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RPGuru

Howdy

 

In the PSX

 

Xenogears--still! (Will I ever finish it?)

 

Suggestions, Questions, Commentary?

 

Unburden your soul to
Joshua Reid

It's long, I'm warning you . . . that's what you get for stimulating me with so many great letters.

3-D or No-D

I like this new RPG taxonomy..."2D" and "3D". Depending on who you talk to, "3D" RPGs are always bad. And in your column, we always hear of the good old days of "2D" RPGs. Now I ask, why such a classification? Are all 3D RPGs destined to suck? Were all 2D RPGs better than their 3D successors? I have a theory. Well, I have several, but they don't apply. What I think is that there are certain RPGamers among us who envy the wisdom and experience of those who were actually there when the good ol' 2D RPGs came out. Thus they think they are somewhat elite if they adopt the philosophies and opinions of the older crowd. And there is always that tendency to be different. With all the (deserved) press hype about Final Fantasy VII I think people wanted a reason to hate it. When comforted with this idea, I find that a few RPGamers become quite defensive and all the sudden every "3D" RPG that's NOT Final Fantasy VII becomes "OK" to them. That tells me something. I suggest evaluating an RPG by its story and gameplay, the fundamentals, rather than superficialities like graphics. After all, where do paper and dice RPGs fall?; Gotta admit, those 3D graphics are sweet, though.

-Nazhuret ; (Jesse Sweetland)

Joshua:If games are supposed to be enjoyable, and graphics augment this enjoyment, then grahics must be counted in the equation for greatness. A movie is critiqued on its screenplay (story), but also on "superficialities" like acting and directing. Appearance matters a lot to a movie, and they matter to a game as well. Graphics don't have to be an entirely surface, or superficial ingredient, just like acting and directing can be very subtle and deep. Graphics can, when employed by a skilled artist, draw players into the world (like a skilled writer does with words) and steer them towards certain themes and reactions.

I don't mind judging a game by graphics, but I abhor accepting or condemning a game on graphics alone. That's where the superficiality comes in. You can't, to encumber you with the most trite phrase I think I've seen in this language, judge a book by its cover. But many people are, and if companies can create eye-candy bereft of nutritious stories, and we buy them, then we are to blame. Unless we vote, with our wallets, for better graphics AND better stories, then the companies will continue to cater to our eyes and not our minds. That is why I fault the new games--not because they choose a 3-D or 2-D medium (I actually prefer 3-D), but because they tend to let story and gameplay take a back seat. But I disagree with much of the FFVII criticism: It had its problems, but it's still worthy of the FF mantle.

2-D games can still bedazzle just as much as 3-D, if done well. Anime still entertains me more than CGI movies like Antz.

Growing Pains

I've noticed that a lot of people have been talking about how Brave Fencer has been geared toward a younger audience. Personally, I think they're a little tiny bit more than half-wrong. Yes, it is partly childish, in its general construction. But I think Square-whatever they-call-themselves-now decided to go with a lighter feel to BFM than they did with FFVII and even Xenogears. A good story mixes drama and comedy in equal measure--otherwise the story becomes either too serious and deep (FF7) or too silly (BFM). I found FFVII and Xenogears to be a little too serious for me. Now, there were a few points that were funny, yes. I can't recall them off hand, but I know they existed. But overall they were a bit too serious. With BFM, I think they tried to correct that, but wound up swinging too far in the opposite direction. Especially with names - the only good ones are Mushashi, Kojiro, Jon, and any others not dealing with food. But it was a fun game to play, if a little too short. Anyway, I've rambled on long enough.

-The Dark Phoenix

I have a serious problem, I HATE ALL NEW RPGS!! OK is it just me or are they just getting "too deep?" now, I understand that RPGs are suppose to be sorta like "a day in the life of.." but do we really have to get so DEEP? I miss FFII or FFIII I actually *understood* those stories but now we get stuff like Xenogears that all you do is attempt to-- well, I DONāT UNDERSTAND THE STORY SO I CANT TELL YOU! Sorry for word yelling but I'm just so confused- if FFVIII is ANYTHING like any other deep RPG I think Iām gonna-- retire my RPGs to a shameless of collecting dust- oh well..

-Goodbye, Josh?

Joshua: These letters, believe it or not, deal with a similar issue: Audience. Game producers and designers are facing the same problem as any mass media--how to reach their audiences effectively. This goal becomes complicated for video games because there are two vastly different audiences relative to age, both equally important: The gamers who have grown up on video games who may be more receptive to complicated plots, and younger gamers who are still being weaned on the interactive entertainment industry who desire games with simpler themes. This is a generalization of course, but you get the point.

I think Squaresoft is a great example of a company testing its audience. All the different games (shooters, fighters, etc.) have helped Square decide, through sales, if you will buy games because of the Square label, what kind of Square-designed games you prefer, etc. Square is also using Xenogears and BFM as different baits to see whom and how many they will catch. If BFM sells very well, you can bet your bottom there will be more light-hearted, simplistic games (although, as Dark Pheonix pointed out, this doesnāt mean BFM focuses primarily on children), while Xenogears' sales might spark a surge of mature games.

I believe the FFs are growing with their audience--the themes have become more mature, more deep with time. I welcome this change. While I believe there must be games suitable for the younger folk (no offense to the younger readers. I also am not saying that BFM players are childish), I'm older now, my metaphoric game teeth are stronger, and I'm ready to dig into something tougher. Square should continue to release games tailored for the kid and adult in all of us--no one wants to be alienated.

Show Me The RPGamers

I just have one question..... WHEN THE HELL IS LUNAR COMING OUT?!?!! I HAVE BEEN WAITING AND WAITING AND WAITING, AND I'VE HEARD OF LIKE THIRTY DIFFERENT RELEASE DATES, AND I'M GETTING JUST A LITTLE PISSED! SO PLEASE, I BEG OF THEE, WHEN IS THIS GAME COMING OUT??!!!?

-niban

Joshua:Okay buddy, first of all, take about fifteen chill pills and call me in the morning.

The reason why you've heard thirty different release dates is because Working Designs keeps delaying the release--which I'm willing to accept, because they are reworking the script something major. But still, I admit it can be frustrating.

I just called Software, Etc. and they told me that "Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete," as its known now, will be out (drum roll) . . . January 7. I know, I know . . . gnash the teeth, tear the garments, and pour ashes on the head, but I think WD is just as perturbed as we are. They are going to miss the Christmas Rush, and that can be devastating for a game.

Square Science

Here's a weird, and at the same time interesting thought (CRONO SPOILER), but anyway, here it comes: remember a few pages back in the RPG book, specifically in Chrono Trigger, where Lavos is the personification of the "apocalypse" in the year 1999AD, by throwing spikes from its body that would crash on the Earth in the form of meteorites, or like the game says, "destruction rains from the heavens"? Just thought about it and related it with the meteor storm that's taking place tonight (November 17th), and it took place also last night, which many people in different parts of the world could witness (unfortunately, around here we couldn't due to a cloudy weather =P)

Anyway, science has demonstrated the fact that since 1833, every 33 years there's an intense meteor storm due to the residue of a comet that passes close to the sun, residue that's left in the Earth's orbit from this comet, and the Earth passes by that part of the orbit around mid-November average. Actually, this meteor storm happens every year, but it becomes really intense every 33 years, taking as a -point- of reference -the- year 1833. We're at the end of 1998 and we're witnessing a spectacular astronomical phenomenon, which would probably be of most interest to the religious ones (but that's another story)

So, what's the point in sharing this? Just so that you'd know about it, and probably to demonstrate again how sometimes Square involves scientific and historical facts to their RPGs (with almost an excellent precision). But that's just me, speculating about it... What does the mighty RPGuru think about that?

Regards from a fellow RPGamer in the Caribbean,

-Francis Alma (this is actually my name, in case you think it's a nickname ;-)

Very interesting Francis. Maybe the Square developers are clairvoyant. Maybe every FF game is a subtle prediction of our fate. Maybe in the next life, we'll all reenact FF plots. Knowing my luck, I'll be reincarnated as Relm. Ah, such is life

Seriously, though, these Square design teams are full of very educated people, so it is not too far off to assume that these references were intentional. My question is this: Do the Squaresoft brains draw from history, science, myth, and literature for symbolical enrichment, or do they just run out of ideas? "Er . . darnit, what am I going to call this Esper? *fishing through dictionary Aha! Jihad (holy war, became Crusader in our FFVI)! That sounds cool!"

Squaresoft even beat Hollywood to the meteor market--Cloud's world trembled in fear under the threat of a giant rock long before "Deep Impact," "Armageddon," and other poser disaster movies. Maybe the movie market is looking to games for inspiration now?

Chasing Lufia: Is It In Ruins?

I've recently heard troubling news that the company bringing out Lufia III has gone bankrupt and the game might not be released at all. Do you know anything about Mr. Guru guy?

-Mike Foley

Joshua: I've seen nothing confirming that fact. It could be a rumor. Rumors are terrible gremlins because they spread across newsgroups and e-mail lists like the Black Death, and makes people rabid and unreasonable . . . i.e. Aeris can be resurrected! Really, she can! Elvis lives!

Here are the facts thus far: As of E3, Lufia II: Ruin Chasers was being developed by tri-ACE, of Phantasia and Star Ocean fame, and published by Nihon Flex. The game was over 20% done at the time and expected to hit Japanese shelves on December 1998 as "Estpolis III." That's all I've heard. The silence seems ominous, but I'm not willing to commit to what could be a red herring just yet.

If anyone has proof, i.e. some documentation from a reputable source, then please enlighten me. If Nihon Flex has capitulated, don't fret: Many companies have and will continue to be interested in the Lufia Series. If Taito or Nihon can't do it, then darn it, maybe someone else will carry the banner.

Xenogears Dialogue A Dud?

Joshua,

What do you feel about Xenogears' dialogue and translation? Although I think it's very good, I've heard people putting it down, saying that it "doesn't sound like real English" and that it's "too wordy." From what I understand, Gamepro belittled the game a lot about its translation. What's so wrong with it? Personally, I think it's upbeat, entertaining, and fairly easy to read, but the plot does makes it hard to digest at times. What do you think?

-Hawkeye, St. Louis, MO!

Joshua: I think besides the traditional not-so-rare Squaresoft blunders, I've seen worse. What is real English anyway? I can understand Xenogears easier than I can comprehend my neighbor's tangled jargon. As for the wordiness, I'm happy to see the translators experimenting with longer phrases and more complicated words--intellectuals like Citan need to come across more sophisticated than Chu-Chu, let's say. A deep, complex story calls for similar dialogue. Sitting here at the computer, about a mile from my PSX, I can't recall any glaring problems with the speech in Xenogears. Nothing remarkable or entirely terrible to set it apart from a normal Squaresoft translation.

RPGuru Where Are You?

Are you the Joshua in my English Lit. and Statistics class at Cal Poly? This seems kind of likely, but I'm not sure (I'm not that good at walking up to people and asking them if they write a RPG column on the web).

-cd

Joshua: If I am, youāre not going to bring a bunch of your incensed RPGuru reader friends and pummel me with Louisville Sluggers and jagged halves of beer bottles are you?

Actually, to prevent the beating of a poor innocent, the he you are thinking of is not me. If you really want to confront me, Iām the twitching fellow in the computer labs--my regular haunt--whose countenance flashes between frowns, smiles, grimaces, furrowed brows while Iām reading your letters. Also look for the charred coffee cup always filled with a black, molasses type substance--my elixir--and the empty Speed needles strewn across the floor--how else do you think I keep this column going and adopt such an eccentric tone?

Hey, if some of you want to meet me (or beat me), Iām going to be at the Computer Game Developerās Conference next spring. Maybe we can discourse on RPGs over a cup of tea, eh? :)

Rock On

1.) The black bar [in Xenogears] makes the movie smaller on the disc (because it has no data for that region of the screen), thus creating more FMV Goodness.

2.) FFIV had little glowing things and flying metal towers. Thatās futuristic to me. What do you think?

3.) I think that RPGs should center around plot, like FF7, and not fighting, like BoFIII and Dragon Quest. Has there been an RPGamer poll on this? I think it would be a good topic.

4.) Would you say TIE Fighter is the greatest space sim out? I know it isn't an RPG, but do you agree?

-Tojo

Joshua:1) Thanks Tojo. Those crafty Square guys. Other companies should mimic Square's mastery of short loading times--SONY! Are you listening to me? Gameday 99'! Beyond the Beyond! Come on!

2) Little glowing things and flying metal towers are pretty crazy I agree, but maybe they are magic-orientated. Weis and Hickman, in their AWESOME DEATH GATE CYCLE, had a lot of floating stuff and glowing things, and that tale is strictly fantasy. But the whole Lunarian hibernation, spaceships, and mechanical monsters stuff was pretty futuristic. I think the futuristic resonance hints at a typical fantasy plot (I've seen it since Terry Brooks), where we are actually staring at the future, or at least in contact with a more sophisticated society. The Lunarians are the ones who introduced the "floating towers" and "glowing things."

3) Plot is a good thing, I agree. BOFIII and Dragon's Quest had a plot . . . kinda. Every game has a plot, but only few designers concoct imaginative, engaging stories that don't rely on a goal-orientated, or fight-orientated structure to make up for narrative weaknesses. What do my readers think? Is plot defunct in RPGs? That would be a sad, sad fact if true, because RPGs should have stronger plots than any other genre.

Yes. Any game where you can fly as Vader's wingman is just too cool.

Dangerous Imaginations

In reading your RPGuru column, I have come across multiple references that Link, from The Legend of Zelda is a "Green Communist Elf," all of which had rather negative connotations (or is it denotations, I can never remember) to them. Being a green Communist myself, I strongly resent your negative comments. Have you even met a green communist before? huh? have you? have you? have you? have you? have you? have you? have you? thought not. We're not as bad as we are made out to be by your evil capitlaistic society. I humbly request that you cease your evil anti-green communist messages now, before I have to contact my purple socialist lawyer.

Sincerely,

Sanchez the Skiing Communist Cactus

a.k.a. the Joe! who's messages you NEVER post.

Joshua: SOBERING FACT #55476: I think this letter writer actually anticipates a response.

Here's one: Connotations is what you are looking for. The denotative (or dictionary) defination of "communist hippie elf" isn't so bad.

Hot Potato

Here's something funny for you, in tune with the theme of the new RPGuru. Did you know that another name for an ocarina (yes, they do exist; they're an old European instrument) is "sweet potato." (Look it up in a good dictionary if you don't believe me.) Anway, I think Zelda 5 would get a lot more sales if it was called "Zelda: Sweet Potato of Time", don't you?

-Funny Guy

Joshua:I'm surprised the Nintendo crew didn't think of that---it has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Sweating to Square Oldies

I've often heard rumors of games like FFVI being revamped(graphically, of course. The story was sheer perfection) with polygonal characters and backgrounds and such. Then, I've heard them to be untrue. This has been a cause of a lot of mental damage for me. Many a night I've spent grief stricken. wondering if I'd ever actually see a polygonal Atma stomping down stuff, or perching on toilet seats. I now know these allegations of revampations to be untrue...well, not totally. FFIV(NA) is being brought out, or has been brought out for the Playstation. The are a only minor additions, and few FMV cut scenes and such, but it's not being brought to the states. Why? Not because they don't think it would sell. They seem think the re-releasing of FFIV would confuse American gamers. Not story-wise, but graphic-wise. And now, I must ask you, how stupid do they really think the American RPG population is?

-Steve-gods, or "The Mighty Sloth of Massachusetts"

Joshua: They may have a point Steve--we keep the Backstreet Boys in business.

Squaresoftās decision to keep the vault lid over their series is primarily because they are concerned with moving forward, not backward. What company besides EA do you see rereleasing old games on a new platform? Revamped games haven't sold well in the past, and Square may see it as a waste of resources. Would a release of FFVI sell more copies than FFVIII? As you can see, Square is spread thin publishing and developing myriad new games--they don't really have the resources, time, or talent to expend on a translation. Besides, wouldn't you rather see fresh creations than remastered ones? Did you anticipate Star Wars Special Edition more than the prequels? Don't misunderstand me, I would like a FF Playstation collection just as much as the next person, but if their neglect would mean more BFMs, Xenogears, and a quicker FFVIII release, then I forgive them. Besides, I already have an FF collection--at home.

And are you sure about a Playstation FFIV release? Has everyone else heard the same? My Japanese consultants have been slacking. :)

Har, Har, Har

To quote from yesterday's column:

"Tales of Destiny's translation replicates the whimsical tone of the original, while also substituting Japanese cultural references with Japanese ones."

I couldn't agree more. By substituting Japanese cultural references with Japanese cultural references, Namco manages to bring us no less a product, in any sense, than the Japanese receive. Keep up the good work Namcom!

-Zaphod Beeblebrox

Hey RPGalahad,

Joshua: Do you know where to find true beauty?

Lady: Where?

Joshua: In a mirror.

Lady: You've never actually tested that one out for yourself. . . have you?

-Zak from Vancouver

Joshua: Pretty clever guys. Maybe I should have a MAKE FUN OF RPGURU FOR HIS DUMB MISTAKES and a USE RPGURUS OWN WORDS AGAINST HIM contest.

Dollars And Sense

To all those people out there in RPGland . . . where do you get the money to afford a PSX and an N64 and games for both systems? I would have both plus many RPGs if I could pay for them! I'm stuck here with my latest system being a SNES (which was the height of RPGs, i think). Also, why dont you do reviews on Fallout/Fallout 2? Fallout was voted RPG of the year, and I have both, and I must say they are excellent RPGs, almost completely non-linear. You can't beat that!

- Dav

Joshua: How do I afford my systems and games, you ask? I donāt think I have the will to regurgitate that sordid tale of street corners and subjecting myself to experimentation for a quick buck, but I have some advice for those of you who donāt want to tread my dark path:

1. Get a job. Make some money.

2. Save your pennies. A true RPGamer, especially if they're a college student, must set their priorities. Games first, clothes and food next. Shelter is kind of important, because you need an outlet to plug your machine up to, and a roof over your head so the rain doesnāt fry your system.

3. Get involved. If you work for a gaming site (like me--I work for this one and grrlgamer), some of them let you have access to games. Iāve also considered starting a game development club here on campus, to swindle some companies out of there propaganda and maybe even get some free promo games. Get a job at your local Babbages or Software, Etc. Try alpha, beta, gamma, whatevera testing for a company. All of these "inside" approaches will place games in your lap for a fraction of the cost, or even for free. Manipulate the system--thatās what itās here for.

For those of you who are too young, too lazy, and/or too broke for video games, Iāve composed a top ten list: How To Convince Santa To Send You An RPG For Christmas . . .

10. Lie. Say youāve been a good girl and/or boy.

9. Make that particular RPG the only item on your Christmas List.

8. Tell him itās an act of Philanthropy--you want to give the game to your destitute friend in Rwanda.

7. Butter him up. Tell him heās your favorite fat guy in the world, and that you think his jelly belly is really cool.

6. Pretend you have been diagnosed with RPG Deficiency Syndrome--a new psychodependency that dictates you to get a new RPG every month or your health will jeopardize.

5. Give him the scoop on the latest Zelda, "Itās about this liberal elf you see, and heās saving the world from the Evil Satan Communist, and teaching all the girls and boys to be good and promotes wholesome values like objectivity, compassion, and conformity."

4. Lie. Tell him your mom said it was a great idea, but since youāve been living off wood chips and snake berries for the entire year, that heās your only hope for happiness.

3. Send a promissory note. "Will pay back for Zelda, Xenogears, BFM, etc. with interest."

2. Let him know you have your parents at gunpoint, and if he doesnāt deliver the goods, then heās just going to have to have a dead mama and papa on his pudgy hands.

1. Tell him thatās itās for your career. You want to be a RPG Designer. Ha.

pm yp yjr trdy pg up--Yikes! Thatās better, wrong home row! :)

On to the rest of your comments. I would call the SNES the "Golden Age" of RPGs, but I disagree that itās the best. I think you're jealous of us and our new games. Once RPG companies learn to integrate the new innovations in graphics and sound and emphasize compelling stories, characters, and gameplay then watch out: The Renaissance is here. :)

Fallout should be covered, I agree. Unfortunately, itās not that popular--mainly because itās a PC games. Console games are more mainstream and have appealed to a broader audience, while Fallout is definitely aimed at a more mature audience.

Non-linear games are great, but I donāt think they are the be-all end-all. Everyone harps on Squaresoft for creating a "linear RPG" How dare they? we say indignantly, not realizing that every Squaresoft game, except maybe for SaGa Frontier, has been relatively linear. You canāt have a rich, consistent plot without some linearity. Stories are linear; we need to understand that fact. Stories have a beginning and an end, with a thread of narrative running between the two. Sometimes this line is straight (TOD), other times it is snake-like (FFVI), and still other times a game boasts many separate strings (SaGa), but they all still have a start and a finish. Technically, you can't have an entirely non-linear game, unless you count Ultima Online, where there is no overall storyline. But I suppose Fallout can have a loose "non-linear" definition. A non-linear game with a pithy story is a Herculean task for developers--few have tackled it with success, that's why games like Fallout and Daggerfall seem like such a rare treat..

RPGdesign

Heya Josh...I don't really have any questions about specific games, but general RPG questions:

A) I'm in the process of developing a 2D tile-based RPG (surprisingly written, yes, under DOS) for the PC platform...Do you believe such a game could possibly succeed commercially in today's seemingly 3D/Polygonal PC (Polygonal...is that even a word?) market?;

2) ; Are there any specific RPG elements that you (or anyone else who may see this, for that matter) believe should be included in said game? (Of course, billing in the credits will be granted for any ideas...)

- King_Nothing - ICQ 1883191;

Joshua: King, I can't give you the in-depth answer I would like, because RPG design is a complicated, lengthy process, and frankly I have to finish this column very soon due to external circumstances beyond my control!

A) Hmmm . . . it'll have to have something very compelling about it, probably in the gameplay market. Graphics is the first stimulus, but addictive games like Tetris have dodged industry dictum. Itās hard to draw a player in with a good story nowadays without a visual counterpart (3-D is the fad). I would test your game on the shareware market first. That way you can see how commercially viable it is, and maybe even use the game's success to convince a publisher to finance a spiffed up version of it. B) This is a note to all RPG developers: PLEASE DON'T SELL OUT. If you want to make a game and keep a clear conscience you must emphasize Story, Character, Gameplay, Graphics and Plot. Treat them equally, even if it's tempting to demphasize one to save time or money. Even if you can pass a terrible story with flashy graphics (like your mom used to hide medicine in your mashed potatoes), don't do it. Please. I'm begging you. It's too easy to sacrifice your creativity for a buck. AS for your specific game, create something from you. You are a unique individual, your thoughts are not like anyone elseās who has ever lived, and yet you resonate at the same subconscious level as your audience. Put your stamp on your game, and it will be different. If you like murder-mysteries, make a cop RPG, if you like Star Treck, make a futuristic one. And if the game doesnāt sell at least it will make awesome portfolio piece, and the design process will teach you more than a hundred classes. Most importantly, have fun. Thatās what the industry is--or was--all about. Good luck, my friend.

A Tragic Tale Of RPGlove

To all of you guys and girls who are searching for members of the opposite sex who love RPGs as much as you do: maybe you're taking the wrong approach.

Maybe you should try to get the girls (and guys) you're interested in to become interested in RPGs. When I bought Final Fantasy VII last year, she thought I was an addict, but eventually she started playing it too.

Since then she's beaten Crystalis and FFI, gotten into FFII, FFVII, and CT, and for some godawful reason put in about three times as much time as I did into SaGa Frontier. Actually, since we haven't been getting along much lately, RPGs are actually helping us stay together, considering she has my SNES and all my good games, but that's another story...

[Xenogears Spoiler] Anyway, have you gotten to the second CD of Xenogears yet? If you have can you give me a few good reasons not to throw it in the garbage?

-Magus922

Joshua:So you seduced her with games and now she's using you for them? Kind of seves you right, don't you think? J/K. I hope things work out between you. Maybe you should tell her that "you're prettier than Aeris, sweeter than Rosa, stronger than Ayla, and darn it! I love ya!" Actually, don't take my advice. The last time I took my own advice it took three bottles of Neutrogena to smooth out the slap imprint.

About the Xenogears second disc: Bear with it, at least because you'll get to see the ending and some more Anime sequences. I know your pain. I really do.

Scattered Thoughts:

Lots of news about Crono Trigger 2! Check your favorite gaming site for details!

Take a breath of air, while it's fresh, while it lasts . . .

"It is difficult to get the news from poems; yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there." -William Carlos Williams [Dan Calderman's letter inspired me to put that there. :)]

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