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ASK MATT
Election Hangover January 25, 2006

Matt Demers - 03:03 EST

UGH, I JUST HAD A three-and-a-half hour nap, and it's left me feeling incredibly groggy, as if I were in some sort of dream-world dimension. I'm just typing here, and the words are coming out of my fingers, but I'm not really thinking about what to write... la, la, la. You should have seen me in class earlier on in the day; after two and a half hours of sleep, I felt more like a zombie than a dreamer, and I spent the entire class fidgeting, stretching, and doodling furiously to prevent a lapse into unconsciousness. I think I'm a bit better now.

*STREEEEEEEEEEEETCH*

All right. Let's begin! I asked you yesterday about battle systems and Final Fantasy IX, so let's see what you had to tell me.




L E T T E R S
Memories of life and Final Fantasy IX


I found FFIX one of my favorites in the series. True the game was a little easier than most, but I found the story more uplifting than the other playstation counterparts. After two games with two whiny protagonists, it was refreshing to have a hero like Zidane. Being an "old school fart" like myself, I also loved seeing all the references to previous games, like fighting the four elemental fiends from the first FF game and Garland, the FF music, the FF3 airship reference, the going back to getting the crystals, yeah I could go on.

Matt

The story was really good; it's one of my favourite plots of the Final Fantasy series, because it has a wonderful cast of villains, in my opinion, and the nicest twists that came into play much more gracefully than they did for, say, FFVIII. Final Fantasy X, also, had a pretty bland plot from beginning to end for a Final Fantasy game.

My problem with FFIX was in the execution of that good plot. The "crystals" weren't really that well-defined in my opinion; certainly not to the extent that they were in Final Fantasy IV or V. I will forever rue the fact that the developers were too lazy to make boss fights for each of the four fiends. I was SO excited to fight them, and when I discovered that you only get to actively participate in ONE battle made the entire scenario seem sloppy, lazily-produced, and super-rushed. Queen Brahne was NOT impressed.

I do see your point regarding equipment being a simplistic way to upgrade your abilities, but on the other hand, I like seeing that characters were a bit more customizable than previous games. I found it boring that any character in FFVII could be strong or magical. It made the characters feel like they lacked personality. I know that may sound strange since that game was all about deep characters. But think about it, aside from Aeris, who REALLY specialized in magic in that game? When I played it was usually Tifa, but for another person, it may have been Red XIII for example (I've never tried that so I don't want a flock of people telling me how bad Red XIII would be as a magic user. It's kind of rhetorical).

That's just my two cents.

-Naia

Matt

Wait, I think you mean that you're glad that Final Fantasy IX was less customizable, don't you? Or "more specialized"; either one. Final Fantasy IX keeps characters on pretty specific "job paths"-of-sorts, so you can't really customize them at all, in comparison to Final Fantasy V, VI, VII, and VIII. I personally like some sort of a combination of the two, and Final Fantasy X does that best, in my opinion.

PS: I also LOVED Chocobo hot and cold. It's one of the most addicting side quests I've played in a while. The game got one of my apartment mates, who is not a gamer to actually play through the game and she loved it. She's a mom now so I don't think she has the time, but for a while FFIX converted a non-gamer into a gamer, for what it's worth.


Matt

I'm pretty sure that my mother actually gave Chocobo Hot and Cold a try, too... I'm pretty sure I spent a good many hours of my playtime absorbed in it, and when I found out that there were MORE "arenas" besides that first treesy place, I was even more happy about it. Also, I've now got the Vamo Alla Flamenco going through my mental music box now. *clap clap clap*



Gourmands Unite!


Hello, You.

Quina not fitting into parties? Where's that come from? I'm guessing you didn't go all obsessive-compulsive with hir. Much like I tend to try to steal stuff whenever I can in games where I can do it (except from games where one gets the Steal ability too damn late to actually make use of it. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Shadow Hearts 2. As fun as the game was, I couldn't bother to do the New Game + thing, which I'm guessing the Steal ability was meant for. Anyway), the gluttonous thing got to eat just about every new monster I could lay my grubby polygon mitts on. With a nearly-full Blue Magic list, the thing is invaluable, and sie's the reason why I managed to off the final bosses on my first try.

So, a question... Which characters have singularly saved your ass in hard battles in RPGs?

- Person -


Matt

Person, I just have to say that while I really like the idea of Blue Mages, it's always difficult to make them useful by just playing through a game without actively searching for specific monsters and/or levelling up, which I'm not really big on. Otherwise, Quina has unreliable dinnerware-based attack power that I was never able to figure out the math behind, and his/her trance really wasn't that great either, compared to other allies. I'll bet that IF you had a full blue-magic list, the reason you finished off the final boss with such ease was because it took you so many extra levels-gained in order to track down and eat all of those monsters (even though some of the skills ARE really useful).

Funny thing, though; one of the best tales of character survival came from exactly this game during the final boss for me. Final Fantasy IX has the final battle that was "closest" for me; closer than any other Final Fantasy final boss experience in the history of the series. I think my final party was made up of Zidane, Steiner, Eiko, and Amarant, and after a certain attack, just about the entire party was wiped out; the first time I was luckily able to revive myself by Phoenix, but soon after, he squished everyone and my whole party was slain, with the exception of Amarant, who I had bestowed with Auto-Life in a way I can't quite remember. I then managed to survive until he went into trance-mode, whereupon I used his revival Elan to bring everyone back up onto their feet. Soon after, bigbad fell and the world lived happily ever after. It truly was a scary battle though!

Thanks for the letter, Mr. Person.



This reminds me of Wonka's Golden Tickets


Hello Matt,

Thought I'd drop a line to you and your column, since I've written before several times, and enjoy the feedback. Anyway... onto my letter.

Say you have a magical ticket that is good for any one RPG in existence that you do not own, but would love to play... what game would you choose? I'm going for Koudelka, which I heard has loose ties to Shadow Hearts, though I could be wrong. Even so, the game looks great from what I've seen on the net, and I believe the game was not released here in the states.

Matt

Nope, you're right, and in fact, I believe that RPGamer's game page lists them under the same series (Koudelka). How about that, hmm?

If I had such a ticket, I'd probably invest it in Earthbound. Before you jump all over me, YES, I know I'm a huge fan of the game- but I've only played rental copies or borrowed copies, and I've yearned for my very OWN copy for a really long time. Even though I don't have my SNES up here, it would just be nice to be able to say "that game is mine." If only the game didn't sell for $100 way back when...

If, on the other hand, you're looking only for games I haven't played at all, I'd have to say that the original Lunar is what I'd trade in that ticket for. I've heard nothing but good things about it, and it sounds like a game that I'd really be able to enjoy.

Next, I have another question that I think is cool. When you play RPGs, what do you do along with the game playing, if anything? I'll give you an example. When I play a good RPG, I like to have a bag of pretzels handy, along with a soda. I sit at the screen, sometimes captivated by the game, and idly eat pretzels and drink Coke. They go good with game-play.

Matt

Wow, that's an interesting question. I'd have to say that it depends on where I am. If I'm right here in my room playing an RPG, I'll inevitably be laying four feet to my left in my bed with the blankets pulled up to my chest. I don't often have junk to eat on-hand here, so food isn't usually a factor. At home, though, in my family's living room, I'll usually lay on the floor with my front third on top of a big couch cushion. It just works better than laying on the sofa, for some reason. Often, at my family's place, I'll have a bowl of chips or snacky stuff of some sort that I'll quickly munch through.

Finally, which is more important : knowing the meaning of life, or knowing how to beat those hard puzzles in Lufia 2?

Thanks for allowing me to impart a few notes of philosophy on you and your readers. Great columns as always! Until next time, I remain....

-Greg in Philly


Matt

Clearly, the meaning of life would be a far greater thing to know, but man, it's just so FRUSTRATING to get through those puzzles in Lufia 2, it'd be a toss-up after spending enough time on them. Would you happen to have the ability of sharing that meaning of life to me? If so, please e-mail me personally and we can work something out... I'm hoping that it has nothing to do with giving money to televangelists, or lawyers for that matter.



Ah, the strange $MMOR.PG


Matt,

As a WoW player, I'm constantly faced with the dilemma of whether to quest or grind for my experience. If I don't know the story (playing an ally for the first time) I'm a little more inclined to quest, but grinding can work if you do it properly and grind a mob appropriate to your class, or just a generally "easier to kill than they should be" mob (wtfogres? Ogres are supposed to be teh l33t!)

Matt

I would have thought so, but only because they're powerful in the original Final Fantasy... and, of course, they're the best monsters to kill if you're saving up for exorbitantly-priced items. And, they're pink! Tee-hee.

Aaaaanway, I think all games have a level grind (or potential for one), some developers just take the time to blend it in to the game better than others. Par examplé: DQ games are merciless compared to the majority. Harder fights. You need more to buy less. To combat this, you go exploring aaallllll the time for gear and elite monsters to murder for their chocolate coins. By doing so, you also fight an ass load, because the style and rendering of the map will always coax you along a liiiiitle more, because maybe that nook or cranny will have a chest in it! AND I MUST HAVE IT! If you choose not to explore, you can run around in circles by the road for encounters, but what fun is that. Or you can try and thunder along and get wiped more wantonly, wasting the little money you do make on ressing and herb. And the herb should never be wasted.

Matt

Nope, it should certainly not! At least it's easier to buy the little things in bulk now. With the item bag and the ability to buy items like herbs en masse, things are a little bit nicer in DQVIII than they were back in the NES days, when you had thirty-two (or sixty-four, depending on the game) item spaces TOTAL, and the only "bag" that existed was at the bank/vault, where you could store your excess things for a price.

I think that DQ games, and particularly DQVIII, are masterful at getting you to fight often to do anything at all. While the battles are what I enjoy most about DQ, it's an interesting balancing-act, because this is almost certainly a turnoff for many others. It's a very different flavour than what most popular RPGs (for North America) have evolved into, for sure, but I think it's very likable in its own way. You make a great point though- the level grinding that might be necessary is automatically woven into one of the greatest aspects of the game; the exploration that becomes so addictive very early on. Thus, gaining levels isn't nearly as boring as it could be (and often is, in many previous DQ games).

My question: Is anyone else out there an MMORPGamer (as much as it makes my skin crawl to use that term) actively, as well as a console gamer? I grew up on console, but Warcraft II was the first PC game I liked on a PC, so I played III as well. Then wtfdiabloistehl33t. and BAM, this whole "playing with other people" game with some RPG elements -and- from the "only dev company I trusted on PC" thing gets thrown on a kid. a kid who was used to (most of the time whilst gaming) sitting on his floor in the dark/early morning essentially reading a fun ass book with a controller. Then comes WoW, even better than Diablo in terms of content/construction, and even more micro-managable goodness and RPG elements. It's like fishing for junkies with crack. I was hooked. Now, much to my chagrin, I spend my time torn between playing the consoles I <3 , or advancing my onscreen-killingmachine. Has this happened to anyone else? Has this potential situation kept anyone away/off MMORPGs? And to you Matt: Have you played any MMOs? If not, which is most appealing and why. If so, which and why. Cheers, keep up the smashing job, and thanks for encouraging longer letters. I get carried away oft.

ndhl


Matt

I know from personal experience that MMORPGs can easily turn people away from their consoles forevermore. My ex-roommates used to be huge RPG fans (not physically huge, just, you know what I mean). Unfortunately, though, with the dawn of World of Warcraft, I lost them to their rooms forevermore. To this day, they still play pretty religiously, as far as I know. I haven't seen them much at all, so that's pretty good evidence, anyway.

I actually haven't played a single online game at all, and there are a few reasons for it. Firstly, my time has become increasingly precious in recent months; from the sounds of it, MMOs are a huge investment in that respect. Also, I've said it before and I'll say it again: I really don't like the idea of BUYING a game, and then having to keep pumping money into it, month after month. In a year, I could spend enough money on it to buy me three other not-online games, which to me are more likely to contain the character development, plot, and battle systems that I love. From the sounds of it, these are seemingly only found in the not-online world of gaming. One of the biggest factors to me, though, is lifespan. What happens in fifteen years when only a couple hundred of people are playing any given game? After investing all of that time and money (and correct me if I'm wrong), the game gets shut down, and you can never play it again.

Ever.

Something doesn't ring well with that, especially given that I'm an RPGamer that still LOVES to play titles that were released almost twenty years ago. I won't be able to do that with an online RPG, and that's one of my biggest reasons for not getting involved.

The one that looks most appealing to me, though, is certainly Final Fantasy XI. Perhaps it's because I'm still a little bit bitter that it did indeed go online; perhaps it's because I'm suffering from five long years of NO new Final Fantasy releases. No matter what I say about MMORPGs, I am certainly interested in seeing what the hubbub is about, and I wish I could know first-hand where Square Enix decided to take the series. Ah well.

Thanks for writing in, ndhl, and don't worry: length isn't important. Longer letters give me more to talk about anyway, after all, since I like to go off on tangents and talk myself in circles, etc.



Big fluffy ones at that


Hello my slimey friend

I still love final fantasy 7’s battle system, firstly because I can’t stand games that don’t allow you to play all characters (cries about new FF). You can’t work out a strategy and your playable character has to be able to cure because your team mates never do it to who you want and at the right time (tales of evil symphonia of badness). I also appreciate that every character can use every spell at the level the spell is leveled up to, this be mucho good because not only does it mean you can have as many healers or magic users as you want, but each character doesn’t have to learn the spell from it’s lowest level, and you can level up a character by giving them one of those pink HP plus materia’s.

Matt

Don't be too sad! It is true that while it seems a bit awkward, you CAN jump in and issue any command you want to any of your allies in Final Fantasy XII, so don't despair.

I really love the Materia system of Final Fantasy VII, but the game marks a serious turn towards a complete lack of specialization for each and every character; the only individuality when it comes to battle is found in Limit Breaks. To me, that's a bit of a drawback.

I don’t like games where attacking is so much more powerful than magic attacks, because then you’re not forced to use your head but instead press the auto button. A game should never have to have an auto button NEVER, then again it was kind of useful in shin megami tensei:Lucifers Call when annoying little weak things would pop up and you’d just be like “get lost, dudes I’m autoing you guys to death” auto auto auto…..um…yeah.

Matt

I agree, especially since attacking is almost always a "for free" action that doesn't penalize you, while magical abilities are almost always limited by MP or what-have-you. One of the guiltiest games for this, I found, was Final Fantasy VIII. Why on earth would you ever cast Ultima for 800 damage if a) whatever value the spell is junctioned on would plummet if you DID cast it; and b) your normal attack is capable of doing five times as much damage as the spell anyway? This, of course, is just one example of a million; balancing issues like these should be caught by whoever tests the games and then corrected by whoever does that sort of thing.

It's true though; games really do become dull to me too when each and every battle is winnable by just attacking mindlessly, no matter where you are in the game.

I left the room to eat a waffle when I had a battle in Wild Arms 3. You like waffles?

-Lucybeetle


Matt

Big, warm, soft ones, drenched in butter (not margarine... ugh) and lots of maple syrup. YES, I love 'em. I'll give you my address if you promise to send me some...



A co-host?


Hello again!

I have to say I partially agree and partially disagree with Flamethrower's second observation on battle mechanics.

Matt

Explain yourself. NOW!

*hiccup*

Timing attacks can be annoying, but boy oh boy, do I love timing for defense/dodging. Sometimes, I got annoyed with timing in Super Mario RPG, but usually when I did that, I just ran other attacks that didn't require quite as much timing. ^_^ The timing for dodging, though, I simply adored! Definitely worth the agony of precise timing.

Matt

Yes, and the Mario RPGs have aged so well over time. I suspect that the teams behind battle development in the most recent games are pretty smart-alecky guys and/or girls, because some monster attacks throw me off in ways that often strike me so funny that my eyes tear-up with laughter, causing even more mis-timings, more hits, greater damage, more laughing, and cyclic positive reinforcement, sometimes leading to a terrible game over screen. Too bad my New Year's resolution wasn't to become more robotic, because then I wouldn't suffer from problems like these. I shall practice below.

As for an example of a timing battle mechanic I really loved, I'd have to say Legend of Dragoon. Yes I know you detest this game, but I really liked the box-timing battle system. It took a lot of precision to get the higher attack combos, but I never did get frustrated with it. I think it kept the turn based system interesting.

MATT-06YY

AFFIRMATIVE; LEGEND OF DRAGOON IS INFERIOR. SOME PARTS OF BATTLE SYSTEM WERE PASSABLE. BUTTON-PRESSES WERE ACCEPTABLE; SEE ABOVE LETTER. GOODNESS OF BUTTON TIMING OFFSET BY ABYSMAL SKILL USE METHODS. REQUIREMENT TO SHIELD ONESELF TO RESTORE MINUTE AMOUNTS OF HP FOR TEN CONSECUTIVE TURNS WHEN ENDANGERED CAUSES ARTIFICIAL CORTEX TO SEND SELF-DESTRUCTION SIGNALS TO MAINFRAME. BEST TO PLAY WITH OTHERS TO AVOID SELF-DESTRUCTION.

On the other hand, I usually have problems with battle mechanics that are not intuitive. Ones that are not easy to pick up. Unlimited Saga is one of those systems. You have to pick all actions up front (or so far as I can see), and then all fight and magic actions are accompanied by a semi roulette system. I still haven't figured it all out... Guess I should go read the manual, eh?

MATT-06YY

XENOSAGA: EPISODES I & II CONTAIN COMPLEX BATTLE SYSTEMS THAT SIGNIFICANTLY LOWER SYSTEM PERFORMANCE. ENSURE ALL OTHER PROGRAMS ARE NOT RUNNING BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO PROCESS. AFTER PROCESSING, 21262 ELEMENTS WERE FOUND TO BE SUPERFLUOUS IN BATTLE SYSTEM. CONCLUSION: BATTLE SYSTEM IS OVERCOMPLICATED SIMILAR TO REPORT RE: UNLIMITED SAGA; MAY ANALYZE AT A FUTURE DATE.

Oh, that makes me wonder, are you a manual reader or not? And thinking of manuals, what RPG(s) have you run across that you absolutely _must_ read the manual to play and what have you run across that have a pretty good tutorial or intuitive system that you can pick up and go without a manual?

Done babbling!
MagRowan


Matt

All right, that's enough of you, robo-dude. Anyway, I'm definitely a manual reader, mostly because I don't have the ability to actually PLAY new games as soon as I get them, thanks to my tendency to be way too busy to do anything fun. Thus, the manual acts as my teaser-of-sorts: "Yes, I have the game" and "Yes, this is how I play it". *sigh*

In general, though, I DO like to give manuals a flipping-through before I play them, generally, and that's the way I used to be back when I was young and overloaded with free time, too. Is that uncommon? I'm not sure.



And now, for something a bit different...


You must stop playing Final Fantasy if you are applicable to any of the following situations:

1. Final Fantasy (e.g. numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,10-2,11,12,Crystal Chronicles,Tactics,Tactics Advance and/or Mystic Quest--Legend,Adventure series do not apply) was your First RPG. And you base your judgement and/or interest in/of other rpgs and other games solely upon comparison of it.

2. Advent Children and any other Final Fantasy related film and/or animation, are all the movies you are interested in watching.

3. Final Fantasy is the only thing topical that will interest you in casual conversation.

4. Your idea of creative and inspired writing is Final Fantasy Fanfiction. This also applies to related Final Fantasy Fanart.

5. Spikey/Silvery Hairstyles, Large Zippers, Chains, Spikes, extremely out-of-proportion and/or illogical weaponry that does not apply to known science (i.e. the Nomura Look) are considered by you to be Fashion Trendy or "attractive". This also applies to the "Amano Look" which has similarities to the Nomura Look except with more feminine appearance and paler and/or darker colors. Other design works by Yoshitaka Amano including Vampire Hunter D, Gatchaman, and possibly Guin Saga may not necessarily apply, but take caution when exposed to said works.

6. If you have ever written any sort of Plot Analysis or speculatory/gameplay FAQ, created analytical/debatable discussions in forums/chat/e-mail, or anything in great effort and detail related to and regarding Final Fantasy.

7. Final Fantasy Music, Art, Toys, Plushies, Statuettes, Resin and/or other material Model Kits, Doujin Games (read: Fan-based games of Final Fantasy), reading/creating Magazine Articles, Webpages, Webshrines, Webrings, Fan-created and any other Final Fantasy-related material manufactured by Squaresoft, Square-Enix, or other entities involved are your sole interest and considered a hobby or collecting trend by you and/or friends/relatives/neighbors.

If these apply to you, you must cease and desist all play and/or related actions regarding Final Fantasy, they are hazardous to your mental, physical, psychological, religious/spiritual, and social health.

Upon rejection of things related to Final Fantasy symptoms may include:

Not knowing what to do with your life, idleness, boredom, restlessness, insomnia, writing your own RPG ideas, abandonment of friends who like Final Fantasy and have not rejected it, extra money in your bank account/wallet due to not spending money on FF merchandise, more free time on your hands, a social life may develop, expanding ideas, non-Final Fantasy-related Mental Stimulation, expanding of your I.Q., gaining of friends who have stated that they hate Final Fantasy, as well as increased awareness of the real world.

If you, a friend, a relative, or someone you love has symptoms such as these, don't hesitate to call the following Hotline:

1-888-GET-REAL (1-888-438-7325)

Or visit us on the web at www.finalreality.com

The Fact Remains:
FINAL FANTASY IS PROPAGANDA, FACE REALITY.

Note*** The views and opinions held by Blade do not represent those of RPGamer.com, its staff, its members, Square-Enix, or fans of Final Fantasy. The phone number and webpage are a fabrication for the purpose of humor and social-political commentary


Matt

You, my friend, are both a genius and a bitter man. Might I commend and spank you simultaneously? At any rate, don't make fun of the fanpeople; they know not what they do.

And now, back to me.





C L O S I N G
IN CONCLUSION:

Actually, I'll save more letters for later, so that I have a giant cornucopia spilling with letters to choose from for tomorrow's column. It's more fun that way! Also, I have homework that I need to do. What does that have to do with anything?? Well, I'd try to get you guys to help me out with it, but I'm afraid my assignment just won't fit into sock-style multiple choice questions.

Flashay!


You guys really "sucked hardcore" yesterday. The suckage was worse than I've seen in many years... I might have to throw a few gimmes out there today, because at the current rate, no one is going to get to 2,000 points ever, let alone in my lifetime. Hee hee... but thanks for trying!

#95 was done pitifully by most- I think that two people got it correct, for the 75 points. I really tricked you guys, and I'm diabolically proud of it: The majority of you thought it was from Chrono Trigger. "Where hast everyone gone? Dost thou think it is my breath?" is actually a quote from Dragon Warrior II, and the person who says it is a random guy standing outside a small building. "Everybody" is c) Behind a door locked with a golden key, in an underground town named Wellgarth, and there are some kick-ass shops down there too. Mwahahaha...

#96 was kind of random, and I hope that the box art for North America was the same as it was for elsewhere; otherwise I'm in big trouble. b) Valvoga is nowhere to be seen on the box, though, and I'm-a-giving people 50 points who said that, because the box is right in front of my face at the moment.

Remember, though--even if you get both questions wrong, you still get a minimum of 16 points for trying, so don't despair! 2,000 points will land you beside me in the next guest columnist position!

Question #97:
What alliterative RPG series has sold more copies than any other in North America? (20 points)

a) 7th Saga
b) Final Fantasy
c) Chrono Cross
d) Might and Magic
e) Legend of Legaia

Question #98:
Which of the following items can you find in the original Dragon Warrior II? (25 points)

a) Sky Crest
b) Fairy Flute
c) Thief's Key
d) Golden Key
e) None of the above

Things to work for (the SOCK item shop!):

400 points: Tilde (infinite number remaining!)
700 points: The Final Fantasy 1 "Official" Crazed-Chipmunk-Hold-your-Ears Zipfile Soundtrack (1 remaining!)
1000 points: The Mattie's Mom Cookie Recipe Compilation (4 remaining!)
2000 points: Guest-co-host Opportunity #2 (5 remaining!)


As always, send in more potential sock questions of your own! If I choose to publish yours, you'll receive double its worth in points. Also, there are a few goodies left in the SOCK shop other than the Guest-Host opportunity; if anything tickles your fancy and you have adequate pointage, give me a shout, and I'll hook you up with whatever your heart desires.

That's all I've got to say for tonight! I'm off to get over my horrible election hangover...my first one ever, admittedly. Perhaps for next time, some people would like to write in about the new announcements pertaining to Dragon Quest Yangus? The thought of randomly generated dungeons just spoiled my appetite for that game about three thousand times over. *sigh*

Now, go do something productive, like writing in. Otherwise, goooodbye!


slimey@rpgamer.com
***Matt missed out on tasting his ballot


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