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ASK MATT
Palm Tree Fate January 31, 2006

Matt Demers - 23:53 EST

I RETURN IN A FLURRY after deserting you all last Thursday. For that, I sorely apologize. If any of you read my Livejournal, you'll know that last week was quite hellishly busy for me, with two assignments due, a test to oversee, and that very test to mark (which took me a stunning fifteen hours to finish). Couple all of that with my twenty-third birthday outings, and I was unfortunately rendered unable to produce a fourth Q&A column for the week. I'm sure you'll forgive me in time, anyway.

I want to talk about something this week: This Dragon Quest VIII aberration-sequel in the works, entitled "Dragon Quest Yangus". As much as I love DQVIII, I felt wary about a direct sequel, and, lo and behold, the words "RANDOM" and "DUNGEONS" appeared in the last news update... two of my most hated RPG words when in juxtaposition.

Ah well, we can talk about this more later. Let's go now to what you have to say, because that's what this column is all about.




L E T T E R S
Indeed- oh, and more Secret of Mana spoilers (beware)


Hey Matt,

It really seems people don't know how to pick apart a storyline and are really getting the SoM story screwed all around. Flammie doesn't resemble the mana beast like people seem to keep mailing in, but Flammie IS THE MANA BEAST. You find it out once you defeat Thanatos and get into the battle with Flammie. It was actually kindof sad that you have to fight the one who helped you go all this way.

Matt

Hmm, as I mentioned before, it's your word against theirs, because really, my recollection of the precise plotline is sketchy at best. Whether or not you actually fight Flammie, it is a sadder-than-average final "bad guy who isn't really bad at all." Humm.

Anyways, did you still enjoy Dragon Quest 8 as much as you originally did, or do you think it turned out to be the worst DQ game in the series? I think it turned out to be the worst, as I did enjoy it for the first little while, but after 10 hours, it just got worse and worse. It just proves that Level 5 knows how to take an excellent concept and really screw it all to hell, because while it's decent, it was actually borderline suck and pure crap compared to the rest of the series(with the exception of the first which is just a pure level grinding game.)

-andrew- -kupomogli-


Matt

My opinion: You're silly.

Compared to the rest of the series? Have you even attempted playing Dragon Warrior VII? What, exactly, is so absolutely terrible about DQVIII, and why? An argument is worth nothing without premises, and you have none. A game can't just arbitrarily be "pure crap".

That said, you're entitled to your opinion, I suppose. Ironically enough, I thought the first ten hours or so were by far the slowest of the game. After you obtain all of your characters, the battle dynamics get more interesting, the world opens up, and the storyline starts getting more exciting.



Gourmands Unite!


Worthy Matt, Thanks for doing such a stand-up job on the column. I've been reading since Ask Thor, and you are one of the more refreshing Q and A hosts to sit at the desk. Kudos and shiny medals!

Matt

Keep shiny away. Like shiny. Like a cat. I am like a cat. Like shiny. Must watch shiny.

*bat bat*

*lunge*

I wonder if you feel the same way about the recent Tactical RPG crop as I do. (FYI my favorites from this genre are FFT, Disgaea, Vandal Hearts, and Front Mission 4, though I like many others.) How I feel about the state of the genre is Disappointed. I had high hopes last year for games like Stella Deus and Suikoden Tactics, hopes which were dashed by mediocrity. Those games weren't bad, but they weren't terrific, either. (I did enjoy FE: tSS, though that's not quite the style of TRPG that usually butters my bread.) My complaints are of a constructive nature, I assure you.

Matt

You and many. Regular readers will know that I haven't had the opportunity to play any Fire Emblem games, so I can't really say. It's too bad about Stella Deus though, because a lot of people had really high hopes for the game. Same with Suikoden... I've heard mixed things about the game, and sometimes from the same people. I've heard more than once that it's a mix of good and bad, depending on whether you're talking about gameplay, plot, or whatever else. I likey the TRPGs, but there aren't a huge number of them out there, especially ones that became "phenomenons"... or is it "phenomena"?

And here's what bothers me: I don't feel like the TRPG genre has really made a good run of it here. There have been many decent examples of the genre, but not nearly as many gems here as in the more mainline RPG series like DQ, FF, and the rest. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." If you look at the FF genre, this concept has played out in some strange ways, dividing the FF fans into various fan camps, yet the core of the series (until FFXII, it seems) hasn't changed much: build levels, find items, explore a new world and a good story, and beat down evil of varying menace and motive. It has taken nearly a dozen games in the core series for innovation to reach past the ability system and alter something fairly fundamental to the FF series. Similarly, the DQ series has been so successful precisely because most of the series is built upon a successful formula.

Matt

Something to ponder, though: That's not just a formula that's exclusive to Final Fantasy. I would argue that the "core of the series" when it comes to Final Fantasy is really not at all different from the core of Breath of Fire, Xenosaga, Chrono whatever... ALL RPGs could be described by your words, couldn't they? Dragon Quest, too. It's the way that a series actually presents all of these things- where the emphasis is placed, and how the elements are blended together- that determines its success. Having the name "Final Fantasy" printed on the packaging tends to help, too.

You're right, too. The TRPG genre hasn't had nearly the number of releases nor the exposure to help solidify and "mature" the genre, so we've had a mish-mash of this and that, none of which "everyone" has liked since Final Fantasy Tactics, and by "everyone", I mean "the vast majority of people", of course.

Well and good. Innovation ought to happen when the developers have created four or maybe half a dozen or so versions of the same good product, based around the same basic idea. But I don't feel like I have anything close to half a dozen really prime examples of the TRPG genre in each niche


Matt

I think, though, that there are several good franchises that are on the move. You say that Fire Emblem isn't your thing, and that's fair enough, but there have been -many- years of Fire Emblem development to get to where the series is today. What exactly that is is another story; one that I'm not acquainted with. Nippon Ichi has come on strong for the past few years, pumping out one good game and a bunch of semi-all-right others that are built on a similar formula. With rumblings about more from them, and even some hope of another Vagrant Story, the genre isn't about to die, and the existing formulae will continue to build upwards toward the TRPG sky. Maybe. It'd be nice if Ogre Battle games were there to help the process along, but it seems to be a defunct franchise for the time being (at the very least).

Anyway, thanks for writing in. I'm worried that there was more to your letter that got cut off by the mail, so if you have some more to say, by all means, write in again soon.



Magna Farta would mean "Big Farta" or something in Latin. Hahahaha...


First things first: To the reader who wrote in a couple days ago asking about combo mode for Magna Carta, I agree it is unduly stupid and hard to grasp.

How to do it: Set to combo mode. Do the first three button presses. When the "crazy mode" circle comes up, wait for two "buttons" to go through the top circle, then commence pressing for the SECOND move in the tree.

Example: Calintz's "Air Rush" (Fuget style): Press X O O. Let the circle spin through two buttons, then press O O O X O O O O O.

Matt

It's like a Hallmark card make-out session!! AHAHAHAHA!! ...sorry.

Yeah....the only thing the game's really got going for it is its polygons....


Matt

I've heard lots of the same, you know, and while I don't like judging games before I actually play them, it really doesn't seem like Magna Carta has a whole lot to offer besides graphical bliss, which is unfortunate. If anyone feels the desire to defend the game, then speak up and let me know of your feelings!

Ahem. re: Final Fantasy IX. I started the FF series with FFVI. When I saw the original concept art for IX, I fell in love immediately. Garnet and Zidane looked like Celes and Locke. I actually really enjoyed the ability-learning system; I hate levelling up to get that next spell (i.e. IV/X) and changing around equippable items to keep a spell (VII/VIII) flat out infuriates me. Then there's the whole "buying" spells (I, II, V), which makes me just flat crazy. I prefer either the X-2 or Tactics system (spend points) or the IX/VI system of equipping something to learn new things.

The plot fascinated me, and I absolutely LOVE the music, not to mention the references back to older games.

Matt

I do too, to an extent, because it doesn't make sense to me that characters that twiddle their thumbs away throughout an adventure can suddenly leap into the fray and be just as powerful as x ally that has been at your side for the last twenty hours of playtime. For that reason, I'm not a proponent of FF4 or 6-style level-floating either... i.e. Rosa with her crazy levelling-up prison-chair of doom. Does it annoy anyone else that she grows really strong by doing absolutely nothing but bawl her eyes out for four cut-scenes?

Fangirling aside, why IS it that so many RPGamers object to older games? Is it the traditional quality? The graphics? For myself, I've always played games for character and story. As long as I can tell what's going on, it doesn't have to be shiny (though that doesn't hurt). And decent polygons do not an excellent game make; witness Final Fantasy X-2, Legend of Dragoon (ugh ugh ugh, don't even GET me started on the shallow absurdity), or Magna Carta.

Maybe it's the traditionalism. I'm all for innovation, but it should be innovation that WORKS. The tried-and-true works for me if it's presented in a fresh way, which goes back to the whole character/story dynamic.

No, either way, I just don't understand. Please explain to me. What IS it about the neo-RPGamers that makes them whine so about the older games, sine qua non the newer prettier ones would not exist?


Matt

Bear in mind, mon ami, that there will inevitably be trial-and-error involved with innovative processes, and often times, series come to mature through making those very mistakes! For an obvious example, take a look at FF1, 3, 5, and Tactics (and to a degree, FFTA and FFX-2). The job systems of more recent games are far more polished than those that started the series off. Perhaps with the rerelease of FF3, they'll come full circle. I can't wait to see what things will be included!

New age gamers have a few arguments for hating old games: Graphics are a big one, but if they know they're backed into a corner, they'll start talking about "plot depth" and stuff like that. Of course, it's all drivel, especially if they haven't played Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI, or so many other older games with a decent plot. To people like you and I, it's obvious that storylines have always been present. To others, though, "good plot" means "super-detailed, ridiculously convoluted/complicated plot featuring at least three sublayers of symbolism". I dunno; if I wanted to read a book, I'd go read a book. RPGs are RPGs for a reason, you know?

Anyway, I think that the steady rereleases of older Final Fantasy games are slowly convincing some people that the old days aren't all bad. Of course, we have a loooong way to go.



R-r-r-what?


Hey Matt,

Cookies! Gimme gimme gimme! Er, I would like to claim the 1,000 point prize now. I was debating on whether I should hold off and let some the others that are quickly climbing the ranks claim their prizes but I love cookies and I think I deserve it as much as anyone else.

Matt

Receive them you did, as long as webmail didn't decide to take a bite out of my message to you. Webmail seems to like screwing me over these days, for no good reason whatsoever.

Anyway, the cookie compilation has had some publicity! Six of my mom's best recipes, in my humble opinion, shall be yours if you desire upon the acquisition of 1,000 sock points. Yes, it's no new convertible, but I give what I can give.

I was really looking forward to the Yangus game until that random dungeon announcement came out. I think this will be one of those game I will have no trouble finding on the used rack when it eventually comes out. If the price is reasonable I will probably pick it up and try it myself but as a rule randomly generated environments never seem as appealing as non-random ones. I mean can you imagine a random layout work with the see-saw bridges in that one tower in DQVIII? I dunno, I'm skeptical at this new world being as interesting as VIII. We will see though, as long as this game gets released in North America.

Xlash the dwarf berserker


Matt

I'm extremely skeptical that it will be anything near a game of DQVIII's calibre. I've never once played a game based on random-dungeon generators that has been anything near something describable as "mediocre", let alone good. We did Dragon Quest Monsters once, and we don't need to take the step backwards again. Also, did anyone ever play Lufia: The Legend Returns? Yeah, it would have been great if it wasn't for those horrible, awful, incomprehensibly DULL random dungeons. Shame on you, Square Enix, unless you can pull off something truly un-pull-off-able! While my mind hasn't totally been made up, as of right now, my plan is to wait for the bargain bin too.



Project Monkey-Man


Hallo Matt :D!

I should be sleeping right now with school tomorrow, but I checked the column for tonight and found the magic words; Final Fantasy IX~! Well, not magic really but... being a big fan of FFVI and after finding FFVII's non-movie-ending bland and FFVIII just.... ridden with plot-holeys ( I'd like to think about what possessed Cid to turn a random seventeen year old "silent hero" into the "Commander"...) ... that kinda left me with FFIX. :3 Which I like ubermuch and still do btw :O

Matt

It's been a few years since I've beaten Final Fantasy VII, but I've done the deed a few times. I remember the ending fairly well, and I know that I kinda liked it myself the first time I ever did it. Certainly, though, it didn't compare at all to the endings of FF6, 8, or 9, all of which were unbelievably wonderful.

Squall wasn't really a silent hero... he was just a moody youth who didn't ever feel like talking; maybe he was a touch autistic. I doubt we'll ever know, since I have rather significant doubts that we'll ever see a thousand random sequels, prequels, or badalumpalequels from FFVIII the way we are from VII.

FFIX is simplistic, I think, but that's probably one of the things that made it fun for me to play. Unlike some people out there, I simply can't do stuff like dodge 200 lightning bolts consecutively or beat that bloody chocobo time and... well, stuff like that without cheating and all. That's why I found the FFIX's battle system and whole gameplay so much more enjoyable :D! ...not to mention replayable :d I find it hard to think about replaying a game knowing how much I slaved over to get so and so stuff and all :(

Matt

FFX would have had a great strategic turn-based system if they hadn't cheapened it massively by doling out free summons whenever you want them. Not the tiniest bit of summon-time was involved, and not even the smallest P of M, I went out of my way NOT to use them because I felt simply disgusted every time I'd drag them out to massacre my foes quasi-instantaneously, with zero percent financing.

Thus, yeah, sure, I liked FFIX's battle system a bit more, though it was cheap in its own ways. The fact that the Regen effect continues throughout spell animations is among the most appalling of oversights contained within, but there are about 298352 others. Overall, though, at least there was a little bit of challenge from time to time.

Chocobo Hot and Cold was addicting... yup, but I think FFIX's card system was neat too :O It wasn't like FFVIII that was just... well, I dunno about you but I thought there was just too many rules! I found it fun to actually.. play the card game~ I'm not saying anything... remarkable here... am I? v_v;;

Matt

NO! How can you even say that? The card game would have been somewhat interesting if it weren't for a couple of minor things:

a) They don't even TELL you the rules, and they unabashedly note that "figuring them out is part of the fun!", which seems like a rather unfair bias towards computer-controlled opponents from the get-go. Final Fantasy VIII had some tough rules, but I don't think that they're at all over the top, and certainly, they're more graspable than the "mystery rules" of Tetra Master.

b) The card game is useless. COMPLETELY USELESS! What's the point? What's the motivation? What is the purpose? Why should I waste hours of my life doing something in this game when it won't even get me cool items or secret stuff? Final Fantasy VIII did a superb job at this in comparison with Triple Triad.

c) You don't even need the card game to progress. Sure, there's one moment during the storyline that you need to win a few games, but they're ridiculously easy to beat; you definitely don't have to take time and effort to master the game beforehand.

The verdict? We'll have to agree to disagree, because Tetra Master was an awful, horrible waste of space- space that Square could have used to not have had to deny access to many locations-of-interest in Disc 4 (a cheap trick; Final Fantasy VIII is far more guilty of it, too).

Anyway, moving on from those... um, did you notice the parallels between the whole Dragon Ball storyline and FFIXs? I sure did! :O Like, the whole Zidane was sent down to be the Angel of Death, falls in love with life on earth, then big brother comes in tries to destroy it? Reminded me much of Goku and Raditz... not that I'm a big DB fan or anything... Then of course, there was the tails... :O The whole 'genome' thing though they're more monkeys really. The whole hiding one's tails....

Matt

Jeez, girl, SPOILER alert! Maybe you should apologize to the readers that haven't played the game, lest you ruined their lives.

Just kidding, mostly. I'm not actually a DBZ kind of guy, so I'm unaware of any similarities that might exist. There's a guy named Piccolo, right? Eiko uses a piccolo to cast spells sometimes...doesn't she?

.....sorr y if that up there was a biig spoiler :3

The moogles in Final Fantasy IX were so cute :( Why weren't there any moogles in X? Except for bloody plushies? D: And the moogles in FFXII look..... ugly. ._.;; What do you think about that?

~ai-chan :D

PS, All this reluctance by Tetsuya Nomura to touch non!Nomura-made characters is sad :( When he does touch them for KH, he turns Setzer into a spiky-haired Sephy/Cloud lovechild. Oh, why?! D: Would have been funnier to see Edgar spiked :(


Matt

I actually really like the new Setzer design, and I'm very impressed that they are deciding to stick him in the game, as well as quite surprised. Perhaps it'll stir up a tiny bit of extra interest for their upcoming FFVI remake, if and when it ever comes out over here. It would be nice to see a cutened-up polygonized version of Edgar, too, I'll admit, but you never know; we're a little ways away from the KH2 release, and anything could happen.



PHIL*1000: Philosophy of RPGs


Matt,

On the 23 January Q&A, you replied to one letter regarding game mechanics ("Mechanics, and not the auto-body-shop variety"). Part of that reply was as follows:

"I argue that if a player doesn't like battling, then there's something missing in the battle system, which to me, is central in an RPG. In a fully-fulfilling battle system, combat should be involving and exciting; balanced but challenging. If it does things right, I think that "not wanting to battle" would (or should) never be an issue, unless you're just one of those people that plays RPGs solely for the story and you despise violence of all forms, in which case I say this: Go read a book!"

Matt

Yep, I remember that.

I'll start by saying that I agree with you, but I think that that you may have forgotten to show the other side of that coin: stealth (or sheer cowardice--take your pick), among other things--strategy, for instance. Yes, a battle system should be as you stated above: in summary, fun. That said, freedom can be fun, too, if it's properly implemented. The freedom, for instance, to taunt an enemy (before entering any sort of special battle screen), toss a few insults; get it to come after you, then ambush and surround it with the rest of your group, who you conveniently placed in advantageous positions--or just sneak past behind it, or strike up a conversation ("How's the weather?" and "What are the roads like up ahead?" and all that jazz). Options and flexibility are Key.

Matt

Mmm... tasty ideas! See, the idea of having a "Run Away" skill that gets better as you go is rather interesting, but as it stands, there is no RPG that does this. Perhaps there could be, or should be; my point is, though, that if part of the core system doesn't include some sort of involving extra element (or several of them) to compensate, then it's the developer's job to make a battle system that players don't get bored of by the end of the first dungeon. I think there are several ways to achieve this, but many RPGs never do.

The standard game models give you experience for winning a battle, and/or for specific actions. Why not make running away one of those particular experience-worthy acts? Do enough running, and your legs get stronger, right? You get faster, gain stamina, and you learn how to move more efficiently. Plan an ambush (or a bake sale), and you develop your mental capacity, along with any related skills, even if your plan fails or backfires (you learn what not to do). The trick is to make it more involved without being tedious or complex. So, if you want to run away, well that's fine, just hit that control-stick, pray that you and/or your people can run further and faster than whatever's chasing you, and hope that nothing else gets in your way long enough for the baddie to catch up--and keep an eye out, because it might be able to track you by sound or scent, as well as sight. A dragon, for instance, or a pack of hungry dogs--maybe a deformed nymphomaniac.

Matt

Wow, that's what most of the characters in FFX-2 looked like, come to think of it. Maybe they were onto something grand!

There is definitely a lot of untapped potential; the tired old formula works and is great when executed correctly, but so much more COULD be done... new things, innovative things, exciting, never-before-thought-of things. All we need are a few adequately creative minds.

People like freedom, they enjoy their choices, but some like them more than others. Some want no limitations, whilst others want very specific stop-gaps. A solution is to add another layer; give players the choice to make the system simple or involved, or somewhere in between, complete with solid stock settings. Some people want fries with that, some don't, and some want to make the fries themselves; others may want salad (I prefer chili, myself).

Matt

Mmm, chili! I was toying with the idea for dinner tomorrow night, but I think I'll wait until next week. Anyway, total freedom is unrealistic, I think, because in a totally open-ended world, you should be able to take an infinite number of possible actions, which would in turn require an infinite amount of disc space; if you think that $50 is a lot to pay for a game, just wait until you see the price of an infinite-disc game! Also, there is no case in the universe that could fit all of those DVDs, CDs, or what-have-you, anyway.

You say "combat should be involving and exciting; balanced but challenging." It certainly should, and so should the rest of the game--leave no stone unturned. Games are supposed to be fun; well, battles happen to be a part of most games, and maybe some things should be a part of most battles. Ultimately, of course, it's easier said than done. The real magic trick is not the act itself, but determining the words to the spell: suspension of belief in the most realistic way possible (not "realism" but immersive, believable, unreality).

*grins* Then again, maybe you've said all this before. I'm not a regular reader, so I wouldn't know. Oh well, I'm in a contributory mood. C'est la vie.

~ Nashidaran


Matt

Absolutely, Nashidaran. I think that the battle system is a very important part of the "traditional RPG", because battling is central to the building of your characters, and largely, to the advancing of the plot, in most cases- and those two things are what traditional RPGs, old or new, are all about, in some combination. Perhaps in a game where this was not so, things would be different. Oh well! Maybe some wannabe developers will read this column and get inspired by your letter (and my excuse for a response); perhaps then, we'd see an amazing new type of game emerge in a couple of years as a direct result. Unrealistic? You be the judge. Either way, I'm glad you felt so contributory last week! Donations to my mailbox always make me a happy Guelphian.





C L O S I N G
IN CONCLUSION:

So, you guys are probably wondering if I've come up with anything interesting for the... er, oops, this is supposed to be in the next section. See you in a few lines.

Flashay!


So, you guys are probably wondering if I've come up with anything interesting for the SOCK contest in the past almost-week. Well, I have! Almost. Before we get to the new questions, let's remember back to last week.

Oh, right, I decided to give everyone a break with some laughably-easy questions, since, well, you all needed a break from a couple of disastrous days in a row. The first question, #97, asked which alliterative RPG series sold more copies than any other in North America, and of course, the answer was b) Final Fantasy, for 20 points. For 25 points, the d) Golden Key is the only item you can find out of that bunch in Dragon Warrior II.

Question #99:
Ask Rexy! -->Of each of the playable characters in Final Fantasy VI, which one is the youngest? (55 points)

a) Mog
b) Relm
c) Terra
d) Umaro
e) Gau

Question #100:
The battle background displayed while fighting a Marauder Octobot shares its colours with which videogame hero? (100 points)

a) Kirby
b) Megaman
c) Viewtiful Joe
d) Kuros
e) Wario

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 (3 remaining!)
2000 points: Guest-co-host Opportunity #2 (5 remaining!)


Oh ho ho, I hope you enjoyed the column of today! Let me know what you think about random dungeons infecting your games for tomorrow's column. Have you played any games developed using this terrible construction? If so, write in and mourn with me, or fight with me; whichever you choose. Until then, take great care.


slimey@rpgamer.com
***Matt got 22,400 experience for surviving last week!


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