat I have yet to attempt (my secret shame!).

Additionally, do you think the sheer linearity of the current crop of games is a problem? An RPG should at least give one the illusion of freedom, but most games tend to be a rigid story with fights thrown in to liven up the story.

ANDREW


Bzzt. Non-linearity had its moment in the sun, and what did it give us? Crappy games with crappy randomly-generated dungeons that all lacked soul and any real sense of organization or execution on the part of the developers. The only game that's ever done random level generation to my satisfaction is Diablo II, and even that still leaves you with that gnawing, soulless feeling that can only come from wandering about in a same-feeling environment that happens to have a couple extra ells and whangits tacked on for your general transient amusement. I'll take a rigid story any day, along with the option to open extra areas with sidequests if you so desire. That's historically been the approach that most good RPGs have taken, and I see no reason why that should suddenly have changed (nor, from the looks of games I have recently played, has there really been any gravitation towards excessively linear progression).

Don't get me wrong, combat is definitely a draw in an RPG, but it shouldn't be the only one. As I type this, I can't help but think of the Baldur's Gate series and the Fallout series. At least in both, one frequently had the other options to combat such as theft/sneakery, diplomacy, etc. There aren't too many console RPGs (or PC ones for that matter) that can boast that much.

ANDREW


Ugh. There's another thing that annoys me. Too often, that sort of thing turns into a time-sucking, rote-repetition exercise that sucks all the fun out of the enterprise and really creates no particular illusion of having done anything worthwhile. Ultimately, it's why I stopped playing World of Warcraft; crafting is fun and all, but really the part I enjoyed the most about it was tracking down the Crisp Spider Meat, and I didn't really need the cooking to do that.

Heh, I guess that is why I am fond of the Harvest Moon series. Yes, it is more of a simulation, but that doesn't mean a simulation can't carry more true role-playing elements than something termed an RPG. After all, one can try to improve relations with their neighbors, possible love interests while balancing improving one's farm and livestock. (And yes, I readily admit the point that after a while this can become too repitive and dull.)
ANDREW


And how! For the record, I was supposed to review a certain Harvest Moon for the site, but I just couldn't stomach the thought of 90 more hours of doing the same thing it had taken me 20 painstaking hours to do, no matter how adorable my asshatted kid got. My sorry, Natsume!

Seriously, I don't know how I ever wheedled another review copy out of Klax! You might call it... a travesty! Or maybe I'm just that charming! One thing's for certain, though... I'm quite out of exclamation points.

Finally, was there ever a game who's idea excited you, but the execution was lacking? For me, the whole Persona series falls into this category. The idea of modern teens acquiring the power to summon avatars to battle a wave of demons was intriguing in concept, but poorly implemented (though I did like some of the other parts of the series such as the idea of negotiating with said demons).

Thanks for your time,
Bri


ANDREW


Hmm... Good ideas, poor execution? I would apply that to any game that's rushed out with insufficient development, really, but in terms of specific examples? I usually don't get too crazy about ideas beforehand, aside from really cool stuff like Spore, or the usual hype around FPS features that always precedes their release. With RPGs, I tend to get about what I expect, which is probably not too surprising, given the fact that this site covers RPG news fairly extensively.

In any event, as I have so nicely hijacked your letter, I shall leave it for Matt to respond to or not.



Bog Witch? Where I come from, that's Toad Lady, Mister!


What RPG do you think shows the most creativity in terms of random battles? I am playing FFIV advance and have come the realize that that there is a lot of variety with random battles.

My favorite one is with the Bog Witch with a 3 or 6 Tiny Toads. I find it amusing that after killing all the toads, the witch casts toad on itself.

ANDREW

Tee hee. Stuff like that is what gave Final Fantasy IV its memorability, to be sure. Creative twists on what was a fairly basic battle system such as the EvilWall (or whatever your crazy GBA version calls it now), the magnetic cave where metal equipment couldn't be used, Sentries calling other monsters in the Towers of Bab-il and Zot, and of course, the incandescently creepy Calcobrena, which gave me nightmares for a while when I was younger... The list goes on. All in all, FFIV has its weaknesses as a game, but the creativity certainly can't be faulted.

If I were to make my own choice, meanwhile, I might have to go with Chrono Trigger, if only because of the way it so effectively executed its three-point boss system so consistently, as well as neat little touches like groups of enemies where several were only there for one slightly more powerful baddy to suck them dry of their energy so that it could continue the fight. Again, CT was, at its core, not a terribly complex battle system, but it managed to introduce enough wrinkles to keep it interesting, which too often is what mediocre games fail to seize upon.

On a completely different note, someone used the word nonplussed to describe your reaction to Chrono Trigger. I hope this means that you were bewildered as to why this game gets so much praise. Newspaper editors prohibit the use of the words bemused and nonplussed in articles since many people falsely believe they mean apathy. These words really mean confusion or bewilderment.


ANDREW

Yes, that's one meaning, although bemused can also mean engrossed in thought, which I would say is the most common meaning ascribed to it, at least in my experience. I don't know that I've ever seen it used to signify apathy, but then, I am terrible for finishing my readings, so what do I know?



Payne confuses, amuses, and dare I say... enchants? me


Ys Q&A Guru

isnt it funny matt? my sisters old name was Matthew now its Holly. :D

ANDREW

It is kinda funny if your parents actually named a girl Matthew. Otherwise, I fear you have provided insufficient information for me to make that call, not that I'm Matt anyway.

now i got a question. since children of mana is due out in japan next month do you think they will work with nintendo and do a children of mana bundle and that means a mana color DS with the game?

let me know your thoughts

Paine


ANDREW

I fear that your question quite nearly broke my brain, until I understood what it was you were trying to say just as I was about to tear into your faaaaaace. I think that if such a DS was to be released, it would have been announced by now, since typically that sort of announcement comes with a little more advance warning, so as to inspire sweet sweet hype. I also think that the Seiken Densetsu series doesn't necessarily have the type of following that most games warranting special editions do, so your likelihood is low. You can always hope, though!



The dissenting opinion in landmark case "Everyone vs Loves Dragon Quest VIII"


Okay, I'm gonna do something that might be a little unorthodox, even though I'm obviously not the only one who feels this way.

I... really didn't like DQVIII all that much, having played it through to the end. I found the story simplistic even by Dragon Quest standards and the gameplay to be terribly uninteresting outside of the Alchemy and skill points. This is coming, mind you, from someone who has played all of the other games in the main series and enjoyed a lot of them years ago - it's just that I'm not sure if all of these tired ideas are good enough to measure up anymore. Even the Tension thing becomes horribly undermined at the end of the game.

From an event-based standpoint, not a lot actually happens, either. It's a long game, surely, but much less actually happens in it than in many games that are half as long. It's strange. And the Hero? He's not only unable to set himself apart through words, he doesn't do it through actions, becoming somewhat of a nonentity unless he sort of inadvertently changes something without trying.

Sure, I believe the idea is that you're supposed to BE the hero, except that you really don't get to decide anything about him; The game does that for you. As it stands, he's not on the upper end of "silent" leads with characters that actually involve themselves or at least let you decide. This was passable enough years ago, but I don't feel like tolerating it now.

The music is pretty good, save for the battle theme... which is, I dare say, terrible. Not that it's anything unusual for the series to have mostly sub par battle music. Hey, though, the VA is fantastic and I don't even need to comment on how good the game looks.

Okay, so I'm bashing the game on some level. I DO think the game is somewhat above average, but I still have to mark it as my 2005 "Biggest Letdown". Sorry, Dragon Quest, but worry not! I'm fully aware of the amount of distaste I could potentially garner for this little rant.

Alas...

Happy 2006 and whatnot.:P


ANDREW

Thanks for sharing, Aion. You, sir, are worse than Hitler. There. Was that what you were hoping for? ^_^



Squoingy, Squoingy!


I actually agree with you on Chrono Trigger. When I first played it, I was amazed but with all the subsequent play throughs, I feel that maybe I was just overreacting. When you look at it in a calm manner and not a “OMGSQUARECHRONOTRIGGERPWNES” way, you see that the game isn’t really the be-all, end-all of RPGs. It remains an awesome game but yeah, there is something thing(s) missing from it that really could have made the masterpiece more of a masterpiece.

Sincerely,

Vincent P. Del Vecchio


ANDREW

Well, I have also recently completed a playthrough, and I will concede, it doesn't quite have the same feeling of utter awesomeness, but then again, that's probably because I finally went and finished all the sidequests, which is something I didn't do before. Now that I've seen pretty much all the game has to offer, I am a little less in awe of it, although I maintain that for its time, Chrono Trigger remains a masterpiece, however much you might want to chalk it up to Square fanboyism, which I really can't be accused of in most cases anyway. Still, I never used to add that particular qualification, so I suppose time has indeed been unkind to Chrono Trigger... how ironic.





C L O S I N G
IN CONCLUSION:

So anyway, I'm back. I would have done a longer column, but since I'm stealing Matt's letters, it would be rude to steal more than I absolutely have to, in my estimation. Anyhow, Matt will be back tomorrow to answer your questions, solve your problems, and mention your unmentionables, so until Friday (yes, it really will be Friday!) may all your mishaps be creamsicle-related.

castomel@rpgamer.com
Andrew Long is glad he moved, but sort of wishes his damned loft would get built already.

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