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Massive Tales of Effects
February 10th, 2012

02/10- 12:00PM EST

As the long wait for Tales of Graces F gets ever shorter, I wonder, has the release of Tales of Xillia in Japan hurt people's interest? I hope not. Having played the Japanese version, I can assure everyone it is absolutely worthy of your attention. That being said I'll understand if more people pick up that other big RPG of March.

Anyway, On to the letters!





The Letters
Arch-Duke of Content

Mr. 18-Wheeler. 

We meet again.  I'll do my best to supply you with ample content.  Shall we?

Sure is a lot of Chrono Cross talk lately.  I'll agree the soundtrack is superb, but as a game it's profoundly flawed.  The game exists more than anything else for the purpose of getting a bizarre, outlandish story across.  It does that quite well, but the actual parts where I was playing the game didn't mesh too well with me.  They felt at best perfunctory, unnecessary for what was happening.  Arranging all the moves outside battle was time-consuming and annoying, while combat itself felt like busywork even more than in most other RPGs.  Actually a lot more considering how few rewards battles provided, which definitely decreased my desire to experience them.  Looks and sounds great, throws out ideas not seen elsewhere, but felt like it should have been a non-interactive form of media instead of a game. 


Wheels

Wow, harsh! Honestly though, that was my experience the first time I played it. The second time around things seem to click a lot more. I just found combat to be very interesting. There's the challenge of modifying the field element, knowing when to use elements and when to save the charge, using elements like diminish and magnify etc. I wouldn't say its perfect at all, there's certainly a lot it doesn't do well. However I think overall it's a really fun game, that could probably use a nice remake to fix things up a bit. Maybe you just didn't have enough of the silly characters in your party?

I know you never owned a Dreamcast, but I hooked mine up for awhile recently and experienced things.  Things like Seventh Cross Evolution, in which you get the thrill of clubbing randomly spawning enemies to death over and over in the hopes of drawing pictures on a 10X10 grid to create new body parts for yourself.  Sounds weird, and is.  Also dispenses all of its plot literally at the eleventh hour, turning a game that had no dialogue whatsoever into a fairly common sci-fi trope of an apocalypse riddled Earth trying to revive.  Oops, spoiled it.  Nobody commented on my review so it's clear no one here ever played the thing, anyway.
Then there's Armada.  I'll just say that hearing alien ships let out a Wookie roar when they're struck by my ship is something George Lucas must have been too busy to notice.  I'm not kidding, it's a Wookie roar, which invalidates the Alien tagline that no one can  hear you in space.  As for the game, Sigma Star Saga is a better blending of the RPG with the space shooter, and that game is profoundly flawed so I'm being kind.


Wheels

I actually did get a Dreamcast, and still have it though I'm trying to sell it. I just got it late once it hit clearance, and never really liked the thing. I was still bitter from the Saturn days, and more importantly none of the franchises that made me love the Saturn to begin with even showed up on the system. Anyway sounds like I missed out on some, shall we say, "interesting" games? I was interested in the idea of a space shooter/RPG mix, are either of them actually worth playing?

Then we come to Shenmue.  I'll have much more to say about those two games in the future.  Right now, I'd like to offer the observation that a series founded on its attention to realism and detail did something a little off when forklifts driving all over a dockyard don't have the slightest effect upon the walking habits of cats. 


Wheels

 What was that? I'm sorry, memories of trying to play the very boring Shenmue put me to sleep...

Wait, I will go into something.  I'll assume you've picked up something heavy enough to require a second set of hands, right?  In that situation, would you ever just start shifting the object left and right quickly while giving your partner almost no time to react, and taking a different route every time when you're lifting more than one of them in a row?  I'm just curious, because it seems like a potentially painful situation to have a large crate in your hands, yell out "Left left left left" and count on the partner to make those motions to keep from dropping the thing - probably onto your own foot.


Wheels

Is this like, part of the gameplay? Team lifting? You know every time I wonder how Sega, a company that has been around for decades, can be so terrible.  Sometimes I just have to remind myself that it actually spent an obscene amount of money ($70 million!) funding a game that features team lifting as part of the gameplay.

Okay, leaving Dragon Quarter aside (you've convinced me to sample it when I'm able), which disc-based Breath of Fire seems more worthwhile, the third or the fourth?  I gather I can expect typical Capcom translations for both, but story is never my primary concern with a game, so let's leave that aside.  Lay into them!


Wheels

That's a tough one, as I've only just begun to sample Breath of Fire IV. Despite that, I think I would have to say start with Breath of Fire IV. I find Breath of Fire III's early game to be pretty boring, and there's just nothing really about it that grabs you. Breath of Fire IV already has a more interesting setting, better graphics, and doesn't make you suffer through a wood chopping mini-game! Though I know you don't have a PS3 or PSP, should you get either it's also available for a relatively low price on PSN.  Plus if you play that one first we can compare notes, as I'll be giving it a go over the coming months.

Hey, speaking of Capcom stuff, how big a Guns 'n Roses fan would you have to be for those boss names in X5 to seem cool instead of stupid?  Yes, those were inserted by the localization team.


Wheels

I have to ask a serious question here audience. Can someone please explain to me how someone at Capcom signed off on the name Duff McWhalen for one of the bosses in Mega Man X5? Guns n' Roses reference or not, that is just ... terrible! I know the X series has never exactly been known for good boss names, but that (and the rest of the bosses really) is just terrible!

Talk about Dragon Quest.  Specifically, convince me to start either or perhaps both VII and VIII


Wheels

I'm not quite sure I could, or would want to, convince you to play Dragon Quest VII. I mean, I enjoy it, it was even the first game I wrote  in about to this very column back in the day when a certain awesome person was running it. The issue is, Dragon Quest VII is a one hundred hour or more RPG, and it is paced as such. You don't get the job system until like thirty hours in, heck you don't even see combat until a few hours in! I'm sure you hear the majority of the music in the game by the time you've reached the job system as well. I mean like I said, it can be enjoyable, it has a great job system once you get it, and the various stories you run into are very good. It's just the game is set at a glacial pace. Jump into that one only if you have a ton of time to spare.

Dragon Quest VIII on the other hand, is easy to recommend. Featuring a huge beautiful world to explore, an amazing localization, and the usual fun Dragon Quest combat (if you like the series' fights) I can't recommend it enough. It can be a bit slow at times, and the loading times can get annoying, but overall it is an experience not to miss. Easily one of the best in the series. The only thing I didn't care for is the character advancement system, but at the very least it does allow a fair deal of customization.

Okay, more Valkyrie Profile talk.  The original game is superb.  It was the best thing I played all last year that was new to me (not that I played many 2011 games, but still).  tri-Ace hit it out of the park with this game.  A truly gripping tale and memorable people involved with it, along with interesting locations, entertaining battles, and visuals that show what the PS1 could do with 2D when developers actually tried it instead of those polygons that haven't aged well.  I reviewed the thing at the time and it's still awesome.  Sample it and love it before you try either of the other games.


Wheels

I have played it a little bit, and had trouble getting into it. I think I just wasn't in the right mood though, so I will be firing it up on my PSP in the near future. I have sampled the DS game, but we'll talk about that in a minute. Keep poking me about Valkyrie Profile and I will get to it!

Its sequel is a mixed bag.  Sure it looks great, and has quite a few nice tri-Ace touches in its combat and interface.  It also has some very annoying aspects of its inventory that will take you a long time to sort through - and you'll have to, because the difficulty suddenly spikes in the middle, and unless you're a deity with its combat grinding will be unavoidable.  If you're in it for the story, get set for a loooong stretch in the middle with almost nothing happening before events pick up again for a conclusion that flies out the window of the asylum.


Wheels

I was always more interested in the sequel (though I won't play it until after the first) though not for the greatest of reasons. Namely, it involved Takayuki Suguro, the brilliant director behind Resonance of Fate. What I've heard of the game is usually that the combat is great, and the story is not anywhere near the level of the original.

As for the DS game, it had a great idea.  What if your protagonist in a  game was so fixated on vengeance that he was willing to sacrifice his comrades in order to fuel that goal?  Too bad the result doesn't do the concept justice.  Get set for dull tactical fights that are either way too easy or way too hard with no real middle ground, and characters who immediately shut up after joining so that their sacrifice is meaningless because they no longer matter.  Fun times this game will generally not provide.


Wheels

I did pick this up (for like $10) and have played a little bit of it. The concept is really brilliant. The execution obviously leaves much to be desired. Still I just like the idea of forcing players to go to insane lengths to try and not sacrifice anyone. I tried to to do this in the first battle where it seems required, and was unable to find a way to beat it without using the sacrifice ability. I'd like to see them try again with this concept, this time cleaning up the many gameplay issues.

I've started Final Fantasy XII and have thoughts... that I'm not sharing.  Not yet, anyway.  Oh wait, I do have a thought: some of the visuals are ripped directly from Star Wars.  The intro has some shots taken directly from The Phantom Menace.  Seriously.  Look again at that parade and those vehicles.


Wheels

Oh there is little doubt that some concepts were ripped straight from Star Wars. At least the game is far more interesting than The Phantom Menace! I'd really be interested to hear your thoughts on Final Fantasy XII since I was unable to make the backtrack episode about it.

On that note, figure out a way to fit John Wayne into an RPG.


Wheels

Well the obvious way would be to just make a wild west RPG. I'm going to go ahead and say make a new Wild Arms game with a few less Sci-Fi elements. Then use clips of John Wayne as the only dialog the main character speaks. No cutting and clipping of dialog either, the lines he speaks must be the exact lines spoken by John Wayne. This is a brilliant idea!

Oh, you wanted more Tengai Makyou IV stories, didn't you?  Hmmm....
Salt Lake City is populated entirely by people who are blue.  Literally.
A gigantic television in the center of Atlanta will call out people who are terrorists by name.
Norma Jean is waiting in central park of New York to star on Broadway, on the Devil's Isle Manhattan.
The robotic duplicate of the US President is waiting in Dallas to stop any efforts to undo the system that controls this nation!

A gigantic orbital laser is waiting to destroy Tombstone under orders from Houston at any moment.
American youth go wild for the music of Candy, who sings a crunchy number called We Want Candy in an effort to brainwash the populace.

Native Americans ride motorcycles and turn into werewolves in Montana.
Detroit's problems are caused by a maniac in a mansion at the back of the city named Calver who likes to blow up parts of it at random.

New Orleans' problems are caused by a vampire named Draculoa who has sucked the whole city into a nightmare.
A little tamer than the last batch, but crazy nevertheless.  I played it in Japanese five years ago, though it's conceivable that the internet has translated it by now.  Then again, it's not likely.


Wheels

I am clearly going to have to find out if the internet has translated it, because this sounds hilarious! How import friendly is this game? Too tough to play without knowing a lick of Japanese?

Oh, a connection challenge.  Eh, link Buried Alive (1990) to Wachenroder.  Nothing too obscure for you today.
I'm tapped.  Enjoy!
JuMeSyn


Wheels

I'm going to save this for next week, as it seems a shame to use up all this great content in one week!

Legend of  Chrono Soundtracks

Señor Wheels!


I'm glad you're enjoying XIII-2 also! It's been a mini-time sink for me the last week, too. It feels a little more brainless than the original because the difficulty level has been notched down and the plot is fairly contrived, but it's still really fun. Something I think XIII did really quite well was building the mythology of the universe in such a way that you didn't have to know everything about everything, but if you were curious you could investigate and learn more. Data laid out in the Analects for example -- I really wanted to know more about Etro and what happened to the so-called gods. I didn't realize until I started playing XIII-2 that yeah, I really was curious about the past on Pulse. The time element feels like a MacGuffin to me, since it was essentially necessary to get another game out of it, but it does provide the opportunity to explore Paddra and other locations of interest which is worth the technically unnecessary retcon. Wait, there's time travel, would that make it a procon?


Wheels

Haha, I'm not sure! Is procon a word? FFXIII-2 is certainly a lot of fun, but I think it proves to some extent that all the extraneous stuff FFXIII didn't have really wasn't necessary. Granted XIII takes too long to get going (though it isn't as bad as Dragon Quest VII), but I don't feel like XIII-2 hits the same highs that its predecessor did, despite some nice tweaks to the battle system. Regardless, I'm certainly far from disappointed. There's a lot to love about it.

I was debating with a friend on how he doesn't like modern FF's because of the integral romance element. After pointing out that neither XII nor XIII had any real romantic plotline and X came out a decade ago, we figured out what I think is a fundamental change in the series and alluded to above. The older games utilized characters and locations in a very segmented way, and there has been a gradual shift towards a more integrated approach to characters and universe.


Wheels

Interesting, I'm not quite sure what you mean though, let's have you elaborate...

Backstory has always been important for characters, particularly in series entries with minimal differentiation beyond special abilities and character design. I love VII and VIII, but really, all the characters play the same excluding these elements. Having an 'ability-swap' tool is a pretty clear indicator that they act as substitutes. So while the character histories are important and meaningful, they don't feel cohesive to the game mythology. Each character in VI has a hometown because that's what was expected. You need places to explore and fluff play time, they need to have been born somewhere -- problem solved. Would it matter if Doma was on the western continent and Kohlingen were on an island in the north? If you really want to extrapolate geopolitical factors, I guess, but not so much. Even in the PS era where they did capture a more global sense of connectivity between cities' political motivations and overlaying the mythology there was a lot of filler that could have been replaced or altered without drastically affecting the story.


Wheels

This is very true. As much as I loved VI, the world as a whole could have used a bit more depth. Still, given the age of the title I think we can easily forgive the older games for such things. This is why I've come to enjoy RPGs that focus on a much smaller area of a world, instead of the whole thing. This allows the places and people to become much more fleshed out, and makes the game world feel more alive.

Compare that to XIII, where the gameplay and story are almost entirely integrated with the mythology. Summoning had been regularly integrated as a plot element (good move Squeenix), but Pulse isn't some giant land to explore for the hell of it. The relationship between Cocoon and Pulse drives the entire story and is layered on centuries of history you only begin to understand. XII paved a lout of groundwork towards building an interrelated character and location landscape, largely thanks to the medieval style political plot but also because the characters and story-driving factors are a product of the world they exist in rather than operating independently.


Wheels

You're right on XIII, but the issue is most of the locations in the game had little importance or relation to the story at all. What was that ancient tower they climbed in Grand Pulse? What was the deal with that lake turning to crystal? It just seemed like the characters paid little attention to the current location and most of the story scenes could have taken place anywhere. Of course, they all looked so good that I don't think this bothered most of us. Still, the game needed a tighter connection between the locations and the story.

That's why I can say I really like XIII-2 (35 hours in). XIII built an extremely dense mythological base that wasn't fully explored and now I have the opportunity to learn more. The linearity of XIII didn't bother me because really, other than having to explore a little bit more in the areas, X was just as linear. Your skill development was largely hindered by Sphere Grid costs and lock spheres impeded the way for a significant chunk of time. And did we forget that the Mi'hen Highroad was a really unnecessarily long path down a tunnel, or that the Calm Lands were a huge and vast landscape to explore with practically nothing in it? I actually prefer the epic feel of XIII's mythology because it really strikes home that the entire universe is at stake. Coupled with the bitter isolation you feel on your journey which was entirely a product of the lack of towns (didn't bother me at all, most townspeople are a waste of time) -- although I may be giving too much credit to S-E for using this as a gameplay element comment on your social estrangement in the story -- and I felt much more strongly about the XIII universe than many recent FF worlds. If I have to sacrifice a little bit of left-or-right decision-making, that's fine.


Wheels

I think you're spot on about a lot of this. XIII's mythology was very interesting, much more so than the villain and his vague motivations. The linearity never really bothered me either. The locations looked so cool, and there were always little side paths to wander down to find extra treasure and such. The problem is more that the game design makes it feel almost crushingly linear at times. At least Final Fantasy X gave you an air ship and let you freely travel between locations. I get why it bothers people, but the characters and battle system are so good that they far outweigh the bad. I think we give too much credit to S-E for the feeling of isolation the game creates (since the lack of towns seems to have been a way to speed development), but that doesn't change the fact that their absense actually makes the game better. This is what makes the area of Grand Pulse so special. It wouldn't have been the same with a bunch of towns in the middle of all those monsters. I think as time goes on, more people may give XIII a second chance and realize it is not as bad as they think.

Soapbox aside! I also love the music. I'm really impressed with the work they've done. XIII had a lot of very good, ambient background pieces that I can't remember at all. The stylistic variety here is making everything more memorable and enjoyable. Songs feel like actually songs, not filler on loop. I was afraid it would be too J-pop, and some of the vocals channeling Enya/Portishead are, but getting away from a pure orchestral setting has done a lot of good for the overall feel of the areas. I particularly like the seamless transitions between an area's music and the 'aggressive' version of it when monsters appear. Why hasn't this happened more often? My particular favorites so far are Hope's theme (new and really good), the thing that plays in the Yaschas Massif (with the prelude arpeggio), the thing that plays in the Archylte Steppe (I think when it rains), and the one in the AF300 Bresha Ruins.


Wheels

I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure other games have done the dynamic switching of music. XIII-2's soundtrack is certainly something special. I especially like the way themes from XIII and the series as a whole are worked in. Eclipse would have to be my favorite piece, channeling the classic Final Fantasy theme with a cool aggressive mix to boot. Can't say how glad I am I bought the special edition with the entire 4-disc soundtrack!

Tableturner - what do YOU think my favorite FF is?


Wheels

Is it Final Fantasy XIII? I hope so, that game needs more people to champion it. If not that I'll go with the classic guess of Final Fantasy VI since that's my favorite.

Quickie: I agree with you on Bastion, the production level was great, I didn't love it as much as reviews raved, but there should be more creative, well-developed games like this. Cheers for indie folk! I hope you enjoy BoF IV, I liked it more than III once I got into it. It's more of a stylistic departure from the first three, with the softer graphics and Chinese influences.  -It's a good bookend for the 'canon' series (disregarding Dragon Quarter) though, and the Dragon Gods are pretty cool.

J


Wheels

It's just nice to see a fun little indie title get a lot of love. It also makes some of the higher budget downloadable efforts that aren't very good seem even worse. Seriously, Daggerdale is the best you can do with the Dungeons and Dragons license?

I'm enjoying BoF IV so far, enough to recommend it to someone else as you can see in the previous letter! There's no chance it will top Dragon Quarter as the best game in the series, but I expect fun times ahead!

This Letter Ends With Okami

Hey Wheels!  What’s new?
 
I wanted to write in today because a few things are concerning mw RPG-wise and I’d like your expert opinion on these matters, if you wouldn’t mind.


Wheels

I will certainly do my best to answer your questions, and thank you for calling me an expert!

Firstly, I would like to know if you think the next Persona game will be shown at E3.  I keep hearing things about a new entry in the series, and I think I’ve even heard the producer mention that it’s coming...but when?  What say you, o wise one?


Wheels

It wouldn't surprise me, but I would think that would be more likely to be announced at a Japanese show. I'm sure we'll hear something soon. With the success of Catherine I'm sure Atlus can see that it could potentially have a huge title on its hands with a Persona on HD consoles. I just can't recall off-hand Atlus Japan ever announcing anything at E3, so I'd say wait for the next Japanese show for that announcement.

Secondly, I’m sure you know that Neku Sakuraba of The World Ends With You is making a cameo in the new Kingdom Hearts 3D.  Do you think this foreshadows a sequel for the awesome TWEWY?  For the WiiU, perhaps?  Or are you of a mind that The World Ends With You was so unique and fresh in it’s approach that to attempt a sequel would do the game a disservice, as it could never match the original’s....originality?


Wheels

This is a tough question. I'm sure for starters it shows that the developers really loved the title. I'm going out on a limb and saying at the very least it shows the developers desire to want to make a sequel. It think there's certainly enough critical acclaim to warrant one. Would it ruin the original's unique qualities? I don't think so, as long as it's on a new system with different quirks. I think if they just do a similar game on 3DS it will lose some of its luster. We shall see!

I sure wish Tales of Xillia would be localized.  It looks so good.  (HINT HINT NAMCO).


Wheels

OK I really need to take you and other Tales fans to task on this one. What Namco needs to be doing right now is getting Tales of Graces F released and making that a success. Graces F is a massive project (the extra chapter is as long as the original game!) so you need to cut them some slack on that one. Get excited for the English of that one and put those Xillia thoughts on the back burner. Having played Graces F I can assure it is worth the wait (the battle system is amazing). Sorry to sound mean, but one thing at a time folks! This isn't Japan, they can't just dump every Tales game here at once.

That out of the way, please support Graces F!

I’m playing Final Fantasy XIII-2 as well, though Kingdoms of Amalur looks really good.  Too bad I spent all my money on a Vita.  I think it’s a wise investment though, RPG-wise.  Disgaea 3, Persona 4 : The Golden, Tales of Innocence R...three RPGs I’m so looking forward to for that system.  Hopefully great RPGs will be something the Vita becomes known for, like the PSP before it.


Wheels

I agree, I have a good feeling about the Vita being a good RPG system. I'm used to portables launching with a lot of ports by now, but at least these are some games I really had hoped to see on portables (except Innocence, not a fan). With a new Ys already announced for the system, I'm pretty pumped. Can't wait to have Disgaea 3 on the go!

Funny story for you.  Back when Okami first came out, I bought it on release for the PS2.  I also got a black pug shortly afterward.  Whenever I would play Okami, my pug, named Shade, would sit and watch me play for hours.  Whenever Amaterasu barked, he would bark.  Whenever she would howl, he would bark twice.  To this day, he’s still an avid Okami fan.
 
Well, that’s all for now my friend!  Till next time!
 
Valim


Wheels

That's a cute story! You should really try and get a video of that in action, I'm sure Capcom would love to see it! Anyway, thanks for writing in, hope to hear from you again!


HEY! LISTEN!
 
WHEELS

What are your thoughts on cutesey, comic relief or mascot characters in games? Someone has to like them, since they keep appearing in, well, ALL media, but I've yet to meet someone who finds them anything but grating. Is it all for the youngins?


Wheels

It must be all for the youngins, as for the most part they seem to be the only ones who like them! The one exception for me would be the character Mieu from Tales of the Abyss. The main character Luke is abusive to Mieu in hilarious ways, and I think that whole story element was intended to make fun of mascot characters. Even if it wasn't it's still entertaining!

I'll say this; Final Fantasy XIII-2 has taught me that characters like Navy, Poshul, and Chu-Chu would be infinitely better if you could grab them, listen to them scream in protest, then throw them across the room.

-Kayma


Wheels

I can't agree more. These mascots are so much better if you get to beat the snot out of them. Imagine how much better Blue Dragon would have been if you could do this to Marumaro! Actually, on second thought, that really wouldn't have helped at all...

Anyway, XIII-2's Moogle tossing is just the bees knees!
IN CLOSING

That's it for this week, I'm going to go ahead and take in some Monster Hunter and Final Fantasy XIII-2. Maybe even a little bit of Tales of Symphonia?

See you next week!

-Wheels


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