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ASK MATT
Desperate Attack September 26, 2006

Matt Demers - 22:18 EST

FOR SOME REASON, the mail hasn't working properly, which is most unfortunate indeed, since the inbox is like the circulatory system of this column. Luckily, there's a bit of a backlog, so life isn't over yet!

This weekend wasn't much of a weekend for me. I spent most of Friday and Saturday marking, and then got homesick Saturday night, ultimately causing myself to decide to make a giant comfort food dinner, making me feel sick in other ways. Sunday I got up, and I knew I still had a ton of my own homework to do, but I said "screw that" (that's what I said!) and played Disgaea for awhile. A guy deserves SOME kind of weekend! *sniffle*




LETTERS
The battle system debate continues...


Hey Matt,

I can't help but be pulled in by this discussion about the FFXI battle system. First of all, I'd like to respond to Macstorm and Erika and say that classifying the battle system is important. As niche gamers (RPGamers), we expect certain conventions to be followed in our Final Fantasy games and this familiarity, along with the pretty good stories in the games, is what keeps us coming back for each iteration.

Matt

Enh... I don't buy that. Well, I sort of buy it, but firstly, I don't think that RPGamers are really "niche gamers" anymore. If five million gamers are jumping on Final Fantasy games every time they come out, I think that speaks for itself.

Some people like to see the tried-and-true systems, but I think that Final Fantasy is one series that is almost defined by big gameplay changes from sequel to sequel; more so than any other series, that's for sure.

What I want to throw on the table as an idea for discussion is that the battle system of all Final Fantasy games has not really changed at all from #1 all the way to #12. The battle system goes like this. Your party encounters a monster. A menu pops up when your character is ready (as determined by their speed stat). You choose whether you want to attack, use magic, use items, or run away. The monster attacks when it is ready (not sure if it can attack while you are in a menu). It is all menu driven. What has changed over time is the visual interface and the degree of automation involved.

I suppose you can debate about job systems, materia systems, magic systems, junction systems, espers, etc, but the core gameplay mechanic is the same, albeit for #10 which introduced a pokemon-like rock/paper/scissors aspect to the fighting. The ATB bar introduced in #6 was just a way of visualizing your characters's speed stat. Even in #11, the MMORPG battle system is actually the same as #1's, except they've basically automated the "fight command" to occur everytime your ATB fills up, and you can choose to do the other actions whenever you want (though they have their own delays associated, effectively resetting your ATB and not starting it again until you've finished that action). And Macstorm is right, they've allieviated the need to jam on the X button to tell your character to attack everytime, and they ripped out the downtime associated with resting in MMORPG's and threw in the replenishing mana orb a la Diablo.

What I'm trying to argue is that FF12's battle system is definitely not Action-RPG and that it really is in fact just an evolution of the previous battle systems going back to the first Final Fantasy. Don't be daunted by the terms Gambit and such or being able to move your character in 360 degrees; the system is more familiar than you think. I agree with previous comments about the overblown levels in the demo causing encounters to be too fast and not giving a true sense of what the system is like (do you guys remember how you could summon Neo-Bahamut in the first Mako reactor run of #7's demo?) and concerns about the responsiveness of the AI, but I think it will turn out ok.

Matt

Wow... that Guard Scorpion would have been completely massacred!

First of all, I've thought about it, and you could say that just about every RPG is menu driven. I can't think of a single RPG that doesn't include some sort of menu screen. All RPGs with traditional battle screens include menus, but they're certainly not all the same! So I don't think that you can say that recent FF is similar to old FF based on that.

Final Fantasy has definitely changed radically over time. I mean, FFI, II, and III started out Dragon Quest style, in huge contrast to later games; everyone input their commands at the beginning of every turn, and then attacks were carried out, on average, depending on each character's speed. It was actually in FFIV (not VI) that the ATB was adopted, which *totally* changed the system, and it's evolved and become more complex ever since (and as you say, FFX and XI tried something else totally new. As you say, though, there is always just enough that is familiar to help ensure that a "Final Fantasy feeling" comes packaged with the game. However, I disagree with you and think that the battle system has changed very, very significantly over time in comparison to some other RPG series out there, and part of the fun of the FF series is just waiting to see how the newest game will be different from the last- a topic which is also the cause of a lot of debate, of course!

S-E knows what a successful formula they've got, and I doubt that they've tinkered with it much. They know their customers have certain expectations with their games and they are just looking to make minor tweaks and upgrades to make it a little different yet still the same. What I'm really looking forward to is the story and characters of #12; I've heard it is pretty terrific in both respects In fact, I currently don't own a PS2 and am debating whether to spend my hard-earned dollars on a PS2 and FF12 or to pre-order Wii and Twilight Princess.

Matt

Ummm....

Can we vote "both"?

I'm siding with FF12 more at the moment. This brings me back to my first comment about niche gamers. Do you feel that you've fallen into a niche where the game company can just churn out the same gameplay with different packaging and you will just lap it up? My brother would call it lackey-ism, and I agree to some extent. However, it's really difficult for a company to truly innovate new modes of gameplay (this is the argument of Wii vs anything else and whether the remote will result in new modes or just be a silly gimmick) and even if you do at some point, you have to ask, "Will I anger my customer base by risking new gameplay modes? Will I make more money just by churning out something familiar but slightly different and with better graphics?"

Right now I'm in the "call me a lackey, just gimme my FF!" mindset. What about you?

Regards,
Chris

Matt

Heh heh. Is there anything wrong with that, though?

I think that I crave a little of both as an RPGamer. Part of me is really excited whenever I play something new and innovative, but another part of me really misses "old-fashioned" games. This is exactly why I'm looking forward to FFXII, FFIII, and FFV almost equally, and it's the reason that while I'm such a hugely hardcore traditional Dragon Quest fan, I really want to play Rocket Slime, something that looks to be an ultra-silly, light-hearted game. There's merit to both sides, and the great thing is that companies can make good games that fit either bill. If a lot of care has gone into a game, and it's a really absorbing thing to play, then that's what matters to me, whether it's tried and true or radically different.

Thanks for your letter!



Bad games, old games, updated games, and updated updated games.


Dear Matt:

Iíve been an avid RPG gamer for a good portion of 15 years, and I must say that quite literally most of the RPGís that I have encountered have either been great or just awesome. I can only really recall one RPG that I have played that has been crap-tastic, and that one crap-tastically filled RPG would have to be Beyond the Beyond for PSX (Ah yes, you remember it, it was crappy wasnít it?). The only reason I re-call it is because I own it, and I really donít like the idea of selling games back, even if they do suck really bad! Maybe itís just me though...

Matt

Yup. Never have I heard as much bad as I have for that "game". Once, long ago, I begged for people to come forward if they enjoyed the game, and I got one lonely e-mail from one fan. I guess, on the other hand, that that proves someone out there actually liked it. If there's a fan club out there somewhere, though, it must be made up of every single fan in existence, or it might not be populous enough to be considered a "club".

As an avid RPG gamer, I also must take a much needed break from the genre and play some other well-put-together games that include some action/adventure with some RPG elements rolled in there. The game Iím playing currently is Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams for PS2, and itís absolutely fantastic. This is one series that I believe I can just continuously play over-and-over-and-over again because the game-play mechanics and the graphics on each game really hold up well over time. Also, the story for each game is really incredible. The people at Capcom really have a knack for making good action/adventure games, i.e. Devil May Cry, Onimusha, and if you want to somehow count it, the Resident Evil series(even though that might be far fetched!). I just have that need for playing games that allow me to slash up the bad guys and watch blood go flying everywhere (if the creators were generous enough to put blood in their games).

Matt

And let's not forget everyone's favourite blue robot dude, Mega Man!

Capcom actually makes decent RPGs too, when they set their minds to it. I'm dying for a new Breath of Fire game. It took them five iterations to get a truly outstanding game (debatably, of course- I absolutely loved Dragon Quarter) but they haven't announced anything since, tragically.

Back to RPGís...ahem....Iíve played many RPGís in my day, and beaten many as well, but there comes a time in a man/womanís life where he/she eventually confesses that there are still certain RPGís out there that he/she must play and conquer. As of right now, I only have TWO games on my list (and in my collection) that I must play and beat: Xenogears for PSX and Final Fantasy Tactics for PSX. These two games have been in my collection for years now (literally), and because I know the length of Xenogears (from the wonderful reviews that RPGamers provides) it really intimidates me. I donít want to play a game of that magnitude, get really, really far and ultimately getting stuck after 60 hours. I just think if I got that far, and got stuck, Iíd have to throw the game out the window. Time is scarce (yes, I learned that in Economics), and I donít want to waste my time on an RPG in which I might get stuck on after 60 hours of game play. Final Fantasy Tactics, on the other hand, is another one of those games that has a long over-due finishing quality about it. Iíve had it since its arrival to the United States shore. I got it because I really enjoyed Vandal Hearts and Ogre Battles for PSX. Itís just a matter of time before I get to it I guess!

Matt

Well, that's understandable. Most of the time, though, I'd say that if I can invest sixty hours into a game, it's going to get done just out of guilt, if you will. I hate the idea of playing for so long and investing so much of my life only to NOT finish a game, because I hate wasting time too. Tactical RPGs are enjoyable timeSINKS for me, though; I dunno about you. If I had more free time, I'd play them and play them and play them some more.

Now we arrive to my final paragraph, and my questions! I just recently purchase (yes, recently) Final Fantasy Origins and Chronicles for the PSX. I love how these companies are re-releasing these old games as collections. Anyways, after purchasing these games, I noticed that GBA had Final Fantasy 1 and 2: Dawn of Souls. Now Iím an avid Final Fantasy fan (I have all games except the ones that require Online play), but I just have to know, is it really worth purchasing the GBA version if I already have the PSX version. Also, were the Final Fantasy Legend games on GB and GBA any good? I never managed to pick those up! Just kind of curious as to what your thoughts on this topic!

Sincerely:

Jwcooley


Matt

Final Fantasy Legend games weren't that great, and they aren't actually Final Fantasy games, per se. Nay, they were renamed as they were as an attempt to generate North American interest, but in fact, they're actually games from the SaGa series. I thought that largely, they were pretty boring, though I didn't play the first one. I wouldn't worry too much if you missed out.

Final Fantasy Origins was slightly different from GBA's Dawn of Souls. The graphics and sound were similar to the PSX release, but there was a fair amount of bonus materials and a special dungeon wrapped into Dawn of Souls; they also (irritatingly) changed the magic system in FFI so that characters possessed MP rather than Numbers of Spells sorted by level, and made FFII a little bit more forgiving, to counter the whole "attack your own allies to get more powerful" strategy that became almost necessary in earlier versions of the game. I think that the GBA games were easier, on the whole, but more polished at the same time. I got Origins but didn't invest in Dawn of Souls; if you have a lot of money kicking around and you're really bored, you could spring for it, but with so many other potentially great games coming out this fall, I'd suggest that you don't really need to.



It's in the cards.


Hey there, Matt!

What with all the debates and arguments about what constitutes an RPG, and what certain games should be classified as... would you consider collectable card games as RPGs?

-CW

Matt

Hmmm... that's a really good question.

They're a form of tabletop game, but I'd have to say no. To me, an RPG has to come with characters that grow with time (something that is never present in card games) and, well, roleplaying, something that isn't always present in collectible card games either. The games themselves might have a few RPG elements, and some might even be based on RPGs, but I'd have to say that card games are card games and shouldn't be classified as RPGs themselves.

I love short letters when I'm in a hurry~

Thanks, CW!



Mmmm... boiled eggs!


Ugh. Blind spell is to suck.

324) I'm going to guess E. I haven't cracked the game yet, so I don't know for sure.
325) The answer is Route 40. So I'm saying D, because it looks the most like it. Frigging blind spell.

Matt

I have to admit, I have a lot of fun with Blind spells when they do occur, even if they irritate the crap out of everyone else. The funniest part is, I don't believe that there has been a single Blind Spell use where the castER has gotten both questions right. <3

My friend just loaned me a copy of Steambot Chronicles, and told me to put it up near the top of my order of games to play (which is just mean, because the list is so long.) Right now I'm worming my way through Killer7, which is actually creeping me the hell out. Not in a Silent Hill way; more like in a David Lynch movie way.

I have a feeling it's going to be one of those games that sound a lot better on paper than they do in actual practice, like Morrowind was for me. I love the idea of all that freedom, but once I get into the actual game I always end up feeling like there's simply too MUCH to get done.

Matt

I really like the idea of a lot of freedom too, as long as there is the feeling that there ARE things to do. That was my problem with Chrono Cross, thinking back several years. The world was big and there were lots of places to go, but there were so many points where I had absolutely no idea of what to do next; the game lacked direction of any sort, and it was frustrating.

I felt that way about Wind Waker, actually. It's fresh in my mind because I was just talking about it yesterday. I got overwhelmed with all the stuff I COULD be doing with Wind Waker; most of it just Nintendo-brand collecting of stuff. But I didn't like the game anywhere near enough to spend all that time collecting, so I just cruised to the end, which was a colossal disappointment after someone told me it was a highly emotional conclusion.

I flat-out don't like Wind Waker. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I haven't really truly enjoyed a Zelda game since Link to the Past. I guess something about going 3D really turned me off with that series. Maybe this is why I couldn't care less about Twilight Princess; that is what it's called, right? And yet I know I'm going to end up convincing myself to get it, and then I'm going to play it, and then I'm not going to like it that much, and I'll have suckered myself into playing yet another Zelda game because I WISH I liked them, but don't.

Matt

There, there. I prefer pre-Ocarina of Time too, but I've convinced myself over the years that it's just because I'm a Cranky Kong-esque old fogey who is stuck in the past with a snarling face that likes grumbling at whippersnappers who like graphics. Don't get me wrong, though; I really HAVE enjoyed Zelda since then. I just liked Link to the Past better.

One thing that you can't do is succumb to the belief that you "should" like something or "shouldn't" want to play something else just because of what you hear online or elsewhere. You should play games you like to play, and that is that. If you just don't like recent Zelda, that's just the way it is; forget about the 9s and the 10s out there. If you liked Summoner, that's, um, fine too, though I can't say I'd understand why.

It's individual reason that will lead me to proclaim forever that I really enjoyed Xenosaga II's theme music, that Dragon Warrior II is one of the greatest games of all time, and that Pokťmon is something that everyone should try someday. With millions of RPGamers out there, though, there's bound to be some disagreement, right?

Hard-boiled eggs pose the exact same problem. I would LIKE to like them. I feel like I SHOULD like them. I keep TRYING them as though my aversion will fade with time and maturity. And yet...and yet...

-TV's Adam


Matt

Egg salad is the only way to go. Oh wait, I like them in potato salad too. And on top of spinach salad too... hmm.

I wouldn't worry too much. Be glad that you're not just one of the crowd. And you never know; approach Twilight Princess with an open mind, and maybe you'll be in for a treat after all. If not, it won't be the end of the world!

Thanks, Adam of the TV!





THE NEXUS

With mail gone awry, this column is going to be shorter than originally anticipated. I was worried that SOCK would be a not happening thing earlier today, but mail was back up this afternoon, and it appears that all of your messages made it through unscathed. Yay!


Caption


For complete contest rules, click here!


Answers to September 22nd's Questions

#324. c) MOMO (? again) - 540 points
Two days, two SOCK mistakes? Oh dear. Yes, there was another problem in that question. It read as follows: "With all of the changes and concern over voice acting in Xenosaga: Episode III, which of the following characters' first line is NOT accompanied by a voiceover (as in, it is text only)?" Well, it has become evident that ALL of the characters listed do indeed speak their first lines, which means that none of the potential answers are correct, even though the person who submitted it believed MOMO to be the answer originally. As a result, I'm going to credit everyone who attempted this question with the 540 points, and the person who submitted it will only receive the normal points instead of double points for submitting it. In the future, please make sure that you double-check to ensure that your question "works", so that this competition does too; it's easy to make mistakes, though, because we're all human here, but I do hope that you understand!

#325. d) Route 40 ($o..e $0) - 700 points
Now there was definitely no arguing this one; Crazed Signs are actually enemies you can fight in Earthbound! The number on them is "40", so they must have run off from the side of some Route #40, wherever that might be. Good job to those of you who saw through the Blindness! Specifically, the question read: "A crazed sign must have strayed from which route?" for the record.



Today's New Questions

Reader-Submitted #326:
1. There are 5 different shops in a town, lined up in a row. (Lined up as "1 2 3 4 5" where 1 is the leftmost shop, 3 is the middle shop and 5 is the rightmost shop). Each shop currently has one customer, one of 5 Final Fantasy heroes.

2. Each of the 5 heros knows a certain spell, can summon a certain magical creature and is holding a certain item.

3. Each customer has only one spell, one summon and one item and no two customers have the same summon, spell or item.

The question is "Who can summon Odin?"

Facts:

  • Cloud is in the Weapon shop.
  • Vaan can summon Bahamut.
  • Squall can cast Flare.
  • The Armour shop is on the immediate left of the Magic shop
  • The customer in the Armour shop can cast Holy.
  • The customer with the Elixir can summon Ramuh.
  • The customer in the Inn has a potion
  • The customer in the middle shop can cast meteor.
  • Zidane is in the leftmost shop.
  • The customer with the Ether is next door to the customer who can summon Ifrit.
  • The customer who can summon Shiva is next door to the customer with the potion
  • The customer with the Phoenix Down can cast Meltdown
  • Tidus has the Tent
  • Zidane is next door to the Item shop.
  • The customer with the Ether is next door to the customer who can cast Ultima
(750 points)

a) Cloud
b) Vaan
c) Squall
d) Tidus
e) Zidane


#327:
The PC version of Final Fantasy VII added a letter to the name of a summon that takes 140,000 AP to master. That letter happens to be the first letter in the name of how many current U.S. States? (700 points)

a) 0
b) 1
c) 2
d) 3
e) 4


Nothing more to report today, I believe!



SOCK's Item List

Obtain these items upon reaching the listed point benchmarks!

3,500 points: Regera Spell (1 left), Mythril Armor (2 left), or A.P.G. (2 left)
5,000 points: Any Gem (2 left), Mythril Shield (2 left), or Firaga Spell (2 left)
7,000 points: Slowga Spell (2 left), Venom Spell (1 left), or Reflect Spell (2 left)
10,000 points: Vanish Spell (1 left), Paint Can (1 left), or Scan Spell (3 left)
14,000 points: Any Gem (1 left), Force Field (2 left), or Hastera Spell (2 left)
19,000 points: Esuna Spell (1 left), Magic Pearl(1 left), or Thundaga Spell (2 left)
25,000 points: Call Bead (3 left), Demi Spell(2 left), or Light Converter (2 left)
32,000 points: Mythril Shield (1 left), Mythril Sword (1 left), or Hastega Spell (1 left)
40,000 points: Flare Spell (1 left), Sean's Dictionary of Doom (1 left), or Blizzaja Spell (2 left)
50,000 points: Regega Spell (2 left), Rebirth Stone (2 left), or Hyper Sneak Glove (1 left)
61,000 points: Dark Converter (2 left), Drainga Spell (2 left), or Apocalypse Spell (1 left)

STRAGGLERS:
(people who I love, but who still need to check their e-mail or somehow get in touch with me because they have unclaimed items- if you fall off the list after a week, it's TOO LATE FOR YOU! Check your spam/trash folders for my messages if you're not getting them, and I'll check mine, too!)

  • BigWook


SOCK's Prize Shop

Obtain enough points, and you may buy items, merchandise, or guest-hosting positions.

Click here for the current list of potential prizes!


IN CLOSING

With the excitement from this year's TGS, are your feelings any different now about the next generation of RPGs, or video games in general? Is there anyone out there who might now be more inclined to grab a PS3 sooner than later? If so, I want to hear from you. Thanks, as always, to everybody who has written in; I wish that I could post all of your letters. In any case, I bid you all a fond farewell.


slimey@rpgamer.com
***Matt got a four-day extension on his assignment!


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Matt's Top 5 Most Wanted Games:

1. Final Fantasy III

2. Final Fantasy XII

3. Xenosaga: Episode III

4. Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn

5. Final Fantasy V

Top 3 Games Matt's Playing Right Now:

1. Disgaea II

2. Fire Emblem GBA

3. Grandia III

SOCK's Top 35:

--Procne--
HP: 3,000
----------
1. Aurelius
44,825 pts

2. JokingChimer
38,733 pts

3. Draconn
35,573 pts

4. Kanato
34,498 pts

5. DMJewelle
32,630 pts

6. Alexander
29,658 pts

7. Boojum
27,626 pts

8. Alan Tse
27,247 pts

9. JuMeSyn
26,899 pts

10. BigWook
26,859 pts

11. LufiaLvr
25,449 pts

12. Purelunatic
23,399 pts

13. Belthasar2
23,108 pts

14. Erika
22,521 pts

15. Arros Raikou
21,206 pts

16. MagRowan
18,261 pts

17. Bainick
18,079 pts

18. Cap
16,888 pts

19. Thinkfreemind
16,186 pts

20. TV's Adam
15,801 pts

21. Arpijy
14,120 pts

22. Hunter B
13,911 pts

23. Dermot
13,436 pts

24. MrMSty
13,120 pts

25. Erunion
12,685 pts

26. BLG
12,385 pts

27. Vigilante
12,340 pts

28. Prismatic
11,820 pts

29. Bucket
11,351 pts

30. Kharamain
11,315 pts

31. DDX
11,163 pts

32. Leaper
10,665 pts

33. Gaijin
10,338 pts

34. CW
10,136 pts

35. Ourobolus
8,581 pts

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