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ASK MATT
Sensate! Sensate!
April 10, 2007

Matt - 21:29 EST

UPDATES WILL BE posted a little later than usual this week, due to the crazy craziness of life, but I hope you won't mind much. Yesterday, I had the displeasure of marking 334 final exams over an eleven hour period. I'm telling you, if someone were to cast "Libra" on me, they would discover that while I'm strong as nails against Fire, Thunder, Wind, and more, I am incredibly weak against paper. I have three different paper cuts on my hands that are driving me absolutely insane, because they'll randomly open and start oozing from time to time. Gross, eh?

Anyway, I'm hoping to dig into my newly purchased copy of Super Paper Mario very soon, because I've been looking forward to this game like the dickens, and it received RPGamer's first "5" score in a very long time. Exciting!! Exciting!! Very exciting!! But first, letters. I promise not to rush. *crosses a pair of fingers*




LETTERS
Heroic Heroes, and "Rogue," not "Rouge." Grr.


Hi Matt,

What kind of hero do I prefer? The short answer is a heroic one. I want one that wants to put together a group of friends to save the world instead of either A) constantly grumbling about it because his parents didn't love him enough or were dead or B) struts around being morose and saying he doesn't need anyone else. Basically, your supposed to be a HERO get over it. The sooner the hero realizes that it is at least helpful to have friends around the better. I really didn't mind the age and years of experience, or lack thereof, that most RPGs adhere to until I played Tales of Legendia and the Will the "Old Man" of the group is only one year older than me. Of course then my husband oh so gently reminds me that he's five years older than me so I should just be quiet about it.

Matt

Oh, tell me about it. The "old" person is either three or four years older than the other sixteen or seventeen-year-old party members, or is double their age, it seems. Even in the latter, it seems that times have changed that way; what happened to the ultra-traditional mysterious and wise old sages with long, flowing grey beards? It'd be really fun to control one of those for a change. I shouldn't feel like an old fogey at the age of 24, and you should not feel like an old fogette, either!

Typically the hero himself is less important to me than the team dynamic as a whole and the story development. I like my RPGs with a team that generally works together, has a serious mission, but is still allowed have fun along the way. And the game must have more than one annoying character such as a six year old hitting on the hero, or someone dumb as a rock. One annoying character can be ignored if need be, but if there is more than one that job gets harder. Other that there is just some kind of visceral quality to show that I really like a game, but really can't describe why I like a particular game so much but not another that is almost exactly like it.

Matt

Yeah, other characters tend to fall into a mold a bit too often. In an effort to be distinct from one another, games frequently end up with other-game-analogs to its own characters. I think of characters from games like Golden Sun, Star Ocean, Breath of Fire, and certain Final Fantasy games, and there are certain "templates" that get stamped across many different playable characters. That's why I like to see a little bit of creativity, and fresh ideas, even if those some of those clichés are somehow endearing.

My all time favorite is still Lufia 2, I just wish I could play it again but my brother owned the SNES and has since given it to my neice and nephew never to be recovered. Followed by Final Fantasy X and Shadow Hearts: Covenant and Final Fantasy IV.

Matt

In terms of story? Yeah, those were okay. Final Fantasy IV had, I feel, a bit of a shallow story, but some of the most lovable characters of the series. FFX is constantly enshrouded by my blind hatred for ridiculous linearity and its general lack of difficulty... I tend to look at it more negatively than I should. Yes, it has a better-than-average story, but I feel as if I need to replay it again to refresh my opinion. (It's been... more than five years!)

The next-gen wars continues to bother me. I haven't bought any of the new systems yet but I'm planning on getting a PS3 for Christmas. I am worried that Sony is going to keep messing with the backwards compatability in the US to save them money. That's bad because if I were to buy a PS3 tomorrow it would mostly be a glorified PlayStation 1 with built in memory card. I liked having one system pretty much dominating over all the others, or at least dominating in RPGs (the most unRPG like game I have is Okami) so knowing that I didn't really have to bother with any other system saved me money. With more big name third party developers like SE developing for at least one other platform, the RPGs on the 360 mostly thanks to Mistwalker, and Sony not really showing anything on it's end since the White Knight trailer, it get's more complicated to justify not looking at the 360. Personally, and for purely selfish motives, I don't want to buy a Playstation only to have: nobody else buy it, thus nobody develop for it and release pretty much everything that makes it to the US on the Xbox, thus I have to end up buying an Xbox anyways. I'd just wish both companies would divide up the market share so people who mostly bought a certain type of game knew where to go.

Matt

Ah, don't you love this competitive, capitalist world we've built for ourselves? Let's not forget the Wii, either; with Super Paper Mario fresh out the door, Zelda: TP (which may or may not be an RPG to you), a Final Fantasy: CC game, a Dragon Quest game, a Fire Emblem game, a Pokémon game, and that newer Opoona announcement, the Wii might become a stronger competitor on the RPG front than we ever might have thought a few months back. Sit on it and wait, in any case; it's not as if there's any rush.

A sligtly less depressing subject. My backlog is getting whittled down. I went back and finished Dragon Quest VIII, and SMT: Nocturne, and almost done with Tale of Legendia. So I can start thinking of newer games to get. I just got Xenosaga 3, and need to finish the extra bosses in 2 before starting it. I am still waiting for Kindgom Hearts 2 to be a Greatest Hits before buying it, and am waiting for a conveneint price for Rouge Galaxy, the Sega Genesis collection so I can play Phantasy Star, and Final Fantasy XII. Persona 3 is a must buy the day it comes out, hoping against hope we'll get it with the FES expansion since Atlus US hasn't specifically said 'no' yet.

Jess

Matt

Time is ticking, though. Isn't it supposed to be released over the summer? Persona 3, I mean? Hmm.

Congrats on putting some games to rest! You'll love Xenosaga III, I promise you. Also, no offense, but I just want to use you as an example: If one more person says "'Rouge' Galaxy" instead of "'Rogue' Galaxy," I'm going to run to the drugstore, buy some makeup, and send it in the mail to the offender along with a copy of the game and a harshly worded note describing how english works.

As I say, don't take it personally at all, because I think that 80% of everyone who has ever written in about that game has turned the strong, rebellious word into a not-quite-the-same version by switching that "u" and "g."

In any case, I'll stop my tyrannical english tirade, because I'm sure that my own is befraught with awfulness as it is. Thanks for writing in, Jess! Please do so again soon.



Zelda! Dragon Quest! Virtual Console! New-Gen Wars!


Hey, Matt,

Sorry that it's been a while since my last real letter; life has been very busy lately. In the completely self-serving news, Mrs. Sundoulos and I have found out that we have a baby Sundoulos coming in the fall!

Matt

Wow, congratulations!! (It's nice to know that there are RPGamers out there that lead normal lives...there's still hope for me, maybe.)

I just wanted to add my 2 cents worth on the matter of Twilight Princess. Count me in among those who think it is a wonderful game, a game that I plan to play through several times. I loved the addition of the Twilight realm gameplay, the great character development, the familiar Zelda puzzles, the mature mood, and especially the slightly creepy and bizarre art style. It might be cliché to say it, but there are aspects about Twilight Princess that truly remind me of a work of art. I wasn't bothered by the issues usually given by the game's detractors: the game sticks too close to the established Zelda formula, lack of voice acting or a symphonic soundtrack, lack of difficulty in fights and boss battles. I'll admit that some changes in these areas would have been nice, but I was perfectly happy with the mood and feel of the game as is. I feel that Nintendo's hype, the long development cycle, and some of Aonuma's teasers probably raised fans expectations far too high. I'm not sure that it would be possible to truly please some people.

Matt

It's true that some tumourous people exist solely to criticize games and find faults, especially if the game is popular or sells well. I know a few of them. But I agree with you; despite these little things, so many other things were done right. I personally don't think that the music could be a whole lot better, and a switch to symphonic could actually wreck some of the scarier, creepier, weird themes that I absolutely love. There isn't a whole lot of symphony-izable music to begin with, though, outside of the main overworld music.

If I have any complaints about the game, they lie in the pacing; I'll try to be as vague as I can so I won't be spoilerish. I loved, loved, loved the extra mission/story vignettes sprinkled throughout the beginning of the game; it added so much character to the adventure. It also added a lot of gameplay; I felt as if the adventure would go on forever. I remember being almost at 18 hours before I tackled the third dungeon because I did a lot of exploring...or, yes, maybe that's just because I suck. :) All the extra things there were to do at the beginning of the game were great; however, it seemed, at least to me, that the game speeds up dramatically though the last half of the dungeons. Perhaps my expectations were set too high by the first half of the game. Though there is much, much more area to explore, there just doesn't seem to be enough to do by the end of the game, besides the old standbys of fishing game and heart-hunting or ghost hunting.

Matt

Hmm. I'm about to search out the fifth dungeon, myself, and I haven't really noticed a speedup. I'll be able to say more in the weeks to come, if I manage to progress any.

My only other complaint lies with the story. This game's plot just defies you to reconcile it with the previous titles; I say that as someone who isn't even an obsessive "Zelda timeline" freak. The overall plot provides far more inconsistencies than answers, which is a minor point for some; at best you could say that it's only loosely connected to the other games. I know that Miyamoto chastised Zelda fans for over-thinking the games, but I still found some of the revelations in the game to be disappointing. Also, the pacing of the story almost seems off as well; the sense of urgency, darkness, and desperation at the beginning of the game lessens somewhat during the last portion; it's almost as if the forces of evil played all of their cards in the beginning of the story. I had the same feeling that I had during the Wind Waker; if that incarnation of Gannondorf was so evil and feared, then at least show me why he's so evil! For instance, while playing Ocarina of Time, I remember having a real sense that Gannondorf's evil had really taken a toll on Hyrule in the seven years of his rule; I remember a sense of awe as I saw how familiar lands such as the Zoras' domain has been dramatically transformed under Gannondorf's triforce-emblazoned, iron fist. When I was playing OoT in college (yes, I am that old), one of my friends who had not yet played the game, walked into my room while I was walking through the transformed Hyrule castle town and exclaimed surprise at how much Gannon had messed up Hyrule. We sat there transfixed while I explored the surrounding devastation.

Matt

Yeah, that was really awesome- I remember gawking at my screen after I became teenage Link for the first time, and wandered through the evil castle town. Whoa. One of the greatest gaming moments ever, for some reason.

As for the timing of the Zeldas... I didn't play Wind Waker, but I was under the impression that in Wind Waker, it's revealed that there are multiple heroes named Link out there that have saved the world throughout time or something like that. If so, then the argument should be pointless, or something close to pointless.

Even though I just wrote all of these complaints, Twilight Princess still ranks up there as one of my favorite games of all time. I hope that Nintendo does really consider at least implementing other music...the orchestrated tracks did wonders for the atmosphere of games such as Dragon Quest VIII and Shadow of the Colossus. Chills still go up my spine when I watch the orchestrated trailers for Twilight Princess.

Not to stretch this out too long, but do you think that we'll ever see some classic RPG love on the Virtual Console? I know that Super Mario RPG is slated for release at some point. I'd love to see Square/Enix release the first three Dragon Quest games again, but I wonder if they'd be more likely to re-release them on DS format if DQ IX does well? As I recall, there was a Game Boy color translation, correct? As a less-likely scenario, I'd love to see them place DQ V or DQ VI on VC, but, alas, I know they probably won't, given the extensive original translation work that would be necessary. Sadly, the DQ following in areas outside of Japan just probably wouldn't warrant the expense involved. Even outside of the Square-Enix realm, it seems like there are plenty of RPG console games that could be released on VC that haven't been dropped so far...unless you count Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV.

Matt

I'm sure that we'll see some classic RPGs on the Virtual Console sooner or later. Bear in mind that it's only been five months since the Wii was released; we have years of material ahead of us!

Though I'd love Dragon Quest of any sort on DS or Virtual Console, I'd prefer games that haven't already been remade. I was absolutely heartbroken when the DQIV translation was cancelled for North America; that game is one of my favourite games of all time, and I know that many others agree with me. If that game, DQV, or DQVI came to either Virtual Console or DS, you really wouldn't hear the end of it from me. I'd be too happy for words to describe, really.

Anyway, I'm hoping that we'll here more about RPGs for the Wii and the VC in the coming months...sigh, because I don't see myself being able to plop money down for a PS3 or Xbox Elite any time soon. Sorry I know I'm dangerously close to the word limit.

Have a good weekend!

Sundoulos

Matt

That's okay! People like writing me essays, I know. And yeah, you're not the only one. It boggles my mind to wonder why Microsoft would come out with this "fabulous" new idea when all along, one of their big selling points has been "look at our console, it's way cheaper than that crazy stuffed-up inflated-ego Sony company's system." With the Elite, it makes it seem as if Microsoft is somehow trying to emulate Sony. If "Elite" means pricier with giant hard drives and potential graphical resolution capabilities that bacteria would need magnifying glasses to detect, then why wouldn't gamers have just gone with Sony in the first place, to be the Elitest of them all? I'm with you on this boat. You don't need a 360 or a PS3 to be a "real" gamer. At least not yet.



Save Points, Overworld Maps, and more!


Hey Matt,

A couple of thoughts from yesterday...

I think the real obstacle for developers is creating a female lead that male gamers could see themselves as (except female). The result are characters like Lightning in FF XIII - hot women with big guns that blow stuff up. As long as the heroine is smart, stable, and strong, I don't think female gamers will care. Then again, it's obvious to me that male gamers connect more easily with male leads. Perhaps the solution that will satisfy both sexes is giving the player the option of which lead he/she wants to use.

Matt

Yeah, but you know, whenever that strategy is adopted, it always ends up feeling as if both sides could have been so much better. I'm actually having difficulty thinking of games that I've played where an explicit option to play as one of two main characters is available. Oh, Star Ocean: The Second Story. Okay. Phew.

I agree that it's much easier to relate to male characters than female, for some strange reason. Regardless, though, I like to think that I'm able to identify to some characters, regardless of their sex. Indeed, I felt more "strongly bonded," if you will, to Shion than to most other heroes in recent video game history.

That makes me think: what kind of unique female lead would you like to see in an RPG?

Matt

I've mentioned it from time to time before, but I really appreciate it when developers don't take a female character and automatically go "Ah, she's a woman!" subsequently dressing her as if she's an exotic dancer. I want someone down to earth and believable; I want someone smart, thoughtful, introspective, insightful, and strong. Really, I want that in any hero, female or male, now that I think about it.

On the issue of whether RPGs today have too many save points, I have to say games like Rogue Galaxy and Final Fantasy XII complicate the matter. Developers face an interesting challenge: in games like these with such big maps, how do we get the player from point A to B? And what's wrong with combining teleportation points and save points?

The answer is as you've mentioned - sometimes, the game is just too easy. The solution: do what Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter did: distinguish between soft and hard saves, and only give the player so many hard saves. The player can pick up and leave off whenever he wants with soft saves, but has to carefully choose where to spend his precious hard saves. It creates risk without sacrificing convenience.

Still, are there any downsides to this that you can see? I mean, Dragon Quarter was a pretty specific game with a VERY specific, linear plotline...

Matt

It's true; Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter works because of the way the game is constructed. Something like that just wouldn't work with a sprawling, sort-of-nonlinear game like Final Fantasy XII. Also, you have to make damn sure that a "Game Over" in a system like that doesn't come with a complete loss. Indeed, in Dragon Quarter, you didn't lose everything if you did see the game over screen, though it was often worth just starting over from the beginning (with bonuses!) rather than continuing.

I just think it's a more significant issue than it might appear at first glance, especially for us old fogeys who love to babble on about the old days. Any regular reader knows that I believe strongly that a sense of "risk" is vital to the success of many things in an RPG, including how attached you become to characters and how effective the battle system is. When you have the chance to save every other minute, this element vanishes faster than a cow standing in quicksand. (?)

When was the last game you were able to fly anywhere in the world on an airship, or warp between towns using a spell? Feel nostalgic much? I sure do -- the world map will be greatly missed, and I wish we'd see more games with this feature. There's something satisfying about seeing the world below you and exploring places you can't get to by foot!

Less than two weeks till Super Paper Mario!
- Waterfiend33

Matt

Oh I know!! Selecting destinations from a list or a map is nowhere NEAR the same as actually flying the world. It feels like a step backward for the genre, to be perfectly honest; doesn't it seem like earlier RPGs should have been the ones to be lazy here, with gamers begging to actually be able to take the wheel for a change? Now, because of our need for big fancy graphics, flying is not something we're doing as often. At least Dragon Quest VIII did it well!

Ugh, Waterfiend. Now that I actually have Super Paper Mario, and I'm just posting your letter now... I must apologize for taking so long to get back to you. I beg your forgiveness, and everyone else's too.

Write back soon!



A little-talked-about game.


I have to be honest, but despite its overuse of cliches and cheesy lines, Wild Arms 4 is my favorite RPG of the last couple of years for one reason:

Raquel Applegate

Although her quest seems silly (find and paint beautiful things in the world), she is one of the most sympathetic characters I've seen in quite some time. She has some affliction that she is obviously dying from, but Media Vision showed the maturity of good storytellers by never showing it and leaving it to the gamer's imagination.

I'm sure those who have played WA4 noticed that in Verklarung there isn't a single random battle. Media Vision was smart to do this. The sequence is very emotionally charged and wonderfully develops Raquel's character. After this scenario, my entire sole purpose for completing the game was to find out what happens to her, Jude and Yulie be damned. By game's end, Media Vision provided definite closure that although brief and revealed through text, was real, poignant, and tugged at my heartstrings more than a certain FFVII cutscene.

Not to mention she is the BADDEST character in battle, let alone one of the best fighters in any RPG. I felt like I was cheating every time her turn came up. Man, I sound like a total fanboy. Also, WA4 is the only WA game I've finished, so it must be good.

Jonezy

Matt

That's good to know! I haven't heard many bad things about Wild Arms 4, but I never really thought about playing it, mostly due to the typical restrictions: Time, money, mall is too far away, pimple on forehead is too glaring...

It doesn't take an epic personal quest to make an incredible character, as you say. Examples like yours illustrates the importance of attention to personality and probably dialogue, too, which can help you to identify far more strongly to an in-game character than anything else. This is sadly something that is quite rare in RPGs; more rare than it should be, perhaps, in a genre that focuses more on character-building than any other.

Thanks for sharing!



A little-talked-about game.


Hey Andrew!
...or Matt, I guess, whatever...

Matt

Oh, so great to feel loved...

BTW, Andrew didn't do an additional column this weekend, because he claimed to have received mail on the order of little/none. Hence, you're stuck with your second pick. Don't blame me~

Have ya'll played through FFVI advance yet? I mean, like the new dungeon or the upgraded dragons and that soul shrine? Too neat! Finally a way to access as many of every single item in the game as I want without that stupid game genie. You know, my SNES doesn't even work anymore and I'm convinced that the game genie had something to do with it, but oh well.

Matt

I've been playing it almost every day, and I love it! I trembled with excitement after I managed to best my first two new espers in battle, and I went bananas when I opened up my Magicite present to find new toys in the form of semi-creative new spells. I was so worried that the new magic would consist solely of bigger, badder attack spells that do 9999 damage by looking even more cool than 9999-damage-doing spells that already existed. Good for Square Enix for thinking outside the Boxed Set (I'm having difficulties getting over some of those name changes).

Have you ever played Faxanadu? It was made by Falcom for the original NES and I think it counts as my first action RPG (had experience, gold, shops, items and a storyline, but used password saving so maybe it doesn't count). I was just playing in the good ol' NES and remembering its megaman-esce soundtrack. It's a shame how some of the newer sound scores can't hold a candle to the "danananana dananana dana dana danananana" of the NES.

Oh, and Andrew, when is Shadow Hearts 4 coming out?

-ATG

Matt

I know of Faxanadu! I played it for about an hour, back when my roommates went crazy buying old games off eBay for a few months. Faxanadu was one of those games, and some of the music has been burned into my skull ever since. Yeah, pretty catchy. Pretty neat. Pretty Mega Manish, as you say, but in a unique, primitive, tinny sort of way; the ultimate in NES sound.

Anyway, sorry to steal your letter from Casto, but I'm here nonetheless, doing my best. As for Shadow Hearts 4, don't count on it. Nautilus, the group responsible for the series and owned by Aruze Entertainment, kind of fell apart, from the sounds of it, earlier this year, and several key developer-people left Aruze as a result. I guess it isn't completely out of the question, but a sequel doesn't exactly seem like a likely prospect at this point.



QUICKIES

No Quickies today! Alas, you guys like writing gigaletters more than you do microletters nowadays...
IN CLOSING

Okay, I'm off to play my game now. Take five minutes and write to me about something, and I'll try to get back to you in less than a fortnight. I'll be back in the morrow, so do take care, and romp around with Mario, Rogue Galaxy, Final Fantasy XII, or whatever you're playing in the meantime.

G'bye!



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On my Wishlist:

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