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ASK MATT
Now, With Special Sauce! September 8, 2005

Matt Demers - 23:33 EST

HELLO, everybody, again. It's the third week of this competition, as you all know, and the letters are flowing in a little more regularly, which is very nice for a change. Keep sending them in, if for no other reason than to keep Andrew happy. He's your favourite Q&A host, after all.

I will be quite happy indeed if I manage to survive the cut this week. This is because I'll be back at my own place, where there is lovely high-speed access, for the construction of next week's column. I'm very thirsty for quick loading times, but alas; there is little I can do for now, and home really isn't all bad: I love the satellite TV here, and there's always ice cream in the freezer. But what am I supposed to do to get high-speed, hold my parents at ice cream scoop-point and make my demands? Quite honestly, I'm surprised that I've been able to tie up the phonelines for this long without them hollering at me from across the house...

Despite these qualms, I shall presently thrust my hand into the Q&A contest mailbag. Hopefully I come out holding something other than a random mortgage offer.




L E T T E R S
Say Fuzzy Pickles!


If this is Matt, I commend you on the mention of Earthbound in your profile.. Although, some may find it sad when a 19 year old like myself finds pleasure in beating the stuffing out of Starmen with a baseball bat.
But in more serious (snort) business...

Ok, here's a few questions to fire off. Would you rather have an RPG with a beautiful concept that wasn't fleshed out (i.e. Animal Crossing, Graffiti Kingdom) or something that takes a common concept but has a lot of effort put into it (Dragon Warriors, recent Final Fantasy, possibly World of warcraft) and why? I guess it would particularly suck to get a game with a crummy concept and no effort.

Matt

Funny story: When I first saw Earthbound on the shelf at Blockbuster, I was twelve or thirteen, and I was fully convinced that it was some sort of 'save-our-earth-from-pollution' game of the edutainment variety. One day we went in, and THAT was the game my little sister wanted to rent... and despite my frustrated pleas, that's the game my mom decided to spend her money on to rent. I had never been so surprised. Anyway, yes- Mr. Saturn. Eraser erasers. Starmen. Baseball bats. Smashing. Much fun to be had.

To answer your question, if I had to choose, I'd rather have an everyday game that has evidently been worked hard upon- to me, these have a lot more to offer, and a greater feeling of satisfaction. At heart, I'm an old-school gamer, and so I already look initially upon "new concepts" with a suspicious glare. Animal Crossing was interesting, I'll agree, and it was good to a point. That point was exactly when you realized how many things they COULD have done with the game that they just didn't do, which is many.

Also, if you started your own company, primarily what type of RPG goodies would you dole out to us poor public? You know, Atlus does the strategy, Squeenix does mostly Mainstream RPG's, and EA Sports... we don't speak of them here.

Matt

As I mentioned above, I like-a the olden days, and as much as I enjoy Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics, I still prefer non-tactical RPGs. My DREAM would be for the 2-D RPGs to make a comeback, but I'm sure that the company would tank quickly, since it seems that the majority of video-game players care about pretty packaging and shiny graphics more than solid gameplay. Also, maybe if there wasn't so much of this graphical emphasis, we'd see new installments of certain series (at least) biannually.

One last thing, since Matt's favorite was Earthbound, then: if you had the chance to make a sequel to Earthbound, even though it's technically already a sequel, what one thing would you improve the most, despite the obvious (graphics would obviously be better, there would hopefully be a little less 80's story developement, and they can't have been that proud of the dubbing)
Music would be higher quality but not necessarily better in design.
This applies to any favorite RPG of the other contestants if this hits them for some reason.

Anyways, thanks for the time and good luck.
P.S. I am a Macintosh Gamer, and if you got a problem with that then... well ok I guess one vote isn't that much of a threat. Reply and mine is yours anyways ^^

Pyrrhic One


Matt

If there's ONE thing that bothered me a trifle in Earthbound, it was the enormous imbalance of power between characters. By the end of the game, we have a hero-of-ungodly-power with thrice (or quadrice? Is that a word?) as much HP and PP as some other characters, who has the highest attack power, the best spells, and if I remember correctly, the most powerful healing abilities. The first time I played, I had massive difficulties keeping Paula and Poo alive at all upon their initiation into the party.

In a sequel, I'd try to make things more communistic and spread the wealth a bit. Maybe then people would like Jeff for more than just his nice bottle rockets- yowza.



Real-life Power Spheres!


Dear contestant, How do you see the computer entertainment (and more specifically RPG) medium growing in the future? Let me explain that question a bit. Once little more than quirky digital diversions, RPGs have certainly blossomed into something of an art form thanks to the growing quality of art design and compositional work (not to be a Squeenix fanboy, but Nomura and Uematsu come to mind). It's also clear that RPGs have become a form a freedom of expression thanks to those developers willing to push the envelope of the politically correct and explore non-dinner-table discussion (the American developers seem best at this, particularly the now-defunct Black Isle Studios). Video games in general are also now used for aspects of military training, advertising, and consumer promotions. Now that the video game industry has eclipsed the movie industry in terms of revenue, few can question that computer entertainment holds a legitmate place in the monetary sphere.

Matt

You can like Uematsu's offerings and not be a 'Squeenix fanboy'! You could very well be a Squeenix fanGIRL, if you had the parts.

OK, that was bad. In all seriousness though: I think we're over a hill, personally, and I believe that RPGs are really lagging in influence. People sat up and noticed when Final Fantasy VII came out, but nothing has REALLY come out and impacted the RPG world to the same degree since then. In the meantime, other genres, like the run-people-over-and-get-shot-in-the-head-by-police one, have gathered steam.

Sure, video games have a place in this monetary sphere of yours, but I still don't think that it's anywhere near 'mainstream'. A stigma is present, and well- let's read the next part of your letter before I continue ranting.

Anyway, my question has several parts. I see the artistic and expressive aspects of the medium as being in flux due to challenges from several sources. Do you see the RPG medium ever becoming a legitimate art form? I'm talking museums, festivals (think Cannes for video games), national endowments, etc. Or are RPG art and music doomed to only ever receive the praise of us video game connoisseurs at RPGamer and other fansites? Also, thanks to challenges from the political arena, RPGs and video games in general may cease to be forms of expression. Do you see the expression of RPGs expanding or retracting in the future?

Furthermore, into what areas do you see RPGs' influence expanding? For example, the RPG meduim has yet to truly enter the literary sphere. Also, though it certainly has yet to be done effectively, RPGs (and video games in general) could potentially be used as a form of ministry, campaigning, or advocacy in general. Do any of these spheres seem reasonable places for RPGs to expand into? What other spheres do you imagine?

Thanks very much!
Vicissitude


Matt

If Final Fantasy X couldn't have an influence upon all of these spheres you're talking about, I don't know what will!

OK. To answer almost all of those questions in a single sentence: As long as you're in North America, I'm not sure that much is going to change, my friend. Uninformed, paranoid parents and politicians would love to censor video games until the cows come home.

Why? Too many people here associate the term "video game" with chubby seven-year-olds playing Pokemon on a handheld system with sticky fingers for eleven hours per day (not that they know what Pokemon is in the first place). I'd tend to think that at least for the next couple of decades, RPGs will be something that the mainstream is not passionate about. RPGs will be around, but they won't be in the forefront, and they're not going to infiltrate the societal fabric to any incredible extent.

But to me, this isn't necessarily a negative thing. RPGs may indeed be applicable to many things, but to be frank, I'd much rather have them stay just the way they are: another unique form of entertainment, LIKE movies or books. The mainstream doesn't have to accept it- we know the games are great, and we can appreciate them for what they are. Really, if RPGs WERE front-and-centre in society, I'd be far more worried about censorship. In the middle of the public eye, certain people would be far more hungry to strip the games of their meaning than they are now, all in the name of political-correctness.



What do you play when you've played them all?


Hi whoever-it-is (it would help if each day you wrote who's doing the column tomorrow).

I recently went over my PS2 library and realized it's seriously lacking in games. So I decided to order Radiata Stories, but I want another game as well and I need reccomendations.

I'm thinking about Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana or maybe Digital Devil Saga, both of which I hear are pretty good. Have you played either of them? Anything else I should play and don't? I've played FFs, Xenosaga series, Shadow Hearts series (not all, but a friend has SH:C ready for me...), I like TRPGs but didn't really enjoy Disgaea...

So can you help me?

Zohar Gilboa


Matt

You didn't enjoy Disgaea?! Avast, ye, you're killin' me. In that case, I wouldn't recommend their other tactical RPGs, because they are very, very similar in construct. So, avoid at all costs.

I've heard varying things about Digital Devil Saga. I haven't played either one of them yet, but I plan to as soon as my brother is finished. Oh- there's an idea! My first guest-guest-host (to better inform YOU, of course)!

Allow me to scream upstairs in a decidedly nagging voice.

Matt's Brother
I don't know anything about Digital Devil Saga. I've been playing Nocturne, you idiot.

Indeed... at any rate, I HAVE read a lot of reviews of them in recent months, since I am thinking of picking them up myself- and I do know that from what I've heard, the two games have a very similar feel. The battle system is supposed to be interesting and a bit different, but the plot seems to be sub-par at best. If you're in the market for games and don't care much about an in-depth, awe-inspiring "story experience", I'd give either one a whirl. This might be a good one to practice the rent-before-you-buy strategy.

Otherwise, let's see: There's Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, which was initially underrated, but has gathered steam as people have come to the realization that it is different and good. I personally think the game is pretty neat. Some like Kingdom Hearts, though I personally find it repetitive and mediocre. In a couple of months, Dragon Quest VIII will be released- so you could/should pick that up and give it a try; just thinking about that game makes the butterflies flutter about in mine abdomen.



A letter on letters


Hi there whoever gets this,

I think the reason many people don't write in for the contest is because they don't know the possible new blood as well as they knew Googleshng and Castomel, therefore some of them are afraid to write in because they want a solid answer they have come to expect from Cast and Goog not an insult from Z-Force and 5th degree anime otaku talk from Bucket, sometimes personality causes problems, me on the other hand am a weird weird man that just loves the thrill of "OMFG my bit of internet stupidity actually made it... OMFG!!" while other people had a penpal like realationship with the other hosts so it's only natural sometimes when mail doesn't come in, just my thoughts on that, hope you contestants get quality letters from someone

Now for a question: Do you think Radiata Stories would be a wise investment or should I wait until it is bargain bin priced? I just want an opinion based on what the contestant thinks of what they know about the game

Arros Raikou

Still votes for whoever posts his weirdness and thinks everyone else should too


Matt

See, here's the thing: I would show my weirdness, except that I live not too far from a "Mental Health Facility". I'm quite worried that if my true form was to make an appearance, the website would get shut down by external forces, and I would be whisked away with haste to the aforementioned looney-bin. In that case, there would certainly be no way to continue being a part of this Idol gig, and my life would officially be destroyed, which would be sad.

Speaking of bins, I'd wait for the bargain bin-- I'm personally waiting for e-Bay deals. I just haven't seen enough goodness come out of Tri-Ace lately to blow CDN$70 on a new incarnation, and based on everything I've read, it doesn't really look like Radiata Stories is really much to write home about. Combat is reportedly button-mashy, which doesn't float my boat, and there are over 100 recruitable characters, which makes me wonder how likeable any of them are in particular.

However, you CAN apparently kick everything in sight when you're on the field or in towns. If you like kicking, or you're a horse, then maybe it was built just for you.



MORE Radiata Stories?? What is this?


Man! I'm going to be buying Radiata Stories in around 2 hours and I was planning to beat Shadow Hearts Covenant first, but I can't beat the damned final boss! Should I go level up a ton or do a bunch of sidequests? Leveling up would be easy because I have a ton of healing moves and items and a truck load of munny (Kingdom hearts reference. sue me) but sidequests would probably be less boring.
Matt

Lots and lots of mentionings of Radiata Stories today... there must be something in the air- ahh, crap, never mind...those are my cookies burning!!

If you went and completed a few sidequests, you might level-up at the same time, and get some extra items to help cheapify your task of slaying the final boss in the process!

Also, what would you say are the top ten RPGs of all time and why? (I want long answers, dammit!) I am very new to RPGs (just read my editorial, Meaningless opinions of an RPG n00b) and haven't played, like, any old ones. I tried to play old RPGs on the side along with the new ones (trust me, starting of high school while trying to beat around 20 new and old ROGs is not easy) but I just don't see the point. So far I haven't been all that impressed with Final Fantsy 6, 7, 8, or 9 and Star Ocean Sedcond Story is just plain boring. Maybe I just haven't played enough of them? Also (don't hurt me) I want to know why everyone loves Chrono Trigger so much...

Finally, to wrap things up, what is your opinion on Tales of Symphonia? (if you say you love it, I'll vote for you!)


Matt

I love Tales of Symphonia!

In reality, I think it's a decent play, though nothing truly amazing. The battle system is fun and fast-paced though- and while many have said that the story is bland, I still think it's one of the best RPGs the Gamecube has to offer.

Now that we have that out of the way, let me say something: Why is it that many people in the new crop of RPG players dislike games of yesteryear? I have a friend who absolutely loves Final Fantasy X. It is the first RPG that he has ever played, and did he EVER play it... dodging every last lightning bolt, and collecting every last Wing to Discovery. However, despite my advice, he refuses to play any older Final Fantasies, citing that he just "can't get past the graphics". How pitiful... in my humble opinion, such people don't deserve to enjoy RPGs in the first place.

To make a top-ten list of the best RPGs of all time is really not easy, and if you're wary of non-new-ness, my opinion will likely not be shared by the likes of you. However, let me give this list-building html tool a spin to try and answer you in new convenient sentence-summaries...

THE TOP TEN GAMES ACCORDING TO ME

  1. Earthbound: Quirky and fun. Trout-flavoured yogurt. Turn-based-battle heaven, with a "twist".
  2. Final Fantasy 6: The most polished of the SNES-era Final Fantasy games. Awesome story, great soundtrack, and some of the best character development of any game, ever.
  3. Final Fantasy 4: The "roots" of the Final Fantasy series. Spoony bards, black chocobos, and many airships.
  4. Dragon Warrior 4: Easily, the most gigantic game of the NES era. Includes decent AI, by 1992's standards, and a great story, by Dragon Warrior-standards (neither of which were particularly high).
  5. Dragon Warrior 3: Rounds off the first two of the series quite nicely. This is the definition of old-school.
  6. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness: Incredibly addictive. Explosive allies. Witty and downright hilarious, D00d!
  7. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door: Surprisingly difficult, incredibly funny at times. Amazingly well-done translation, in my opinion.
  8. Final Fantasy 5: The most challenging Final Fantasy game. Full of clichés. The only "true" FF with a majority of female characters! Lots of fun.
  9. Secret of Mana: An early Action-RPG. Great story, great music, and really fun to play in two-player mode!
  10. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: So much to find and figure out, it could almost be a puzzle game. Inspired me to design pencil/paper dungeons for months afterward.

There you have it, a list of ten of my favourite RPGs. These standings usually change seasonally, probably depending on the games I'm playing through at the time, or maybe depending on my hormonal (im)balance.

Chrono Trigger isn't in my top ten, but it is almost there. Everyone loves it because it has everything: An intriguing plot; interesting, diverse characters; an innovative battle system; a great soundtrack; all the bells and whistles you would ever need for an RPG, including about three million side-quests, supporting story, mini-games, multiple endings... gah! What am I saying? Maybe I should insert it a few places up the list and knock Zelda off.

Anyway, the only conclusion I can come to is this: If you don't like Chrono Trigger, you must not have played it very much, or you must be ill. Fly fly, to the doctor's!





C L O S I N G
IN CONCLUSION:

That's about it, everybody. The mailbag has been exhausted, and all that remains is space to be used up by the letters you send in for tomorrow's column, which I assume will be written by ZForce.

What did you think this time around? If you hated it, then don't vote for me! It's the only way to make sure I don't win.

Regardless, I bid you all a fond farewell.

Matt apologizes for the burnt cookies, and is heartily working on a blueberry pie instead...


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