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ASK MATT
Under a Cloud
August 16, 2007

Matthew Demers - 17:10 EST

IT'S BEEN A GOOD eight months since the last time I was home for a week. Pretty depressing, don't you think? That's why I'm heading back to Chatham for next week, and thus, I won't be around to write any new columns. Perhaps one of my staff cohorts will feel like stepping in; stay tuned and see.

How else is life? Pretty crunchy. I'm feeling the crunch, you know? It's between semesters, so by all rights I should be on vacation. Unfortunately, though, my Ph.D. advisor has set me up with projects and meetings with foreign collaborators and so on. Yeah, it'll be good for me down the road, but I kind of just want to sleep in for a change. Or... have some nice, simple, worry-free gaming time (like that will ever, ever happen again, unless I get to live a second life, including another youth.)

Yammer, yammer, yammer. Okay, letter-time.




LETTERS
Thought for food.


Hey Matt,

A couple of columns back you asked which games really made us ponder philosophical issues. I'll give an honorable mention to Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, which takes place in a "vortex world," a space in between the destruction of an old world and the beginning of a new one, where the shape of the new world is determined. Factions of demons are fighting to make various ideals come to pass (might makes right/survival of the fittest; individualism above all else/everyone gets their own self-contained universe; peace and harmony/reach nirvana by subsuming all individuals into the universe as a whole). As you progress through the game, you'll be exposed to arguments for all these viewpoints, and through your actions you can support any of them or remain neutral, and the game can end in any of six different ways depending on your choices. The philosophical tension is handled very well, and the arguments for all of the positions can be pretty persuasive, leading to a lot of thought as you make make your way through the game.

Matt

They seem to have overlooked one possiblity: The universe where I get to rule over everyone else (regardless of my might or ability to do so). That would be fun, and you could be my assistant. It'd be just like when we do a Q&A column together with you as a cohost, except on a grander scale.

Yeah, it sounds cool though. That's the title that got my brother into SMT games.

Even beyond that, though, I'd have to give the nod to Planescape: Torment. It's based on the idea of consensus reality, where if enough people believe something, it begins to become true. The main character is an immortal known as The Nameless One, and when he would die, he instead loses his memories and wakes up in a mortuary. In his thousands of prior incarnations, he has had wildly different personalities and followed different paths through life. Much of the game involves following clues laid down by prior incarnations and meeting individuals who knew them, as you try to discover the truth about yourself and the world. The quality and quantity of the writing absolutely blows away any other game I can think of, and you have a lot of flexibility in how you approach situations (there are only four required combats in the game -- all other encounters can potentially be handled through dialogue, stealth, or puzzles, depending on your character's abilities and affiliations). The combination of unique settings, deep themes, and excellent writing makes it by far the most thought-provoking game I've played, with some fascinating questions raised about the nature of self, fate, and belief.

Matt

Sounds really neat. Since a couple of other people have strongly recommended the game to me in the past, too, I actually have kept my eyes open for it lately. It might be a good PC game to get into, since it's a bit older too, from the sounds of it, so my computer should be able to run the game without much problem (I can hope, anyway).

It's old enough that you could easily run it on just about any modern computer, if you happen to find a copy. You've gotta try a PC RPG at some point, right?

--Boojum

Matt

Jinx. Whoops, I guess this is what happens when I don't read letters all the way through before answering. Heh heh. It feels like I've spent a lot of time in recent months playing RPGs that are, on the whole, pretty shallow. Zelda and Paper Mario don't exactly dig into your psyche, and my other games this year have been Dragon Quest: Rocket Slime (the opposite of "deep"), Lunar Knights (cool, but shallow), and Final Fantasy XII (the game was certainly okay, but I definitely didn't find myself pondering anything beyond "what do I do once I've mastered the license board...?"

Thanks for the examples, Boojum.



No dwarf berserkers there, I'm afraid.


Hey Matt,
It looks like you are finally going to start playing Etrian Odyssey. I'd be honored if you use an axe wielding Landsknecht named Xlash in your guild. Admittedly they are better for boss battles but there will be plenty of those from the FOEs you encounter.

--
Xlash the dwarf berserker

Matt

Ahh, sorry. I have a Landsknecht, but it isn't named Xlash. I thought about naming them after writers, too, but then decided against it due to potential creepiness. Nothing against the lot of you, of course- I also thought about naming them after family members, but that's what I always do. Nope, my crew is made up of all-original names this time!



*cough*


Hey Matt!

Well, I am still trudging away at Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls. I am liking the complete package, but there is something that is nagging at me about the remake of FF1: It's way easier than I remember it!

Matt

Ugh, tell me about it.

I am not saying that I like crazy hard games (I hated Hoshigami because not only was it incredibly hard, it was also hard to the point of being unfair!), its just that FF1 was a little harder on the NES. Sure, they made the magic system a little more manageable than the initial incarnation (Of which I am thankful!), but some of the bigger battles at the beginning of the game seemed to be a smidge more epic. The best example of this would be the fight to get the crown in the Marsh Cave. If I remember correctly, you had to fight off 4 piscodemons that hit really hard, but they halved that and made the battle somewhat too easy. I was able to take them out my third turn (My characters were Level 11 at the time), and I remember it taking a heck of a lot longer back in the day.

Matt

Definitely. Actually, I'll go further than you: The original's difficulty level, the original's unique magic system... those were things that characterized the game. Taking out those original elements (ESPECIALLY the magic system) and replacing it with the tired old MP deal does the game serious injustice. If you're going to do a remake of a game, sure- tinker with the game to make it a bit more balanced, but make adjustments to the systems that are already in place. Don't just slash and burn and replace! Am I out of line by thinking this? *shrug*

I'm not complaining too much, however. I am enjoying the game more because it isn't as restrictive as it once was (Red Mages were way underpowered in the NES version, and now they play just right!). At least it still has the feel of the series intact.

Witecat

Matt

Maybe so, but I still wish they hadn't gutted the systems. Certain things, like better translations, nicer graphics, redone music, new challenges... these are the things that a good remake should be all about. By the way, I liked my Red Mages back in the day, and they're still one of my favourite classes now. If I had a game that I went and made, I'd be sure to include Red Mage as a class, let me tell you that.

'Til next time!



I don't get to answer letters like these very often. ^_^


Hey Matt,

I like your site because your tastes are a lot like mine. I hate first person shooters ( even the sometimes-forced hybrid first-person aspect of Sudeki killed the game for me) with a passion and I can't stand online games because they rely on other people in the universe being worth your time. And honestly, if other people in the universe were really worth my time, do you think I would be home playing video games?

Matt

There you have it, folks- undeniable logical proof that the FPS just isn't worth it. (You can't deny it, because it's undeniable.) Thanks, I needed that.

Now to my questions, both about Final Fantasy. I just finished replaying Final Fantasy XII the second time WITH the strategy guide, and I am amazed at how wonderful this game holds up with a second play through. BUT ... and this is a big but ... after playing through the game a second time, I realized I had no idea what this game was about the first time I played through! It was like playing through it for the first time.

Matt

Whoa! That happened to me with Final Fantasy X, except I didn't do a second playthrough. Wait a second, let me explain. I whizzed through the game so quickly that when I got to the end, I discovered that I really didn't get a great chance to absorb everything in the interestingly convoluted plot. As an analogy, think of a big ol' liquid mess on the kitchen counter, and an ordinary kitchen sponge. Me = sponge zooming over the puddle, leaving much mess behind. The mess that was Final Fantasy X's story just couldn't get sucked into the sponge that is my brain quickly enough.

Perhaps that's the very reason you missed some things the first time around, I dunno. Anyway, continue.

What did you think of the language used? It was rich, Shakespearian almost, and concise. But Suncryst? Nethacite? Bhujerban Mhadu? The writers of this game seemed to almost think of the most original, question-mark-over-the-head names for things they possibly could. I mean, I beat the game the first time, and (spoiler alert) I didn't even remember that Basch had a twin brother!

Matt

Whaaaat! Man, you did miss some crucial things. You know, though, I have to say that I "almost" played through it multiple times, in a sense, because right after I finished playing it, I passed the game off to my brother and sister. I watched them play most of the game too, so I had some extra time to process. But yeah, twin brother- that egg split into two right after the sperm nuzzled its way in and claimed victory.

As for the language, though, you hit it on the head- absolutely phenomenal. At first, it was so heady and, as you say, Shakespeareanish, that I was almost put off. However, it really grew on me throughout the game, and the consistency of the language, even among the most random NPCs, was, as Gordon Ramsay would say, "just spot-on!" (HK, anyone?)

Indeed, by the end, the translation was definitely one of my favourite things about the game, and it helped to make the world of Ivalice that much more believable and awesome.

Although ... I totally am dressing up like Vaan for Halloween and running around saying, "I am Captain Basch of Dalmasca!" like that guy in that YouTube video.

Matt

Aughhhh...

"Basch lives!"

"Basch lives!"

*murders Vaan*

But enough about that. I have been reading your Q&A for a while now and for the first time I clicked over to look at your bio. No wonder we seem to think a lot alike: you're a gay fella, like me. So here's my questions: which characters do you think are the hottest? I'm not sure that I should admit that I think Vaan is my pick, because he is 16 ... I'm not saying I would break any laws, but he does seem to be the person who would get most of my attention if they crowded all of the characters in a room. (BTW that is a 'legal' age in London, so why not? Not so here in the US...what is it in Canadia?) Second on my list is Squall from FFVII. Something about his "Leonardo DiCaprio" hair...

Matt

Oh, I think the official age of consent for the gays over here in lumberjackland is 18, which for some reason is different than the straight age of 14. I don't pretend to understand, but whatever, we're used to it.

Vaan isn't high on my list for one reason: His in-game character graphics give him these bizarre angular abs that make him look like a frickin' alien. The in-movie cutscenes, well, that's a different story. Interestingly, Vaan looks a LOT like my boyfriend Tom, hairstyle and all. In fact, my family members (NON-gamer family members- we're talking DAD here) have made comments on it.

Even so, though, if I had to pick a Final Fantasy hero who was hottest, who would it be? Who indeed... I used to have the biggest crush on Zell Dincht, back in the day, for some reason, though Irvine from the same game was dayum good-looking. Yeah, it was a hopeless cause there, since he was all girl-crazy, all the time, but you never know. Yeah, those Final Fantasy VIII boys were quite something, I've gotta tell you. Though the game was fairly mediocre, I also really, really wanted Cray from Breath of Fire IV. I'm not into animal-people, generally, but if you saw him, you might understand. Or, maybe I was just a horny teenager.

Do you think that you being gay had anything to do with you like RPG's? Not just the onest that let you play as female characters (where most video games in the Final Fantasy IV-VI era didn't), as I hear a lot of people who identify with both genders say about video games. Or was it existing in other societies where you could ALWAYS become more powerful than the things you fought around you? I don't know if you got picked on in high school like I did, but wouldn't it have been great to go "gain a level" and then totally wail on the school bully.

Matt

Haha, no. I'm not really sure why RPGs got under my skin to begin with. Let me think back- I think that the challenge of being able to work, and work, and persevere, and get rewarded for it...that was an attractive thing. When I first played Dragon Warrior, it felt a lot different in that respect from any game I'd ever played before.

I think that also, as a nerd, I liked drawing random, arbitrary maps as a really little kid. I know, it's strange, but I'm a bit strange, and you'd probably understand if you met me. When I got to traverse and explore this NEW random world that Dragon Warrior threw at me, discovering new towns, different kinds of monsters, new exotic equipment... I totally knew I was hooked.

By high school, though, when I experienced the being-picked-on (like yourself), I always fantasized about having Black Magelike abilities to summon shards of ice to stab people I hate in the eyes and groin simultaneously. Sadly, those powers never manifested themselves in me.

And a quickie: Finally, did you play Fable? Did you marry a Guy in it? I did.

Matt

No! But my sister told me all about it, and my mom made a family with all of us represented in it- apparently, she ensured that I had my eyes on the guys, though I never got to see it. She still plays sometimes...

Well it was fun writing you for the first time.

-Jeremy

http://www.themoralorder.com
(you can post my blog link if you want, would be fun to connect with some other peeps out there.)

Matt

Heh heh, it's been fun hearing from you! Be a friend and write back again sometime soon. :)



Top 5! Hot 5! Take 5! Gimme a 5!


Hi Matt! Long time reader, first time writer here (or AM I?? Maybe I'm just saying that since I know you like to post people's first letters! <maniacal laughter> ..ok, ok, it really IS my first letter). I tend to be a bit wordy and go off on tangents if left to my own devices, so in an attempt at brevity, I'm going to stick to the current hot topics.

Matt

Hey, your words got me thinking that... it really wouldn't be that hard for people to just keep writing me letters under different monikers, saying in every single ONE that they're first-time writers, JUST to get your foot in the door!

There, see, I know your plan... you're actually, um, KHARAMAIN, aren't you?

Just kidding, though it would be funny if you actually were. Truth be told, I do like to post newcomers' letters first, because I like fresh blood. I'm not a vampire. You aren't Kharamain, are you?

Do you wanna be a video game designer when you grow up?
I would love to be involved in the video game field in general. Like some people (yourself included, I think) have already said though, it seems to break into it, you have to be into some pretty in-depth programming/coding (which I don't have the patience for) or graphics design (same story). I'd prefer something more creative -- working to figure out character backstories, figuring out how to implement neat skills into the game, etc. I think it would be really fun to work on developing some DS games and help figure out how to utilize the touch screen more often. Ever played Lost Magic? They had some really neat ideas there, though I was frustrated with other aspects of that game.

Matt

See, this is my problem too. I have the math background to do some things in programming pretty well, and I bet that if I wanted to, I could do graphics design pretty easily. Unfortunately, the idea is boring as all hell, because I'd rather be doing way more creative things- producing skill systems, designing monsters and attacks, doing paper sketches of some concept art, writing storylines, building characters, and so on. Yeah, my unrealistic dream is for some Prince Charming to come along and give me such a job, but as with most unrealistic dreams, it's unrealistic. I guess I'm "doomed" to a life of academia after all.

What are your favourite PSP games?
Hmm.. this is one that I don't have a whole lot of input on, simply because I don't own a PSP. My boyfriend does, and through him I've played the last few iterations of Harvest Moon (Innocent Life as well as Boy and Girl). I played a tiny bit of Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria, which was pretty neat, but I had trouble getting really into the battle system.

Matt

:) No comment.

Well, actually, yes comment: I think it's Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth that you're thinking of, because Silmeria is the one for the PS2. If the battle system is anything the same, it's little wonder you're having some trouble getting into it. You have to spend time with it to really appreciate it; that's the feeling I get.

Why are so many RPGamers only into Final Fantasy?
I think this has a lot to do with branding, and knowing it as an established and accepted series -- and by no means is it the only one of it's kind (DQ, Zelda, etc.). People know that Square (even though they've been Square-Enix for years now, I mentally still want to call them Squaresoft) put a lot of time and money into developing these games (not to mention advertising), and that although each game is different, they have a lot of the same qualities passed down. I feel it's almost like saying, why do so many people drink Coke or Pepsi? They're the 'big' names in their field, that everyone knows about without question. Not to say that the occasional Dr. Pepper (or even the hard to find Mr. Pibb!) aren't equally tasty in different ways. Also, come on: moogles and chocobos. Need I say more?

Matt

Yeah- I totally think you're right on here. I read a statistic not too long ago that said that 92% of new franchises fail. That is, 92 out of every 100 games that aren't part of an established series receive poor sales and/or fail to produce any additional sequels. It's no wonder, then, that big developers choose to concentrate their efforts on the ones that are pretty much guaranteed to be successes. Sadly, though, I think that in some cases, seeing the same old things can get stale after awhile, just like how a way-old open box of Triscuits causes undue sog and leatheriness. (And finally, after two years of attempting, I have married the dubiously-related subjects of crackers and RPGs.)

A question I would turn back to you (or any readers): do you have more obscure series that you always *HAVE* to buy, as much because of the series as for any other reason? The closest I can say for myself is Harvest Moon, though I'm not sure how obscure most people would consider that. Maybe non-mainstream would be a better way of describing it. But I HAVE played every game in the series, from the SNES glory days to some of the more unfortunate ones (::shudder:: AWL ::shudder::) to the new handheld versions. With Rune Factory this week, then The Island I Grew Up On and HM: Cute later in the year.. and of course, the upcoming Wii version.. I am blissful. :D My boyfriend doesn't understand the appeal, and never has ("How can you play that? It's the same exact thing as the last one." "You don't understand! I can grow pumpkins now! PUMPKINS!!").. definitely a niche series. ;)

Matt

I really can't say that I do. I don't have a lot of obscure games on my shelf, to be honest, and most of the ones that I've tried that are "relatively obscure" (Atelier Iris, Wild Arms, Makai Kingdom) are no better than mediocre, and definitely not games that would inspire me to invest in more. Even Lunar Knights, which was at least pretty good, wasn't so great that I'll "just HAVE to" buy future Boktai games. Few series (read: ONE series) have obtained that honour, and it shares its initials with my favourite ice cream chain, and I wouldn't call that series obscure.

Which RPG series have you been afraid to try? Why?
Hmm.. I don't know if I've ever been afraid, per se. Sometimes lack of money or the appropriate system to play it on has stopped me, but that's about it. I've always been intrigued by the .hack series, just never gotten around to it. After I had a friend offer to sell me his copy of the first game because he couldn't stand it, I kind of shied away from it a bit.

Matt

Yeahhh... that wouldn't exactly be confidence-boosting. I've had a friend or two who really liked the .hack games, but I've only ever toyed with the idea. You can't play 'em all. Or, if you can, you have no life.

Which games have really touched you inappropriately emotionally?
Inappropriately emotionally? Do you mean overly emotionally, or more in the sense of laughing at a character's troubles/issues? As far as the latter.. the one example that comes to mind is Tales of Symphonia. Now, understand that I absolutely loved the game -- it was the first in the series I had played (well, aside from a little Tales of Phantasia on emulator -- back in college before they had released it for GBA and there was no other English translation). So I'm not trying to bash the game in the slightest, I thought it was really cool in a lot of ways. That said, I really couldn't stand Collette. She just seemed so bland to me. So in the scenes where she's slowly losing her senses, I was always rolling my eyes. I didn't want her to die or anything (hey, losing my main healer would be way too Aeris-like!), she was just such a milksop.

Matt

Wait, doesn't that "inappropriately" appear crossed-out? If not, I shake my fist at the little man that works with the html I type into this machine. 'Twas there as a joke, m'dear.

I haven't played the game much, but I've seen enough from afar while bro and sis played that I know who Colette is. Isn't she completely unable to speak throughout much of the game? If so, it'd be awfully easy to say she's a bland character. Heh heh.

As far as just overly emotional.. I've always had a soft spot for Maxim and Selan in Lufia 2. Especially at the end, where you see the full story behind their staying with Doom Island as it crashes down.. and then you see their little glowy spirits fly to their home and hover over it, with their son inside. ::sniff, sniff:: I think I have some nostalgia in my eye.

Matt

Oh YEAH!!! How could I forget!? That was a super-emotional moment. Augh, I love you for mentioning it. Now I want to play the game again too... it has literally been years and years.

Sorry if that was a bit on the long side.. keep up the great writing! ;)

Kattiara

Matt

Thanks for the letter, Kattiara!! I'm glad you're enjoying the column!



QUICKIES

I've read rumors that a third Golden Sun game is in the works right now, do you know if there is any truth to these rumors?

Matt

You know WHAT? I heard the same weird rumour, right around the time that E3 blasted onto (or puttered onto with a little 1930s car-backfiring sound, if you prefer) the scenes this year. I don't think it's anything beyond a rumour though, at this point. Trust me, you'll hear a hearty whoop from me if ever such a title is confirmed. ;)



IN CLOSING

All right... We've asked some deep and profound questions lately, but my new best friend Jeremy is now allowing me to take a break from the heavy topics and ask something a little more lighthearted. Yep, there's no avoiding it: Which RPG characters are the hottest? Male, female, it doesn't matter- if you tell me who you like, you might get a letter posted on Q&A soon!

Finally, a note: There are quite a few new writers who have sent me mail just in the past few days. If your stuff hasn't been posted yet, fear not; I'll do my best to get around to everything!

Until tomorrow (the last column before my week down onnnnn the farm), I bid you all a fond farewell.



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Matt is a little bit tired, but not too bad.


Mmmmmmmmmmmm.... I don't have anything to say here today.

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On my Wishlist:

1. Dragon Quest IX

2. Metroid Prime 3

3. Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn

4. Super Smash Bros. Brawl

5. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker



On my Portable/VC Playlist:

1. Etrian Odyssey

2. Shining Force

3. The Legend of Zelda (NES)



On my Console Roster:

1. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria

2. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

3. Tales of Symphonia



Hot Topics:

1. Do you wanna be a video game designer when you grow up?

2. What are your favourite PSP games?

3. Why are so many RPGamers only into Final Fantasy?

4. Which RPG characters tickle your fancy? Yes, in that way.

5. Which games have really touched you emotionally?



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