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ASK SENSEI
Naughty Bunny
December 5th, 2007

Jordan - 9:10p.m. EST

Sean is busy working on a big project for school, so he asked me to fill in today and tomorrow. My wife is away on a med-school interview, so I'm all by my lonesome with nothing to do.

Recently, I have finally finished my review of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. It took a long time to finish, but it was well worth it. And that includes having to restart because my team was WAY too underleveled to win the last fights. I have restarted the game for a third time because I am apparently a masochist. That, and I want to finish it on normal this time. (I replayed it on easy to make things go faster.)

The title of today's column is referencing my bunny, Lionel. He has recently become an adolescent, so he has started chewing on anything and everything. To keep him from chewing us out of house and home, I put up some boards for him to chew on. I got nearly enough boards to cover his entire area, and he usually chews on them, but there is still ONE spot that is unprotected that he insists on gnawing on. I have to chase him away every time I catch him doing it, so he has been a very naughty bunny indeed. And shame on all you who thought it meant something else.




LETTERS
Reviewing Reviewers


Welcome back Sean! Cotter! Sensei!

That nutjob Lusipurr ended his previous column with a series of questions, then prompty vanished so that you get the benefit of my marvelous and correct answers. Clearly there is kindness in his heart.

I am not sure if "Gamespot" is a word you are allowed to print on your website, so feel free to do a replace all on this letter replacing "Gamespot" with "the awful review site which shall be unnamed". In short (and to avoid ranting), I turned my back on Gamespot's reviews a few years ago primarily because I found them to be overly negative and useless; the firing of their reviews manager was long overdue. A slew of mediocre RPGs came out in 2005 and I needed to guess which ones were gems and which were flops. The problem with Gamespot was that the games all scored similarly and the reviews were vague and emphasized the cons over the pros. Plus, random battles were often cited as cons in RPGs. What?! That's like docking the score of an FPS if it requires you to aim and shoot! Their reviewers often come across as being tired of video games and the writing quality was poor. I'll make this a sort of segue into Lusipurr's question as well as one that you bring up every now and then: what I look for in a video game review.

1) To me, a game review should clearly answer 1 question: Is this game fun to play? Once that is done, explain why it is fun to play or not. This way I can decide if I agree with you and then whether or not I would enjoy the game. For me, it is that simple.

2) The reviewer should be excited by gaming. You should like video games. You should like them a lot. If a reviewer is bored with a particular genre or gaming in general, I can tell when I read the review and it becomes difficult to decide whether or not the reviewed game is one that would excite me.

3) The review should be well written, especially if you are salaried. If I go to a review site where I know the reviewers are paid, the words "very", "really", and "a lot" should NOT occur 10 times each in the review. If you are writing for a living the quality of your writing should reflect that. I want to see big words, creative expressions, and entertaining anecdotes in your reviews. I like games. I like sharing my opinions on games. Still, I do not write game reviews for a living or even for free because I do not meet my own writing standards; I know my reviews, much like my QNA letters, would be long and dull.

Of the games you reviewed, I have only played Etrian Odyssey. You did an accurate job of explaining the gameplay and the difficulty, which is key because EO is all about gameplay and difficulty, but the giddy joy of exploration which kept me glued to the DS was not mentioned in your review.. Personally, I greatly enjoyed EO. The minimalist storyline, clean interface, and that feeling of discovery along with the "heart in your throat" fear of a game over made it my favorite DS game to date. That said, I know it is extremely niche and even RPGamers with tough skin could consider it torturous. Also, I thought enough of your Dragoneer's Aria review that it alone made me decide to pass on the game. Slow combat and wildly inconsistent difficulty are two huge peeves of mine in RPGs, so I decided the game would not be fun to me.

I eventually found two video game sites that live up to my reviews requirements (RPGamer, clearly, is one of them) and in the last few years I have only bought 1 miss (it wasn't an RPG, so it was the other site's fault). Good luck with the programming assignment. I hated programming in school. What do I do now? Yeah, I'm a computer programmer...

~7thCircle

Sensei

Reviewing games is tough business. You must speak for yourself and the site you represent at the same time. This is not an easy task. Plus, it doesn't matter HOW well the review is written, there will always be someone that disagrees with your opinion, so try as you might, you will not please everyone.

Even though I frequently review games, I'm of the opinion that the review process is pretty broken everywhere but here. When most other sites give a game a 3/5, people assume the game is complete garbage. I would think that a score like that would mean the game is good but not great. Incidentally, that's what it means at RPGamer. Though scales for reviews have had up to 1000 increments at some sites, there is really a three-point scale in use. 9/10 = Great. 8/10 = Good >7 = Crap.

And then you have people that only look at the score for a game. Last I checked, most reviews have text that goes along with it. It's there for a reason. As a reviewer, it can be frustrating to have people ask you a question that was quite clearly outlined in your review.

But enough standing on a soap box. Trying to review games like you suggest is kind of hard because different people define 'fun' in different ways. Pretty much everyone I work with defines watching football as 'fun.' And when it comes to describing a game as being fun, that's a tricky thing to do. I would describe the challenge of Fire Emblem as fun, but I know a lot of people that would hate the game for that very reason.

My best advice to you is to find a reviewer that you agree with and try to stick with them. Hopefully, I'm one of them.

Thanks for the letter, and I'm sure Sean appreciates the sentiments on his project.



More Reviews. Also Music


Lusipurr or Sean or Whoever Else Happens to be Q&A Host This Week,

Review scores seem to be a really hot topic in forums and podcasts and the internet in general, lately, and with your call to have readers write in about them, I couldn't resist! I don't think there is anything wrong at all with the current situation with video game review scores.

I *don't* think that the standards are ideal, really. I have problems with the x.x/10.0 rating scale, the use of only one half *of* that scale, the breakdown of each element of video games into separate categories, and the general idea that fringe 'acquired taste' genres should always receive lower grades than mainstream ones (exactly the opposite of critical theory in general). Most gamers complain about the standards, and how they are not the ideal ones. I agree with the popular consensus.

Still, I don't think many people recognize that while there are problems with the standards, standards still exist. A 7.5/10.0 means the same thing at every website or magazine: the video game is either a generally competent mainstream game or a very competent fringe game. As long as someone is familiar with the rules, he can factor the score into his purchasing decisions -- that is, after all, the entire point of enthusiast press. While there *are* better methods for recommending whether a game is worth buying (I prefer the hit/miss/DIRECT HIT format myself), as long as the method is consistent, I don't think there is any problem.

On old topics: I think my favorite video game music is the soundtrack for Mega Man V. I don't know if the composer was ever credited, but those 50-second loops are some of the catchiest, most intricately-built video game tracks I've ever heard. The music has a lot more in common with that of of J.S. Bach than I think anyone is willing to admit. It's not really the basically enjoyable music I've ever heard in a video game, but it's the most *fascinating*, and I think that is much more important! The game is unfortunately not very exceptional as far as Mega Man games go =(

Of Questions and Abuse: What do you think about the idea that the Q&A section of RPGamer has far more editorials than the Editorials section? Or, curiously, that the host asks a lot more questions than the audience? Since you aren't giving marriage advice, I understand that there are great lengths to be gone to to keep the column alive -- you can only answer questions about what your favorite video game is a finite number of times. Has anyone ever considered changing the name of the section?

Regards,

Brandon Abley



Sensei

I already gave my opinion of review practices at most places in the previous letter, so I'll skip over most of the beginning. I will mention that at most places, a 7.5 is usually indicative of a weak game. At least that's the impression I get when I read the comment threads attached to reviews with scores around there.

The music question is a good one. There are tons of games for which I love the music. I'm really partial to the soundtracks for Earthbound, Xenogears, and Wild Arms. As to which one is my favorite, that's a tough call. I get in moods for music, and I'll gorge myself on whatever it is. Recently, it's been Hikaru Utada music for me. I've been listening to her almost nonstop for about two weeks. Eventually I'll move on to something else, and I'll listen to THAT for a couple weeks.

And finally, you make an interesting point about the editorials thing. QnA really IS full of little editorials. It's been an interesting section, and it's what initially brought me to RPGamer in the first place. As for the Eds section itself, I don't think anyone has every tried to rename it, but I'm not the best person to ask. In the three years I've been at RPGamer, I've mainly been involved in the news department.

Thanks for sending in a question.



This is becoming a theme....


Salutations, my feline friend,

I must commend you for your wit and witticism. To be honest, after Matt left Q&A I stopped reading it for a while, but your schadenfreude has redeemed it in my eyes. Kudos and well done!

Video game music? My favorite is very hard to pin down, but probably the most shiver-inducing piece I've seen is Time Scar, the opening theme to Chrono Cross. Other than that, the ones that really move me tend to be lyric-based. These include the ending themes to Legend of Mana, Wild ARMs 3, Xenogears, and Kingdom Hearts, and the opening theme to KH2. I was astonishingly disappointed at the ending to FF12... even FFX-2's pop themes were more interesting.

As for non-RPG music... the themes to Metal Gear Solid and Monkey Island are masterpieces (the latter has some of the most original music layout I've ever heard, though perhaps I don't know all the terms). And Monkey Island 3's pirate song had me in stitches.

I have to say that when it comes to RPG reviews, RPGamer is really the only site I read. I've found your reviews to be fair, well-thought-out, descriptive, and long enough to give me an idea not only of whether or not the game is good, but also whether or not it is good for me. They do a good job of indicating the pluses and minuses, some of which may appeal to different areas of RPG fandom. So give yourself a hearty pat on the back for a job well done in that field!

Keep on truckin',

--Cidolfas

Sensei

Thanks for the kind words about reviews. I know we put a lot of effort into ours, and it's always nice to know people appreciate them. I put a lot of trust in my fellow staffers for reviews, too.

As for the music, you mentioned a LOT of games with AWESOME music. I'd have to agree with every single one of those. I've already answered the game-based music question, so I'll answer what else I listen to. My two favorite genres are techno and ska. I pretty much like anything that is fast. And if you couldn't tell by the Utada, I also listen to a fair bit of J-Pop, a lot of which I understand. My favorites include ORANGE RANGE, Japarinet, Ayumi Hamasaki , and Ai Otsuka. When I'm listening to English music, I tend to be all over the map. My iPod has 1811 songs, and I frequently just put it on shuffle while I work.

Thanks for sending in a letter, and keep reading our reviews!



Something Different!


Have you tried The Witcher? I bought it, but can't play it due to the amazingly long load times at every map-transition (it took me 3 minutes to load into a house, only for it to be a 10-foot by 10-foot room with a couple chairs, and then 3 minutes to exit the house, I quit at this point).

Everywhere I've read says that it is worthy of being compared to Oblivion, in some degrees being better. I never really liked Oblivion in the first place, I have a very long list of grudges with that game.

What I've been doing lately is playing back through Final Fantasy XII. I've been addicted to those player made challenges. I've been trying to decide for a long time on what challenge I would like to spend my free time on. I decided on a newer challenge, where you can only have two characters out at any time. One character can have all licenses on the bottom board, while the second character can have all the licenses on the top board. Never before have I tried any player made challenges in previous FF games (although I knew they existed). So far I'm having a blast doing this, it's a big challenge at times.

Sensei

Since I have a Mac, I've never played the Witcher, but I did get a really cool hands-on demo at E3 2006. From what I could see there, it looks like an AWESOME game, and I wish I could play it. If it gets ported to Mac, I'll definitely pick it up.

As for the challenges thing, I've done a few. My favorites have always been Zelda ones. For instance, I've gotten to Gannon in Zelda 1 without getting the sword in either quest. Granted, I DID have to use save states (only for the money making game), but I did the rest on my own without 'cheating.' Another one that was really fun, but I wasn't able to finish was for LttP. You were only allowed to get one extra heart container from heart pieces, green tunic, regular magic, and no bottles. Try as I might, I could never get past the 4th floor of Gannon's Tower. There was something about that floor that always nuked me, and it only has four rooms. Another unsuccessful challenge (since it cannot be done) was to try to solo Lavos with Crono equipped with the worst equipment in the game. Even with maxed stats, it is impossible to survive one of the attacks in his second form.

There is ONE other game that I LOVE to have challenges for, and that's the American Final Fantasy II. I used to see how fast I could finish it and at how low a level. My records were 8:17 (up to the conclusion of the last boss fight) and an average level of 42 respectively. At level 41, I was unable to survive the first Big Bang despite several attempts. Back in those days, I played FF2 like crazy. To this day, it's still my favorite game of all time.

Thanks for the letter!



NO QUICKIES TODAY



IN CLOSING

Looks like the review thing is still a hot topic. As such, I'm going to ask readers what they think about the whole Jeff Gerstmann/Kane and Lynch fiasco. The story keeps getting bigger, and I'm wondering how worse it can get. What do you guys think about how it all went down?

And since I want to be assured of a flood of letters, I'll bring up another hot topic. Jack Thompson. Think he'll be disbarred? Tell me why or why not. Just make sure you toss a question in there too.

I'm going to call it a night. I'm a pretty sleepy sensei.

Catch you on the flip,



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Jordan "zzzzzzzzz" Jackson

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