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ASK SEAN
Column 44: Almost Snowed in
December 17th, 2007

Sean - 4:37pm EDT

My weekend was a fun one. I spent a ton of time with the games I am playing. I beat another dungeon in Phantom Hourglass, leveled four times in Vanguard and completed like a dozen of my goals in Final Fantasy XI. Oh, yeah--I also played several hours of the Witcher. Why? It has been snowing like crazy. I think we got like 30 or 40cm of snow. I didn't measure. I wish work was closed though... Well, next week I will start an 11 day holiday, so I can't wait. I foresee much gaming.

I don't plan on taking time off from this column over the holidays, so please keep writing in!




LETTERS
The reason I wanted to play FFXI again was all because of the FFXII demo...


Heya,

Had some quick questions about RPGs coming out and already out. Me and my friends have been discussing the future of RPGs and it seems to us like they are probably going to go Action-RPG all the way.

I mean, look at FFXII, it was basically just an MMO - which I personally hated. Mass Effect was essentially a First Person Shooter with skills, much more like Deus Ex than KOTOR imo. And KH has swept sales and looks like it is going to keep on rolling along. In addition to that, FFXIII Versus' combat is going to be led by the guy from KH isn't it? So that means that FF, like the last, is going to be Action-RPG too. (Although FFXIII itself sounds more turn-based and I do have hopes for that.)

Sean

I do like my turn-based RPGs, but action RPGs are good too. As long as the story is good and the gameplay is decent enough, who cares about the pace of the game?

Whatever happened to good ol' turn based? Why does everyone have to re-invent the wheel to churn out a new RPG?

Also, you mentioned PS3 games but didn't mention White Knight Story? The Last Remnant (although on 360 too) also looks like it could have promise. Laters.

- AlbinoMonkeyKing

Sean

Easy: I forgot about them. Thanks for reminding me! I guess that the lack of definite release dates had a hand in this lack of memory.



The first "best of" letter


Here are my picks for 2007:

Best Graphics: Odin Sphere - PS2
Why: Though the graphics are admittedly no better than Sonic the Hedgehog (Which is 10 years old), they are well drawn and well animated. It is clear that the vision of George Kamitani was fully realized in the game's graphics and animation. Next-gen be damned.

Sean

I heard the animation rocks! I need to play that one... *whines*

Best Classic RPG Gameplay - Console: Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia - PS2
Why: All of the gameplay systems, from battle, to item creation, to the dating sim element are well crafted. The game could use some tweaking (Slightly increased difficulty would have been welcome, as well as a slightly lower encounter rate) but the sum of the parts amounts to the best one this year, even though it was released in January.

Sean

High encounter rates are okay, if there is some variety to the encounters.

Best Action RPG Gameplay - Console: Odin Sphere - PS2
Why: Though a bit button mashy at times, the gameplay in this game is very well executed. The difficulty is on the high side, but you always feel like your skill has a real effect on success. The final boss battles represent the pinnacle of the gameplay.

Sean

As final bosses should. I remember far too many boss battles that were simple. Trivial, even.

Best Non-Traditional RPG Gameplay - Console: GrimGrimoire - PS2
Why: It beats Soul Nomad and the World Eaters by a hair, and that was the only other game eligible. Sorry.

Best Classic RPG Gameplay - Handheld: Luminous Arc - NDS
Why: Though not terribly innovative, the SRPG gameplay in this title was well-executed. Though the earlier levels are too easy, the later levels represent a good challenge.

Sean

The above three games I never tried. They just didn't look like I would like them.

Best Action RPG Gameplay - Handheld: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - NDS
Why: Innovative, well-executed touch screen controls. Period.

Sean

This game is really easy (so far anyways) and when I pick it up, I have a blast!

Best Non-Traditional Gameplay - Handheld: Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings - NDS
Why: Best handheld RTS controls thus far, and a decent challenge (Neither too hard nor too easy) to boot.

Sean

I still need to play this one.

Best Music - All Systems: Odin Sphere - PS2
I'm not JuMeSyn - I don't have time to post links to game music. My 2 favorite tracks are the track to intro movie and the Cauldron boss battle theme. There's not one bad track in the whole soundtrack. There are several battle themes - all of them are well done and serve to further immerse the player in the game world.

Sean

Thank you.

Worst Game - All Systems: Heroes of Mana - NDS
There's nothing to like about this game. It did not get a review score of one, but it certainly deserved it. I feel sorry for all who bought this game. The gameplay is broken, controls are terrible, soundtrack lackluster, and story uninteresting. 'Nuff said.

Sean

So it beat out Dawn of Mana? I need to play DoM and judge for myself.

Random Comments:
OBVIOUSLY, this list is corrupted by the fact that I own only 2 systems for which games are currently released. So sorry about that. This letter identifies the best PS2 and NDS games. I acknowledge that there may be better games for other systems, but how can I judge a game as being "Best" without having played it?

Just one more thing - Ar tonelico is a great game - I had a lot of fun playing it. The fact is: The game will never win any reader awards because no one has played it (It sold very few copies). The problem with reader reviews is that they tend to identify the most popular games, not necessarily the best ones.

Whoever gets this letter, thanks for reading. I'm looking forward to hearing about your favorites this year.

-Flamethrower

Sean

Well, it is hard to review all the games out there. At some point, you would run out of cash to buy systems and games. My own list of favorites for 2007 will be coming out in a later column this year. I still need to compile the list... Thanks for the list, Flamethrower. I am sure I will be getting a few more.



Where are my questions?


I think this is going to Sean, if not, my impeccably poor timing strikes again.

Last time I wrote I spent time wringing my poor brain into dust to placate Lusipurr's penchant for vocabulary, and then it was posted by yourself. Not that I'm complaining mind you, but it does tie into your own comment about sending QnA letters to the specific person it's meant for.. That's likely the best solution for all involved. However, in a bout of complete stubbornness I'm sending this to the generic e-mail regardless.

Sean

It is. Just don't get mad, if someone else answers the letter!

Onto the RPGs! That's what we're really here for. Thankfully I haven't had to do the academic grind for a good year or so and have had plenty of time to keep up on my games. I recently finished FFXII: Revenant Wings, played Mass Effect for 20 hours, refinished Tales of the Abyss, restarted FFXII, and finished Mario Galaxy (not an RPG, but fun nonetheless). That's a lot of gaming time now that I think about it. Ah well, it's fun.

Sean

And meanwhile, I have played none of those due to my infatuation with MMOs.

Revenant Wings was an interesting concept. An RPG/RTS is not necessarily a new concept, but the execution was certainly different. The story was kind of fun, but in the end battles tended to be extremely easy or insanely hard, nothing was really in the middle. I ended up getting to 90% before just saying "screw it" and rushed to the final boss to get the ending. I'm a bad completionist gamer, far too impatient. Overall I'd say it was fun, but not fantastic. Definitely a rental though, I think I got about twenty hours out of it.

Sean

That is my mindset too. I start with the idea of 100%ing the game, but at some point I do look up what it gives me... and then give up on the idea. Recently I had the problem with both Wild Arms 5 and Folklore.

Mass Effect. Man, I have such a love/hate relationship with Bioware right now. I love the story and the characters. It's so detailed you can totally become immersed in the universe they have created. The combat system is okay, not fantastic. I never played KOTOR, but from what I've been told, it's KOTOR with a heavily auto-aimed FPS aspect tacked on. The menu system, just shoot me. Absolutely awful to navigate or to do anything with your equipment. I got about twenty hours in before just giving up on it though because it freezes, constantly. Every hour or so the game just locks up (and for the record, this is the only game that locks up on me on my 360). It was a fun game, but there's only so many times I will reload a game. It is a known issue and the theory is there'll be a patch, but we shall see. On your comment that Mass Effect will be released eventually on the PS3, I have to say no it most likely will not (assuming I read that correctly and that you weren't just referring to Eternal Sonata, which is getting PS3d). Yes, Bioware is owned by EA now, but Mass Effect is published by Microsoft. I'm sure any gamer can say what the chances that a MS game will show up on a Sony console are. Granted, Sonic is on Nintendo consoles, and a decade ago I'd have said that hell would freeze over before that happened, so perhaps it's not impossible. All bets are off for Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 though (it is supposed to be a trilogy).

Sean

Eternal Sonata is being PS3d, not Mass Effect. I am still hoping for a PC version of that one. If I ever got a 360, Mass Effect would be purchased along with it.

And to touch on the Sony thing. I think a lot of gamers have a bit of a bad blood with Sony due to a perfect storm of hubris on the part of their PR, a poor launch, and relatively poor sales performance compared to the Wii (and a slightly lesser extent the XBox360). To be sure, the PS3 is actually a fairly impressive piece of hardware. But the other problem here is a lot of the hardware bonuses don't translate that well to gaming. For example, if memory serves the PS3 has eight CPU cores. That's great for things that can do plenty of parallel computing, but gaming doesn't really lend itself to parallel processing too well currently. Most games have two threads at most really: sound, and everything else. The problem is graphics relies on physics, physics relies on game rules, and game rules rely on player input and AI. In our current paradigms of games programming it's incredibly difficult to divorce these concepts and allow them to do their own thing on different threads. Sound is different because generally you have a position where the sound starts playing and that's it, you just let it go to the finish. Easy enough. But that's just one argument against the PS3's hardware configuration. There are others, and a quick search on tech blogs will likely get you the rest (My letter is fairly lengthy and I want to avoid an editorial/rant). In the end, it's fantastic hardware that solves the wrong problems in my humble opinion.

Sean

I don't know much about how 3D games are programmed, but I do know that a lot of complex things (such as lighting) can be handled by an external process to free up time. Maybe devote the other six processors to special tasks like that? Wouldn't it be nice if the SDK included multi-processing tools to help the developers split these things?

You look at the comments that are constantly coming from Sony, such as the square button fiasco with the PSP, or Ken Kutaragi's comments in general about the PS3, and it just reeks of hubris. You have a company that did incredibly well with the PS2, and they pretty much came out and said that their brand would sell the PS3. Granted, the PS3 has sold more units in a year than the PS2 sold in its first year, which is a huge success overall.. Unfortunately that has been eclipsed by the success of the 360 and even more so the Wii. The PSP is finally coming into its own now that it finally has a decent library of games. I own a PSP, and I'm certainly enjoying the RPG library for it. Back on the PS3, the launch was botched. Two hundred thousand units for North America in the end. That's a pittance. Of course, that was due to constraints thanks to the blu-ray DVD reader included in the PS3 (which is another bone of contention to many people). You also have the lack of rumble support (and Sony's comments on it being "last-gen" and not being able to have rumble and motion control in the same controller), and of course the developer tools issue has already been debated here. The games division is hemorrhaging cash as well. That makes investors nervous too.

Sean

To tell the truth, I don't pay much attention to what goes on in the press. I first heard about the "square button fiasco" from the readers here, and the same goes for a lot of the comments that you are making here. Of course, the PS3 doesn't have a strong library and the delays it is seeing is causing it even more trouble, but I wouldn't count it out yet. How long did 360 owners have to wait for their first good game? I don't even know what it would be! (by good game I mean exclusive)

The PS3 has incredible potential, but Sony seems to be reliving its Betamax era and this is engendering a lot of hostility from gamers. But the PS3 isn't down and out yet. Will it ever be the number one console for this generation? Highly unlikely. But if Sony can do the same as it did with the PSP and build up a decent games library and perhaps tone down the rhetoric coming from their CEOs and PR, they still can do fairly well for themselves and do right by their gamers. This paragraph is just my opinion in any case, for what its worth. But considering the industry that I work in, it behooves me to be well educated on what each company is doing. Take it for what you will, just my two dollars ('cause that was way more than two cents!)

I could throw a question in here, but I'm certain my letter is approaching novelette status so I'll leave things at that. Thanks!

Monion

Sean

Yes, those guys should shut up. Who knows, their silence might sell some consoles! Now if only they would all get together and make a universal system: The PlayWii 360. I would buy that. They could then design their own controllers for it and everyone would be happy.



Good think I have a hard head!


Sean, I need to get a bit of whininess out of the way. Just remember that I still love you and RPGamer.

Someone needs to smack a bit of sense into you regarding your sick need to play games in the order they come out. You won't play Persona 3 until after you complete Persona 1 and 2? You can't start Tales of the Abyss until you complete Tales of Legendia? Argh! You deserve a good slapping! The problem with this psychosis of yours is that Persona 3 is better than Persona 2, and Persona 1 is an unplayable mess (from what I heard, I generally do not play a game after I am told that it is an unplayable mess...). I am sure you know this, but Persona 3 does not follow the earlier Persona storyline. You are missing out on the best PS2 game of the year because you are forcing yourself to finish long, garbagy games first. As for the Tales games, Abyss is in my backlog right now, but I believe the same situation applies: Abyss is supposed to be an excellent game, Legendia was garbage, and the two games have independent game worlds. Just take a deep breath, release it, and let your need to play games sequentially out with your breath. See how easy that was? I didn't even need to slap you.

Sean

You know... I did play Wild Arms 5 before 4! I also shelved Persona for life. I might also be ebaying it soon. I don't know if I will give the second one a chance though. As for the Tales games, I already started Legendia and I was enjoying it when I stopped playing it. I don't see why people say it was bad!

My second whiny note comes less from anger and more from a deep sadness. The football games on TV were awful yesterday, so to distract me from them I listened to the recent RPGamer podcast while watching the games. It was a worthwhile use of my multitasking time and could become a Sunday ritual for the next few weeks, although it is slightly frustrating to listen to other people laugh and feel happiness for 2 hours while discussing video games. I felt like an outcast, unable to voice my opinion or join in the mirth. My sadness came during the discussion of Baroque where someone pointed out that using character death to advance the plot (as opposed to causing a game over and much controller throwing) has never been done in an RPG before. What what what?! No one corrected this, and I realized with much sadness that no one on that panel had played my favorite RPG ever. I know that RPGamer is completely console focused, but still, and it hurts me to even write this, it hurts so much that I am using extra commas to drag out this sentence: no one on that podcast had played Planescape: Torment. I think I will leave it at that. I am sad. How can you be a fan of RPGs and not play the best RPG ever? I don't know.

Sean

I saw this coming from a million miles away! Of course, most people don't play PC RPGs due to the expense required to play current offerings and older games are hard to find, or ugly, or just too old for them to bother with. Nowadays any computer could run Torment... but the interest just isn't there.

On to a happier, though shorter, thought. My favorite game of 2007 was Persona 3. The plot is great because it does something that Japanese RPGs rarely do well: present you with a group of likable, interesting, and deep playable characters living in a believable setting. It also minimizes the crazy, out of the nowhere plot twists which tend to plague JRPGs and there are no evil, godlike villains laughing from afar about how evil they are, which is nice. The graphics are not top of the line, but the art style more than makes up for this. This is one thing I have enjoyed about Atlus developed games lately - instead of breaking the piggy bank to engineer perfect graphical details, they put forth artistic effort so that you are looking at something artistically beautiful. The sound is amazing. Considering that the background music switches between and often combines classical, rap, and pop music, it always fits and sounds great. The loop time on the music is short, so if you hate the songs it will drive you nuts, but if you like them then this is a plus. Personally, I would rather have memorable music with short loops than bland music which rarely repeats. As for the real meat of the game - gameplay - it is the most fun game I played this year. I have loved the MegaTen battle mechanics in every game since Nocturne. The high school sim part of the game is well integrated into everything else; your sim performance has an important impact on the dungeon crawling. I also appreciated that the game as a whole breaks the mold in so many different ways. It takes the best parts of Nocturne, Digital Devil Saga, and Devil Summoner and combines then into a dungeon crawler / high school sim with an excellent plot. It works.

Sean

I need to play this one too. But I will still at least try Persona 2 first. I owe it that much. Everyone always makes P3 sound very, very good. There must be a grain of truth somewhere!

My favorite DS game was Etrian Odyssey. My runner up for favorite PS2 game of 2007 would be Odin Sphere, although I'm a little queasy about calling it an RPG.

~7thCircle

Sean

I'll get into my favorites in a later column. Etrian Odyssey was a decent game, but I don't think I can call it my favorite of the year. It just bugged me too much when it became a chore to play. Thanks for the letter!



QUICKIES

You should totally play Suikoden V! I've almost finished it for like the fourth and a half time. Love everything about the game.
Carabbit

Sean
I will, I will. It has always been one of my most anticipated titles on the shelf. I just always looked over it when choosing what to play. Why? I sometimes look for games that I can play while doing other things, primarily chat on RPGamer, or watch tv. Suikoden 5 needs my undivided attention. So it sits on my shelf.

The school in IMMSE wasn't an all-girl's school, it was co-ed! The school doesn't hire male teachers because the principal and vice-principal are sexist. That's why Hibiki disguised himself, to get a job and prove the to the two of them that men can teach just as well as women.
Sorry about that outburst, but I don't want people to think I named myself after an anime about some sort of pervert...
Strawberry Eggs

Sean
I remember it being a little bit of an ecchi anime. I hope I spelled that right. When he was discovered, I believe it was hilarious. Anyways, I don't have a memory for that sort of thing, so I was happy to just remember the show. ^^;



IN CLOSING

I'm a little tired (and I want to play FFXI), so I won't write too much here. See you all on Wednesday!



Send a Letter!

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Sean is a level 56 Red Mage of AWESOMENESS


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Now Obsessed With:

1. Sly Cooper 2: Band of Thieves
2. Guild Wars (all four--Prophecies to start)
3. The Legend of the Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
4. Bleach (Wii)
5. Bleach (DS)
6. Heroes of Might and Magic V: Tribes of the East
7. The Witcher
8. Monster Hunter Freedom 2
9. Metroid Prime 3
10.Final Fantasy VI Advance



Hot Topics:

1) What were the best games of the year, and why? Speak of graphics, story, etc.
2) What game(s) from 2007 do you think deserves a sequel, direct or otherwise?
3) What game(s) from 2007 do you think should never have seen the light of day?



Most Wanted

1. Dragon Quest IV/V/VI remakes
2. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2
3. White Knight Story
4. Guild Wars 2
5. Super Mario Galaxy
6. Dragon Quest Monsters Joker
7. Mass Effect (but only if I get a free 360...)
8. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
9. Eternal Sonata (PS3)



My Reviews

1. Dragoneer's Aria
2. Etrian Odyssey
3. Lord of the Rings Online
4. Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
5. Folklore
6. Dungeon and Dragons Tactics



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