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ASK MATT
Boredom Strikes April 12, 2006

Matt - 02:29 EST

FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME this year, the thermometer in my dad's office cracked 70 degrees this afternoon! The shorts are out, the barbeque is all fired up, and it's almost time to open the pool! Admittedly, we probably won't do that last one for another month or so, but it's still so nice to know that summer is just around the bend. The sun and the warmth make me a most happy soul indeed in comparison to the miserable beast I can become during the gruesomely endless drudgery of winter.

So, what have you dished up for today? What did the mailman drag in? I'll get started on answering that question right about now.




L E T T E R S
Now, class, it's time to talk about boys and girls.


Hello to whomever is doing the Q 'n' A today,

Just a comment on the whole male heroes and female heroes discussion. I don't worry too much about whether I am playing as a guy or a girl, though it would be nice to see some more female heroes. As Chinroku said, in games like Harvest Moon it makes more sense to have a choice between a male or female character. It would be hard to do that in some other RPGs though because then the developers might have to make somewhat separate storylines.

As for why guys have a harder time playing the opposite gender than girls do: It could be that since there are more games with male heroes than female heroes, girls just get more practice playing as guys than guys do playing as girls. Well there's my two cents worth.

Sincerely,
Anna


Matt

Thanks, Anna, for writing in on the issue! It's true that the typical RPGaming girl has spent a lot more time playing leading roles of the opposite gender than their male counterparts. Perhaps that's only one of many reasons that they're so outnumbered... do you think that it's possible that certain members of the girl-gaming-group (ooh, I like that one; I'll refer to them as the "GGG") have a similar problem relating to male leads?

Indeed, in this age of spectacular graphics and stunning voice acting, it would be a very difficult task to piece together game including a lead character of optional gender, unless they happened to be a silent hero. Interesting tangential thought, by the way: "All silent heroes are male." True or false?? I think it might be true.



Weirdness, by Arros.


I hope in the remake they have some thing later where you can view the whole opera minus the oltros(sp?) fight

Matt

Oh, in the GBA remake of Final Fantasy VI, you mean, if and when it ever actually comes out? Yeah, that'd be nice. Also, Impresario leaps up and down at the end of the whole opera scene telling everyone to "stay tuned for Part 2!!" in the original; maybe we'll finally get to see what this Part 2 really is. Will the dramatic life of Maria come to a fittingly fantastic conclusion?

Anyway now onto my weird questions

Question 1: Do you think RPGs will ever come under fire for the names and implications of their status effects? Characters in an rpg can be Blind, Mute, Paralysed but can be cured in an instant yet in real life those conditions cannot be cured so part of me wonders if some anti discrimination against disabled person with come in a wreck havoc

Matt

I think that most blind people would agree that they'd be far less adept at leaping and slashing with accuracy than someone with full faculty of their vision, so I don't really think that there is any discrimination, per se, going on here. How about that Berserk status ailment? All of the rageaholics out there might go bonkers with anger over that one. And I know for a fact that the sculpture in the main square in downtown Guelph is just LIVID over "stone." Wouldn't you be? Portrayed in that way... after all, statues don't necessarily have to be grey! They could be black, white, or even gold.

I sincerely doubt that RPGs will respond to the cries of the paralyzed folk of the real world by making wheelchairs available for use during a "Hold" spell. Here's a different story, though: What about a character who actually IS confined to a wheelchair? That could be an intriguing avenue that has yet to be explored or developed, and one that I'd be more than happy to see.

Question 2: What are your thoughts on characters in RPGs that are nothing more than an extra hand in battle with no real reason to be there at all other than filling the roster? I've recently ran into this problem, and regardless of how cool a character might be I'm not to apt to use them if they have no real reason to be fighting the big evil of the world, or their reason has drizzled away to nothingness since they joined...

And that's all ^^''

Arros Raikou

*hopes the weirdness gets posted*


Matt

Ah, come now... pointless characters are the very essence of RPGs! I can think of an enormous number of games that include at least one character with very little reason to even be included in the storyline at all. Why? Who knows; it's pretty much tradition by now. Peppita, Gau, Gabo, Quina, Bleu, nearly everyone in Chrono Cross... and that really only starts the list. This is no new phenomenon, that's for sure, and I'm also sure that we'll continue to see a whole lot more pointlessness in the years to come, like it or not.



Memories of... 1997? Or was it 1998?


I'm playing Ogre Battle 64 right now. Last time, I lost around Chapter 3 scene 1, halfway through the game. A lot of times you can't really "lose" in RPGs, but in OB 64 you can. Basically your team, called a "battalion," is not strong enough to win your next battle, and you are out of money to train them (training your guys costs money and makes them stronger). See? I am going to try again with a different strategy and see if it works.

Flamethrower


Matt

Ogre Battle 64 was my only real experience with the game, after I rented it for a 3-night period from Blockbuster back during my high school years. I think that my parents were gone when I got it, and I have the strangest memory of my two older sisters fighting bitterly over pizza money or something while I was trying to enjoy it. It's strange, how you can remember and associate such strange details with specific RPGs, isn't it?

Anyway, what I played of it was exceptional as well as exceptionally challenging. It's pretty clear that it was one of the strongest RPGs for the Nintendo 64, which probably shouldn't come as any surprise, since there were how many... three? I can remember running into a similar difficulty as your own, though, after about 15 hours of gameplay or so, but since I had to go return the game, I never got to resolve the issue. I wish you the best of luck, though!



A difficult question to answer


Hi Matt!

RPG difficulty is a question that comes up every so often for me. What, if anything, makes an RPG difficult? Often, if a battle is giving trouble, the player can just level up, get better gear or otherwise increase their party strength. Often there's so much customization in a game (FFT is the huge culprit there) that the game becomes very easy once the player has a firm grasp on the game mechanics. Don't get me wrong though - FFT usually isn't 'easy' during anybody first playthrough. In fact, it's usually fairly hard.

Matt

Aha, and herein lies a problem, because "difficult" in terms of video games is a bit of an ambiguous term. You're exactly right: Difficult can mean "complex to learn," "challenging in battle strategy," "easy to die in," "hard to figure out," or even "infuriatingly likely to crash." Some of these reasons are good, and some of these reasons are terrible; I shall explain more below.

My friend says she sucks at games. She, in fact, barely ever tries any non-rpgs and has resigned to her "I suck at games" fate. That being said, she also says she's not good at 'hard' RPGs like Final Fantasy while she has played through both the Lunar games. I, personally, don't think the Lunar games are easy. I find that many parts require leveling up and I usually can't get away with not saving up for most of the new gear available as the game progresses. It's also relevant to note that a game like Lunar has limited options while a game like FFVI or FFVII has a lot more.

Anyway what RPGs, if any, would you classify as difficult? And what factors are included in your classification?

--Mike


Matt

Again, "good" difficulty versus "bad" difficulty. I shall list them heah:

  1. Complex to learn: (Can be good or bad)
    Examples: Final Fantasy VIII, Xenosaga Episodes I & II

    Complex to learn RPGs have a steep learning curve, and often turn out to be easy games once you actually get the hang of what's going on. They are often intimidating at first, especially if unruly amounts of options, selections, or rules are thrown at the player from the get-go. It is sometimes the case that the underlying ideas are much simpler than they actually appear. If this sort of challenge is done well, the player will be able to easily and naturally navigate all of the systems of the game by the halfway point. If this sort of challenge is not done well, players often gravitate towards one or two things in the system that they manage to figure out and abandon the rest of it, often making the game harder for other reasons.

  2. Challenging in battle strategy: (Generally good)
    Examples: Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, many Final Fantasy titles, most Dragon Quest titles

    RPGs that are challenging in battle strategy are games that you can't just hammer the X button to get through all the time when it comes to battle; often, bosses require different plans of attack, status-influencing spells are often vital to success, and recklessness can easily result in defeat. This is the "smartest" kind of difficulty, generally, which is why I personally believe Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy have the edge over most of their RPG brethren.

  3. Easy to die in: (Generally bad)
    Examples: The 7th Saga, Star Ocean games cranked up to the highest difficulty levels

    RPGs that are easy to die in leave you flustered after you reach a dungeon and go "how in the $#@% am I supposed to defeat anything in here?!?" They're the kind of RPGs where you face a boss battle and get whipped in the first thirty seconds so dramatically that you're totally convinced that it's a storyline must-lose-battle, except that your mouth drops open when you see the GAME OVER screen appear. Generally, this is due to a lack of battle-balancing, though in Star Ocean's case, it's just sick fun. This is the kind of "difficult" often associated with old-school RPGs.

  4. Hard to figure out: (Generally bad)
    Examples: Wild Arms: Alter Code F, Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, Chrono Cross, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, some Dragon Quest games

    These are the games that leave you wondering at one or many points during the game things like "What now?" or "Where do I go next?," or better yet, "Am I supposed to be here yet?" and even "I'm completely lost as to what the heck is going on." If you haven't been sleeping through a game entirely, you should be able to have a decent idea of what the next step in your adventure should be, and in these RPGs, this is not always the case. These RPGs aren't necessarily difficult for any "real" reason other than being unclear; this type of challenge is often confused with nonlinearity, since while doing random nonlinear adventures and sidequests is fine and dandy, there are usually specific places you need to go at specific times in order to advance the plot. This type of difficulty is often compounded by poor translations which tell you, for instance, to "go southeast" when it actually means "southwest." If you've ever clawed at your head before finally giving up and searching online to find the answers, and then been infuriated at what the solution to the problem actually is, you've encountered this type of difficulty.

  5. Infuriatingly likely to crash: (Always bad)
    Examples: Star Ocean games, some Nippon Ichi Soft games, World of Warcraft (according to our favourite Castomel), my copy of Wild Arms: ACF

    These games are difficult for no other reason that Game Overs are doubly likely to occur for mechanical or programming reasons; people who play these games tend to save obsessively but mostly for fear that it's too much of a mechanical risk not to. As far as I'm concerned, there is NO excuse for this type of "artificial" difficulty that arises entirely out of a lack of thorough testing or all-around care. Experiencing this type of difficulty makes many people violent and/or temporarily enraged at the world.

Hopefully, this has been a most interesting look into the world of RPG difficulty! Have I missed any types? Have I missed any great examples of RPGs that should belong to a certain category? Write in and tell me!



Video Game Show Wishlist #1


My wish list for imaginary E3 unveilings, with no regard to realistic release dates, or what actually is in development to begin with, is as follows:

Matt

Sweet! I got a wishlist!! Let's see what you've got on it, now, and I'll talk about each in turn. Ready? Set? G-er-go!

-A full, PS2 remake of Dragon Warrior IV, given the DQ8 treatment. It broke my heart to hear of a possible PS1 remake that fell through, but having seen Dragon Quest be revolutionized with the latest installment, now is an even better time for something like this to happen.

Matt

Realistic probability: 0.005%

...and you KNOW that I'd love to say otherwise, because Dragon Warrior IV is one of my very favourite RPGs to ever grace the land. I was absolutely devastated to hear that the translation of the PS1 remake was called off, and the knife-twisting occurred when the Japanese DQV remake came and went about a year afterward without a single mention of North America at all. When I heard the news, I felt like a little kid who had run downstairs to the tree on Christmas morning only to find that Santa hadn't come...

It would include an expanded game world with the story fleshed out, though the main aspects of it would be left intact. Perhaps a whole other chapter or two could be added before you actually gain control of the hero character, so there are more characters to recruit and more of the game to play. The compartmentalized nature of the title would allow for it, since the hero's quest would just be lengthened as well, and the presence of the new characters would not alter the story in any significant way, except perhaps to add new depth to it.

As an added bonus, the disc would also contain a port of the original NES version, for the nostalgic among us.

Matt

Yeah... that would be absolutely amazing; the sort of thing that I'd pay an unreasonable amount of money to obtain, if ever such a thing were to exist. There were extra characters in the DQIV remake, though, and an entire extra chapter, believe it or not. Doesn't the thought just make your insides QUIVER with jealousy towards our Japanese friends? *sigh*

-."hack: Version Non-Suck.0." The idea that seemed so great on paper that turned out to be rather awful in its execution would get a little makeover. As would the game world, which was awfully empty and boring for an MMORPG that supposedly had millions upon millions of players. Would be designed to be more like a GOOD MMORPG, perhaps with the option of playing through some actual quests within the context of the game within the game. I'd sure like to have the game my character was playing to have a POINT to it, after all, or else THAT game just becomes a gimmicky setting in which to stage the ACTUAL game.

Matt

Realistic probability: 50%

Why? Well, two new .hack games were announced sometime last year, and one of them, .hack//Fragment, is actually set to become the first real-life MMORPG of the series. My only problem with this is that we haven't heard anything since early last fall, so it's been a good seven or eight months since any new info has come to my knowledge (and a lot can happen in seven or eight months). Here's hoping, though, that the creators will learn some lessons from the past and create some stellar new entries into the series.

Maybe there would even be some PvP; being able to interact with those drones wandering the towns without just trading or having one-sentence conversations would be nice. And those irritating cow-creatures would be cut right the hell out, in favor of a series of actually interesting and worthwhile extra features.

Oh, also, the combat system would be revamped so that your character would have more melee attacks than a single, slow slash. And monsters wouldn't create artificial challenge by being insanely cheap with status effects around the third chapter.

Speaking of the chapters...they are ALL INCLUDED ON ONE DISC, so that nobody is made to pay for one game four times. To suitably make these changes, however, one might have to wait for PS3 capabilities...I don't know. Seems like an awful lot of content.

Matt

Yes, that'd be very nice; the steep pricetag has been a deterrent for many an RPGamer. Not everyone is willing to pay $60 for 20 hours of playtime, and fewer people are going to want their story divided into four individual chunks that sell for $60 apiece.

-A U.S. translation of Mother I + II for the GBA. And Mother III, while I'm at it.

Matt

Realistic probabilities: 10% and 20% respectively

That's what I'm talkin' about. I'm honestly not expecting to ever see Mother I + II in North America, but I'd be absolutely ecstatic if it they did end up making such an announcement. I'm not really that much more optimistic about a localization for Mother III; at least it's known to be in existence (a good first step!) at this point. The fact that it is being released in Japan in just about a week without any mention at all, yet, for North American gamers is a little disheartening, I must admit. If they decide not to translate it in the end, it's perfect proof to me that, for us, Nintendo has all but abandoned everything but the DS, which is really disappointing, to say the least.

-Xenosaga III. No invention here. I just really want to play Xenosaga III. Though one hopes the "game" part of it would finally be as engaging as the "story" part of it.

Matt

Realistic probability: 95%

With the new screenshots and in-game movies making waves in recent times, I'm sure this title will be featured in some show or another before the year is out; we still have a whole lot more to learn about Episode III!

-Not to flog a dead horse, but: Silent Hill 5. I don't know if it will ever exist. But I want it to. And it would actually take place inside Silent Hill, and the flashlight and radio would make their triumphant return. (Not to take anything at all away from Silent Hill 4. Except for how it turned into a giant escort mission halfway through. UGH.)

I love Silent Hill. Have I mentioned that?

-TV's Adam


Matt

Flogging a dead horse? Look at Final Fantasy: I do believe they're working on a twelfth entry. What about Megaman? Mario? Yeah, Silent Hill has a long way to go before it's been overdone to quite that extent, and a fifth Silent Hill is definitely a possibility, especially with all of these big mean next-gen consoles popping up all over the place. How do I know this? I don't, really, but if you do some quick searching online, there's a bit of excitement about the possibility.

Anyway, thanks, Adam of TV, for the letter! May you have a grand day, today.





C L O S I N G
IN CONCLUSION:

It seems... so empty down here. What's wrong? Am I missing something? I feel like I'm walking around without my pants on, for a reason I just can't put my finger on. I guess I should just say bye right about now, huh?

For tomorrow, I'd love to talk about a few different things, if you please:

Firstly, do you agree with my encyclopedia entry on RPG difficulty? What games should be added to or struck from my lists of examples? Also, what are your favourite and least favourite types of challenge in video games, and specifically, RPGs?

Secondly, I talked about it a little bit while talking about Ogre Battle, above, but are there any strange associations or vivid childhood memories associated with your favourite games? For example, I personally can remember what my family had for dinner on the first nights that I played both Final Fantasy IV and VI; I'd like to see if anyone else has acquired this odd (and useless) ability to remember such details.

Also, I'm still accepting wishlists, realistic or not! What E3 announcements, surprise or not, would just brighten up your whole life for awhile? We shall speak more of this tomorrow!


slimey@rpgamer.com
***Matt is chuggin' through Wild Arms like a crazy man!


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