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ASK MATT
The Tetris of Life
April 17, 2007

Matt - 22:14 EST

PRIORITIZING EVERYTHING in these, the last two weeks of my Master's degree, is feeling absolutely chaotic. This column isn't really the big deal; it's just that I have so many corrections still to make in the thesis, half a defense presentation left to create, so many professors to visit and forms to sign and appointments to make... the list goes on and on. I'm also teaching this summer, so I'm busy getting prepared for that. On top of all that, I've been feeling kind of unnaturally overtired lately, even though I've tried to make an effort to continue to get to the gym. My life is a blur lately, and I really wish it would all STOP!

*silence*

The week of April 30th is going to be a week that I take a breather. I'm going to be one hell of a happy man that week. And I'm going to play Zelda! And beat it, maybe. And nobody is going to stop me!! I can't wait.

Letters, for now. Oh, and the results of the Sock 2 Beta Test, too. We can't forget that. Take a peek, all Sock Players... I'm teaching you Sock 2 101 today, if that makes any sense.




LETTERS
Matty, the vampire slayer.


Hi again Matt,

I suddenly thought, "I should send in another letter to Matt," so here's a letter for you.

Matt

Always welcome! I'm surprised that I just happen to cross people's minds randomly. It's like I'm a mini-celebrity in my own domain or something... it's like when I'm doing my presentation-writing, and I suddenly think of Michael Barnsley. I've never met the guy, and there aren't very many people who know who he is outside of a small group of math geeks. (We're cool math geeks though.)

At any rate... go on.

I first just want to say that the FFXII letter brought a smile to my face. Even with all those annoyances, the game sucked up 110+ hours of my life and I can't say I didn't enjoy it. I'm addicted, too...

Matt

It hit home so great! Jeepee's letter was awesome. Check it out in last Wednesday's column if you haven't already. I can think of a hundred things that irritated me about FFXII, but the sum of all its parts was still a really great game.

As far as reviews go, most of the reviews I read are of games that I'm already planning to get anyway, so they only serve as a preview of what's to come and rarely if ever change my opinion of it, at least as far as I can remember. It's when I'm sitting on the fence about getting one that they come in handy. The score doesn't matter anywhere near as much as the actual content of the review. I get to see what the "problems" are and then get to decide if they're going to be "problems" for me. Of course, the numbers are still useful to glance at to get a general idea and that completion time estimate is actually quite nifty to see the high end of the scale since that's usually where I fall. So, I'd have to say a good review is one that touches on all aspects of a game whether it's good or bad because everyone has a different opinion of what's good and bad.

Matt

That's interesting. You wouldn't be warded off by an exceptionally poorly reviewed game? How about the scenario where you're not planning on buying a game, but you read a glowing review and see high praise given to it everywhere? Would you reconsider?

I have to say that no matter who you are, you have a little bit of this "planning on getting anyway" bias built into you. If we all let reviews rule our purchasing habits, some games would never get bought at all. Also, I would have played Oblivion for dozens and dozens of hours over the past year. And that sure happened (nor will it, I'm afraid).

Moving on to a different topic, I just finished Ar tonelico about two weeks ago and I was just suddenly reminded of it out of the blue. I was a little over what turned out to be halfway through the game when suddenly the credits flashed before my eyes. My jaw dropped open in disappointment over the unsatisfying "ending" that left me thinking that this couldn't possibly be an ending. As it turned out, there was a point where I was presented with a choice which I assumed was just one of those that showed you a slightly different ending, but apparently I just made the wrong choice. I almost simply accepted that as the ending and would have checked it off my mental backlog list, but I just had a nagging feeling in the back of my head and I ended up seeing if the other choice turned out to be more satisfying.

Anyway, have you ever experienced anything similar? A fake ending or maybe even just reaching a point where it seems like it just had to be the end but turned out to just be one of the "bad" endings? I'm drawing a blank at the moment, but I'm sure it must have happened to me a couple times. The only other thing I can think of was when I played the original Wild Arms and at the very beginning after the character intro scenarios and the credits went by. I was more just surprised by it since it was just weird or it was the shortest game ever. It was still early in my RPGaming career so I didn't know any better...

- Tasukete

Matt

Yes, and recently! It was last semester, and I had just borrowed Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow from my awesome friend Steve. I beat the "final boss" rather easily and stood shocked when I started watching the end sequence. I combed the castle trying to look for extra stuff, but without an FAQ, I had no luck, and passed it back. I've sinced discovered that there are many other endings later, and better final bosses, but such is life. One can only slay so many vampires without seeking the forbidden fruits of online walkthroughs, I suppose.

Later, Tasukete!



RPG droughts, life's most embarrassing games, and a fresh new Sock.


Hey Matt!

It's all sorts of awesome that the PS2 is still seeing new games sent over here. I've had a drought for the most part since FFXII (though I still need to beat Disgaea 2, oops), but I'm really looking forward to Atelier Iris 3 and Dawn of Mana, and they're attacking me (read: being released) on the same day! Eek. I'd complain, but... that would imply that I don't want both games, but I do. I never played Children of Mana or Legend of Mana, and I heard they weren't all that great, but I'm hoping the direct sequel to Secret of Mana pays off! Based on what you've heard about it, do you think Dawn of Mana will be well-received?

Matt

About your drought: Tales of the Abyss. Given it a try? It's not abysmal, despite its name. In fact, it's supposedly quite great, especially if you like actiony battle systems, which I assume you do, due to your Mana-hopes. More unsolicited advice? Sure! Don't forget about Rogue Galaxy. Give it a rental at least. Or don't, considering that renting is an "ugh"-inducingly expensive thing to do anymore.

Anyway, I'm really hoping that Dawn of Mana makes up for the lack-lustreness of Children of, because what a shame; Secret of Mana is one of the greatest classics of the SNES era, and the series hasn't really made up for it since. It's been almost twenty years, Square Enix: Do your stuff. (For the record, I never played Legend of Mana either, but it sounds like it's rather flitty, floaty, and nonlinear; not usually my cup of tea.)

As for AI3, I've heard it will be different compared to the first two, with comparisons drawn to games I'm not familiar with. But I found AI2 sufficiently different from the original, and all the changes were improvements in my eyes. Actually, I never managed to figure out how to finish the first one--I think I'm probably in the final dungeon-type-thing, but I don't know where to go. I was also getting frustrated with how seemingly random the plot moved along as far as item creation went (the odd localization doesn't help matters). Do you have much experience with the series?

Matt

Oh, I played the original Atelier Iris back when I first came to RPGamer and a couple of staffers raved about how great it was. I thought the game was about as average as it possibly could have been, though I've since come to appreciate certain little things about it. It took a considerable amount of effort, however, to get through the game, mostly because I was bored for a lot of it, to be honest. The translation was fine, and often funny, but one can only take so much "Ohhh yeah! I'm number one! Ohhhh yeah! I'm number number one!" *shudder* (I'm talking about the Wood sprite, whatever his name was. Poco?)

Speaking of that, has anyone ever been absolutely embarrassed by the idea of playing a video game in particular in front of people you know? That game was a perfect example of one of these games. Also up there: Final Fantasy X-2. Sometimes, those Songstress abilities would be absolutely necessary in battle... and we just had to hear the "na na na"s. Even if friends wanted to watch and see...

As someone who has read Q&A for years and observed the original Sock but has rarely if ever written in, I'm looking forward to playing Sock 2. It looks all sorts of complicated and fun. I'm sure it's for you to know and us to find out, but will there eventually be more than four classes to apply experience to? It seems like most of the combinations of the four have been done before (starting as a white mage, I could eventually be knight/paladin-like or cleric-like or red-mage-like) but it could be nifty to become a less-traditional combination if there are future classes waiting to be revealed. (Of course, both times I played Final Fantasy V, I'd make my white mages earn the monk's barehanded fighting ability first so they could punch the stuffing out of the monsters at the beginning of the game. It's nice sometimes to have a white mage be able to hold his/her own as an attacker, you know?) Anyway, just curious.

'Til next time!

Joshua

Matt

There might just! The first game was filled with secrets, so you can just wager that the sequel will be ripe with them as well. It's true that White Mages will not find the going easy at the beginning by any means, and Fighters will probably do a lot of cleaning up in the monster department. But, the benefits reaped by gaining levels as a White Mage could be huge! Players who are chiefly White Mages might want to consider joining guilds as soon as someone creates one, so they can get a share of everyone else's experience.

For more on the contest, the sidebar link is your gateway. For more letters, continue reading down, down, down!



Sisterly love


You have driven me to write in yet again!

Matt

Excellent... things are going as planned. Now Engaging BrainWashPlan Level II: ***oo***oo***oo***

LOSS OF THE OVERWORLD = A GREAT ONE. How much fun was it when you finally had access to a boat or an airship and could *FINALLY* have the freedom to explore what the rest of the available world had to offer? How about running across that tiny secret hidden island that was always strategically placed along the edge of the world map (or better yet - not shown on the world map at all!)? What about the unlooked-for tiny village house or building in the middle of nowhere that presented the opportunity for some sidequest or something of the sort?

Matt

A lot of fun it was! A lot of fun we had. Of course, you don't need a world map to have an out-of-the-way hamlet; Final Fantasy XII had one or two, which you actually mention a little further on.

Stumbling upon those islands, however, is another thing entirely. In Dragon Warrior II, you even know that one exists, somewhere, because of a travel door that leads you to a tiny island not far from another small island with a town on it. Finding that island by ship, however, causes massive joy! Anyway, I miss those moments too.

And I do NOT think that it has to be this way just to have better graphics and such! Look at Dragon Quest VIII as a prime example - that game has one of the most incredible overworld maps that I have ever played. I can remember telling friends about the game, and that was one of the things that I couldn't stop gushing about - "the trees are actually the size they're supposed to be!" and "you can actually SEE things for miles around - exactly the way they look when you're standing right in front of them!" The treasures, the secrets, the OPPORTUNITY for EXPLORATION!! Okay, granted the game didn't have FFXII level graphics per se - but still. Come on. Really.

Matt

Ahh, hogwash. The two games had two completely different styles. Dragon Quest VIII had an incredibly huge, seamless overworld. That's almost unprecedented in the world of three-dimensional RPGs. Sure, it didn't have "realistic" graphics. But, the quality of the animation was incredible. Great graphics don't necessarily have to mean high realism, Diane, you silly girl.

I will say though - Final Fantasy XII's approach was a decent compromise. Sure you weren't able to fly over the world and see it all together as an "overworld map" but many of the explorable areas were HUGE AND VAST - and there were even places you could stumble across that you didn't *NEED* to go! Or at least one anyway, off the top of my head (Southbank Village). Plus there were lots of secrets, and open-able areas, more or less. BUT.... BUt... but.... I must say that the fact that you weren't able to CHOOSE where you wanted to land when you finally HAD an airship in FFXII was ever a great pain in my behind and I found it MUCH more convenient and efficient to move from place to place with the crystals instead - making the airship OBSOLETE. Or almost anyway.

Matt

It's true. For everyday getting-around, the Strahl wasn't something I used very often. Yeah, it didn't take up a Teleport Stone. Big deal! Teleport Stones cost a few gil, but it was highly worth not having the awful awfulness of watching the "Strahl taking off" movie again and again. UGH.

One way or another, Final Fantasy XII is identical to FFX; the airships are only glorified teleportation devices that come with irritating FMV sequences and a lack of excitement. I want to fly! Not select.

But all in all I think (clearly) the decline of the overworld map into "endangered species" status is a sad, sad trend. And I think game designers are being lazy. That is all.

Love your baby sister,
Diane

Matt

Thanks for your patronage, Diane! One day I will indeed have full hypno-control over your every move.



OMGlong...what is it with you people lately?


Dear Matt,

On the subject of favorite female hero, who are heroines by the way, I would say I actually like a lot of what I would term pseudo-heroines. A class of character often overlooked and ignore just because you don't play as them from the get go or for very long. Sure they're always there and if they were gone the very plot of the game would often collapse in on it self. In fact so often are these character so central to the plot that they've got an entire game series named after them *cough* Lufia *cough*.

Matt

I've always found it interesting that Lufia is only ever an actual character in the first game. Is she even referred to in later sequels? I don't remember. The titling, in any case, is a bit odd with the series, but it works, so whatever.

To start of I'd say Lucca form Chrono Trigger. It's quite obvious who the true driving force for getting things done in Chrono Trigger is, and it ain't Crono. Truth be told if Crono hadn't gone after Marle in the beginning Lucca would have shoved him in the portal anyway. Crono is like Lucca's... ah.... I can't thing of a suitable analogy anyway you get the point. I'd say with only three minor changes Lucca would work as the lead. Those would be 1) start as Lucca, go to fair see wait for Crono, and do minor side thing to before going back in time to catch up to Crono. 2) After trial get Marle to distract guards to brake Crono out of jail. 3) Align triple techs to Lucca and make her the non-replaceable character outside of the pre-historic scenario..

Matt

It's true. She'd probably also need a graphics-change to make her look slightly less nerdy and slightly more heroic. Yeah, I don't agree with that either, but that's what Square Enix would do if they made a remake starring good ol' Lucca. That girl rocked my socks more than any real-life girl ever did, that's for sure...

Then you have Purim from Secret of Mana. Not only does she set of on the journey to save her boy friend, but she has to save her friend Phanna countless time as well as even saving Randi, the hero, at least once. I almost doubt she needed Randi's help defeating those Werewolves if you ignored her go to the forest first bit. Lets not forget the context of her story either I mean she not only has to kill her possessed boyfriend Dyluck in the end, but she has to keep a strait enough face to help bring down the Mana beast which is bad enough in itself. I swear if Square-Enix ever remakes Secret of Mana there need to be a start as Purim or Popoi option like the other Mana title. Although if they changed things like how chest are dropped or the armor/weapon system they ought to be smacked.

So then there's Lufia, or Seena or a certain some one since technically they are the same character, seriously sure she seems like the typical tag-a-long girl but that not truth. Lufia isn't what made the story of Lufia with out her you just have some decedent of Maxim hacking up some sinistrals. Sure Lufia has the typical amnesia no past bit orphan stick, but it doesn't seem to matter. Never once is she the kidnapped stereo type so common in other girl, yes you Colette. In fact I find Lufia's tale far more tragic than Aeris' random death, but that's almost a spoiler... actually the opening of Lufia 3 ruined it to damn them. Actually I also like how Seena in Lufia 3 actually seems to know her fate from the beginning and actual sought out Maxim's descendant.

Aika from Skies of Arcadia is easily another one. She's defiantly the best main character and her descriptions are some of the best bits of the game.. Now some one remind me why we can't choose to play as Aika outside of that separate scenario section. The only time Aika isn't in your party your either running round your home/base/ship or your doing Vice's scenario rather than Aika's.

And final for now we have a character like Jenna from Golden Sun, in fact you actually start the second game as Jenna. She would have made a better, different, non-cliché star for the game if we didn't have to change to Felix. She actually one the best fighter and doesn't seem to suffer from Issac act before think or Felix strong silent cliché or even any of the other character cliché the rest of the cast has. Sure she's kidnapped for almost the whole first game but I that was only because she didn't want her brother hurt. Then there's the fact that she was eventual told what was going on, something that Issac ignored even from the giant floating eyeball. He really ought to pay more attention, or course that wasn't helped by the fact that Satarous and Marnardie were total asses.

Lynn,

Matt

Those are some (a lot of) good examples, Lynn! The "male hero's female counterpart" is a great role if done properly. Actually, Lita from Atelier Iris is a fantastic example of one of these. She's not the main character herself, but the story is driven by her, and in the scheme of things, she's way more important than Klein could ever hope to be. Aeris is another good example, and there are many many others that we could think of, I'm sure.

P.S. The Magic hammer is a terrible example of useless Zelda weapons since ice rod/ether + magic hammer makes instant win combo weapon.

Matt

Aha. Well, sorry about that. I was trying to think of other specific-use tools, because those drive me insane. No matter what, I vote "boo" to spinners, even if they result in wicked bosses. Thanks, Lynn!



QUICKIES

'Giga' letters, Matt? Honestly, your grasp of Greek measurement units must be asked about! Why not 'mega'? Or if you truly wish to overstate the size of a letter, try 'tera'!

JuMeSyn

Matt
:P

Trust me, I'm a math major. If anybody knows about greek measurements... it's me. (Whatever happened to, you know, decaletters and hectoletters?)

Just a quickie to say I like the quickies. Do you sometimes have trouble finding/answering brief questions briefly? It's all too easy to ramble.

Joshua

Matt
Yes! ;)

IN CLOSING

Argh, this went up later than planned. I hate these evening mailbag romps, but they can't be helped, at least for now.

Now, I'll ask you all something that we came across above. Are there any games out there that, for some reason in particular, you feel embarrassed to play unless you are playing alone? Whether it's Final Fantasy X-2 ("poopies!" indeed) or something else, I'd love to hear from you! Don't be too embarrassed to write to me about your embarrassment... that would be somewhat ironic.

Bye-bye.



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