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ASK SEAN
Column 28: Monday Blues
October 22nd, 2007

Sean - 4:41pm EDT

Mondays suck, what can I say? Today passed by in a haze with me not being sure of everything going around me. A hard day at work followed by this column and then some studying. Yes, I have an exam this week. Yes, I am not happy and I think I wouldn't mind serious injury in place of this exam. Mondays are much, much worse when they precede an exam.

The exam has taken most of my attention lately. I've played a bit of Dungeons and Dragons Tactics and Guild Wars: Prophecies, but not too much. I still have a ways to go before my exam...

In other news, my girlfriend swiped my DS. This is amazing news. I think I might stand a chance of hooking her on games. So far she can't keep her hands off of Tetris DS, so I need to find some other diversions for her. I'm hoping that eventually she will move on to RPGs. That would be perfect!

So what is in the letter bag today?




LETTERS
A last farewell message for Matt?


Hey-o Matt,

Hmm if the column is losing readership I'll have to do my part as a letter writer to help!

At least you're leaving the Q&A in good hands with Sean. I'll make sure to write him to keep the Q&A going.

Sean

You missed him Ken. Sorry about that!

On topicish. I like main characters mostly because if I don't like them I don't end up playing their games very long. The exception being Xenosaga. I disliked Shion. Mainly for the fact that she's supposed to be this scientist who designed and built the most effective weapons platform ever(KOSMOS). And what does she do when monster show up?

Fights them herself instead of letting the Combat robot do it's job.

Sean

True, but KOSMOS really gets beaten up when in actual combat. In cut scene battles, she is super powerful. So, for regular battles, Shion has to back her up.

Also she's simply not played off as that intelligent and I was hoping for her to be more like a certain other Uzuki. But that game was the exception, not the rule for playing games with characters I dislike to completion.

Sean

Meh, the whole Allen thing bugged me. She is just too dense for my liking. And her attitude shifts between games left me wondering too.

On Nintendo. Yay more Fire Emblem! I fail to see how more excellent Rock/Paper/Scissor style strategy games can be bad. Simple mechanic, tons of depth.

Well I guess that's it. It's been great having you as a host Matt. Hope you end up with time to work on your own backlog now!

Ken

Sean

He'll never finish his backlog. It is fate. The backlog is only surmountable by willpower. Being able to not buy games is hard for someone like me, but I know that it is the only way to overcome the backlog beast. Thanks for writing in Ken!



Pants! Like shorts, but longer!


Hey Sean.

I'm with you on the issue of braindead characters - couldn't stand Crono's, uhm, lack of capacity for speech. Squall was better in that aspect, though he was, well, an antisocial emo kid. Real leaders/main characters should exude charisma - think Cecil...

Sean

Yep. I don't like the braindead. I don't get the impression of them being me when I play them, which I believe is the intent. Charisma is a must.

Revisiting an old topic - the Halo-RPG - I'm not sure what's your stand on the FPS genre, but without saying anything for or against it, it seems to be the very antithesis of the RPG genre - one has an extensive storyline and demands and interaction with NPCs, the other only requires superb reflexes - the only intellectual demands it ever makes on the player is the rationing of ammunition - and doesn't even have a storyline. Heck, some don't even have NPCs.

Or so the stereotype goes.

Sean

I think I mentioned this before, but I guess I can repeat myself. I don't have the reflexes to play FPSs. This lack of reflexes leads to frustration when I can't complete portions of a game. This leads to me not enjoying what I am playing and me quitting the game. I like Bond and Metroid Prime games though.

Given that the term 'RPG' isn't particularly concrete in its definition, it has been melded with many different genres, spawning action RPGs, tactical RPGs, platform RPGs, monster breeder RPGs, even dating sims, shooter RPGs, and recently, an RTS-RPG (I'm talking about, of course, Heroes of Mana) in addition to the 'usual' turn-based RPGs.

With games such as the Seiken Densetsu series, the distinction between the genres has started to blur. In particular, Sword of Mana, a GBA incarnation and one of the (increasingly numerous - see a certain RTS-RPG mentioned above) bad boys of the series, features plenty of hack-and-slash action and one of the weakest storylines in RPG-dom.

There have also been RPGs with shooter elements - namely the GTA series and FFVII: Dirge of Cerberus, but this is where the distinction is drawn once again - these are RPGs with shooter elements, not shooters with RPG elements. In some sense of the phrase, Halo does have some RPG elements - a cutscene here and there, a storyline with plot twists, and a sexy female AI companion who plays a major role across the series.

Sean

I am not sure that I count GTA as an RPG. Mass Effect does interest me though and it is in a shooter RPG. Just because a game is not an RPG, it doesn't mean that they have bad stories. Look at Heavenly Sword--it tells a great story and there is nothing RPG-like about it.

But, to up the RPG content in the Halo series? That would present itself a new cascade of problems. Change brought to a well-known series is always controversial. Let the Master Chief upgrade his weapons with parts salvaged from defeated aliens? Have a level-up system which allows him and his AI companion, Cortana, to level up and gain abilities? On the one hand, there will be people looking for something new; on the other hand, there will always be people who hate it. (I'm looking at you, DQIX...)

So, it looks like the Halo-RPG won't become a reality anytime soon. Maybe another series might be successful, though - one which doesn't have the mighty name 'Halo' - or any other successful franchise - tagged to it.

-Virtuoso

Sean

Thanks for the opinion, Virtuoso. I don't think I would like to listen to the complaints of the Halo fanboys when the series takes a different direction, or if the new direction messes it up. I really need to fill in some new hot topics, don't I?





Greetings, Sean. My name is Oliver. I read the Q&A column nearly every day, although I write rather infrequently, much to my personal dismay. I really wanted to send Matt one last letter, but, well, I just couldnít. So even though he probably wonít read this, Iíll just take the time to say that I thoroughly enjoyed his two-year tenure, and heís the main reason that I started frequenting RPgamer.

Sean

He just might read this, you know.

Now, on to the actual letter-writing. I was going to send Matt my impressions of Blue Dragon upon my completion...but, uh, heís no longer with us unfortunately. It took me too long to finish the game. Why? Fulltime work and college, thatís why. So Iíll just send them on to you instead.

Blue Dragon certainly does not contend with giants such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and other such greats in the RPG world. That said, it certainly stands well on its own merits, and it should represent decent reason for the Japanese to pick up a 360. (Which, as I understand, is the main goal of Mistwalker Studios and their projects.)

The main thing that brings down Blue Dragon is, unfortunately, its storyline. I was personally surprised at how mediocre it was. I mean come on, it was written by Hironobu Sakaguchi; creator of the Final Fantasy series. In particular, heís credited with co-writing the story to Final Fantasy VII. How does someone who obviously know how to tell a story turn out something like Blue Dragon?

But sadly its true; every character, every plot element, and just about every line of dramatic dialogue has been used elsewhere. Many times. The characters in particular are quite bad. Not only are they disgustingly stereotypical, theyíre just plain boring. They never, ever do or say something remotely interesting; itís uncanny. In the end, the story isnít a total loss I suppose. (Sakaguchi does manage to inject some flare into some scenes). But it still represents the greatest weakness in the game.

Sean

It does sound a little bad. I am glad I didn't rush out to get the game with the console.

Okay... all that nastiness aside, there is a lot of good things in Blue Dragon. The battle system, while fairly traditional, is very solid. I liked the implementation of the Charge Meter in battles-this allows you to charge magical spells at the cost of being placed farther down in the order of turns. It actually adds quite a strategic layer to many battles. Also, I just thought it was cool to see the characterís shadows deal out the hurt during battles rather than the characters themselves. The main problem with the battles is that theyíre way... too... easy. Blue Dragon is disgustingly easy, actually. (And of course, right after I finish the game, Microsoft announces the downloadable difficulty upgrades).

The Job system is excellent-itís like FFVís, but you can equip more skills, which allows for huge diversity. There are quite a few jobs to choose from, and almost all of them are familiar Final Fantasy jobs with some new labels stamped on them.

I loved the gameís world design, which is always very important to me in an RPG-the ability for the world to draw me in is crucial, and Blue Dragon succeeded easily. Some absolutely beautiful locales are present, and they are a joy to explore, and just to look at. The same can be said for the entire game-beautiful to look at. (Of course, this is the Xbox 360.)

Sean

I find myself forgiving it a little bit. It sounds like a $20 purchase so far.

Oh, and I have to give mention to Nobuo Uematsuís spectacular soundtrack, which Iím actually listening to right now. Absolutely beautiful, like all his work prior.

And really, even though I blasted the gameís plot earlier, there are some key moments to the plot that really succeed in bringing you in. These sequences are quite awesome, but theyíre just not enough to sustain the entire plot. The critics were definitely too harsh on the game, and in particular I think GameSpotís 6.0 out of 10 was absolutely ridiculous. In my opinion, itís a solid 8.5.

Sean

An 8.5 is a good mark. A really good one. With all those problems... it would be hard for me to justify that mark.

That leads me to a somewhat interesting subject. I have come to notice that storytelling in games tends to fall into four, uh, "categories" I guess. Now, see if you agree with me on this. And if so, give a few examples of your own.

First is the optimum: A deep, complex story that is presented very well. (i.e, it is written well, the voice acting is good, the cutscenes are well done, and dramatic flare is well implemented.) I would consider examples of this to be games like, say, FFVII, FFX, Xenosaga, and some others.)

Next you have stories that are perhaps very good, but they are just presented in the most boring way possible. Not too many examples of this perhaps, although I think the first Baten Kaitos for the GameCube is one possibility.

Third, how about games with stories that are really quite shallow, or just not very robust and fleshed out, but are presented extremely well? I see this all the time. The Kingdom Hearts games are prime examples; upon any kind of scrutiny, the plot really canít hold up, but itís presented with such drama, and such flare, and such passion... that nobody cares. I certainly didnít, particularly throughout Kingdom Hearts II. Dragon Quest VIII is another example. Almost no plot. But what a vibrant presentation to... well... everything! I also consider FFXII to be in this category.

Fourth... well, games that just suck, as far as storytelling goes. Shallow plot presented poorly. Iíve learned to avoid games of this nature.

I also think that games tend to fall in between these categories, but I think this is a fairly good breakdown.

Sean

It works. I end to classify games as awesome, good, mediocre and bad. ^_^

Oh, and by the way... I simply must urge you to play a Fire Emblem game. I was so troubled when you said youíd never played one before... get one for the GBA, or Path of Radiance for the GameCube. You will love it, I assure you.

Well, Iíve almost reached the 1000 word limit. Thanks for your time, and keep up the good work.

-Oliver.

Sean

I don't worry about the word limit much. I already have three tRPGs on the backlog. I can't convince myself to buy another one until I have finished the ones I have. Actually, I think it is four now? I forgot about FFT:TWotL. Heh, I liked writing that. Thanks for writing in Oliver!



Ummm... I know this game well.


Re: One of your Friday letters...

Wasn't there a game where you DID play as a villain, constructing a dungeon and killing hapless heroic parties with carefully set traps and monsters? I may be thinking of a tabletop game of some kind, but I could swear that there was a console video game that did that... Maybe a computer game...?

Sean

Dungeon Keeper. PC Game. Amazing. Wasn't it made by the guy who made Fable?

Anyway, what sort of reviews influence your buying habits? I didn't get Zelda: Phantom Hourglass because a hardcore gamer friend said it was too easy and too short. And this is a guy who doesn't finish at least half the games, especially RPGs, that he buys, so if he says it's too short, I KNOW it's too short.

Sean

Peer reviews. If people like me say that a game is good, I will tend to try it out. Then again, if numerous media outlets say the game is junk, I will tend to read the IGN review and base a preliminary opinion on it. I can then ask those that have experience about it and then decide to play it or not. Then again, I tend to purchase without checking any reviews at all. Thanks for writing in!



Damn I hate those Yahoo games...


Hey man, looking lonely out there!

Well, thought I would comment on the Hot Topics for once, but looking over the list...

1) Worst game premise.... that's a hard one to pin down. Bad games, I've played. Worse games, I've ignored, but the WORST? Whew... that's a toughie... I would probably have to skew away from the realm of RPGs entirely, and instead nominate one of the generically bland puzzle games from Yahoo. Those are always terribly repetitive to begin with, but to try and add a story to one, without really advancing difficulty levels or expanding play as it progresses... I can't spend more than 15 minutes on one, at max.

Sean

Not everything can be Puzzle Quest, you know. But then again, they can help pass the boredom at work...

2) No exams to get me down :) And I was never one for major cram sessions, anyway. Short bursts of study, then games, then study, and repeat.

Sean

Its what is I try to do, but I have a problem getting back to studying after playing...

3) Halo 3 / Halo RPG? Um, no, and hell no. I wouldn't mind an SF RPG based in a Dyson Sphere or ringworld, but Halo brings with it too much baggage to make a transition.

Sean

And, I don't want to share my joy with one of those fanboys.

4) Digital Downloads? We shall have to wait and see how this turns out. I can think of good points, like increased availability and coverage for low-profile games, but at the same time, will the game company be able to parlay that into an increase in revenue? Like the current slew of free-to-play MMORPGs. From a marketing standpoint, something like that makes sense, but I'm still not sure how feasible that plan will turn out in the long run. Well, I guess NeoPets would count, though the tech base is completely different (and probably less money-draining) there.

Sean

I would really miss having the physical disks in my hand. If I want to play something, I wouldn't want to spend all my time waiting for it to download--at that point I might as well wait for FutureShop to ship it to me. Speaking of which, a couple of my most awaited games have just shipped!

5) Evil RPG? I've brainstormed a few over the years, from "Take over the world and then blow it up!" style evil to more of a Mongol Horde style. A truly, morally ambiguous hero would be nice for a change as well, if any game makers were willing to follow through to logical conclusions. I'm annoyed that, even when an " evil" path is allowed in a game's choice-paths, it still usually leads back to saving the world.

Sean

I don't want just an "evil path", but rather an entire evil plot.

Other than that, all I can say is that things are looking pretty nice for RPGs over here right now. Next month we get the new FFTA game, and DQIV on the same day, and MegaMan Star Force 2 is on the horizon as well. Ooh, decisions, decisions...

So what are you looking forward to?

Your man in Japan,

Gaijin Monogatari

Sean

I usually post what I am looking forward to in the sidebar. I am getting a pair of PC expansions this week--they already shipped. Otherwise, I want White Knight Story, FFTA2 and some playing time with Guild Wars. Thanks for writing in, man-from-Japan!



QUICKIES

Greetings Q&A person,
In regards to Annalou's request for statistics, I did come across a website that have some useful information, hopefully this helps with Annalou's paper: http://www.theesa.com/
A lot of this kind of research is done by large marketing companies such as NPD and they do not release their numbers for free. So you will usually have to get them from a second party/source by using Google and Google News. Hope this helps!
Alex

Sean
Thanks Alex. I hope this helps, Annalou!

Sean
The book arrived today... thanks again! You rock!
On another note, best of luck on being the new host all by your lonesome. Sure, the shoes left to fill are big... but who said you couldn't go barefoot?
-Shawn

Sean
It is winter here soon. The floors are simply too cold to walk around without shoes.

Hi Sean,
For the good of RPGamers, I would like to unlock a clue for my prize. Of course, it will only be useful if someone figures it out...so put your thinking caps on people! Also, I hope your exam went okay. Hmm, I guess I have to stick in an RPG related question in here somewhere....Was the RPG genre launched in Japan and America with the same game? Or did Japan get it's first RPG and then Americans first experienced RPGs as some other game released later?
Bye for now,
Annalou

Sean
I'll think up a clue to add to the contest page--I have problems coming up with some. I think we each started with our own RPGs--we've had Might and Magic, Ultima, Wizardy and D&D in general for a long time. While I am not sure about the dates, I am sure that we each developed RPGs on our own.



IN CLOSING

It is really hard to write when one feels like falling down from exhaustion. That is exactly what I will do right now--take a nap. I'll post this column afterwards. Until Wednesday then. What would you like to see in my sidebar? Should I add hosting positions in the contest?

Peace out!



Send a Letter!

Unanswered Letter Backlog: 2



gorne@rpgamer.com
Sean is Q&Aing till he drops


I need to play lots more Guild Wars. It is an addiction, almost.

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