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April 28, 2014

Welcome to another edition of the mailbag! I had planned on talking more about Tales of Hearts R here but that's all been covered on the forums. This week we talk about Final Fantasy (with more on that subject in the coming weeks). I also respond to the brave soul who took my extra copy of Unlimited Saga and gave it a try. The results are surprising!

Let's get right to it...

- Michael "Wheels" Apps


This Edition's Contents:

Grand Space Emperor of Content

Mr. Cartwheels, I presume!  The last time I sent you a letter, it was consumed with hatred for Idea Factory and didn't get into much else.  So how about I broaden the palette this time?

Like starting with one of your favorites!  Put James Cagney into an RPG!


Wheels' Comment

Yay!

Wait, not yay! Curse your vast knowledge of legendary Hollywood stars. How about an RPG loosely based on the Roaring Twenties where you play as James Cagney's character, Eddie Bartlett and have to navigate the bootlegging business. That could be interesting!

Now, this opened-mind Final Fantasy thingy you're MC-ing does prompt thoughts in me.  I'm not about to go back and replay anything right now when I'm finding games that are brand new to me suck up plenty of time as it is, but I can mention what the many titles in the series I've experienced caused me to think on a first playing.

The original title.  I played its GBA incarnation, and had fun without remembering much, except that it was a great thing to play in the line of a student dining hall at night.  That's an original GBA mind you, so obviously seeing everything on the screen wasn't necessary.  If I was to play it again, I'd have to try the PS1 incarnation.  Unless you think digging up a working NES cartridge is a smart move.  Actually, even if you do, I'm not doing it.  Sorry.

Wait, I might have had an SP by that point.  Dammit, can't remember.


Wheels' Comment

That's OK, with or without a glorious back-lit screen the original game on GBA is a fun time sink, and there's many challenging ways to replay it by using oddball parties. I'd highly recommend against replaying the original NES version. The combat was about ten times slower, and really hasn't aged well. The various updates do a much better job of this, though I'd love a version with faster combat that retains the sprites from the original. Final Fantasy I is a good classic time. Of course I'd never recommend it over any of the newer titles.

Final Fantasy II!  I'll say that being stuck on a plane going across the Atlantic was a great stimulus for me to just smack my people over & over.  That's my memory of the game, though I did finish it and saw that the bonus content (this is GBA, incidentally) forced me to use all those fourth characters who kept dying as the thing went on.  I said 'nuts to you!' and was done after I killed the emperor.  I think he was the final boss, really don't remember.  His castle's musical theme was cool.


Wheels' Comment

Final Fantasy II is an odd game, but one I'm very glad Square experimented with as it resulted in the SaGa series. I don't think I played the bonus content but I do believe the emperor was the last boss. I'm not sure why this and Final Fantasy IV on the GBA were so intent on ruining the dramatic moments of losing party members by just giving you access to all of them as if nothing ever happened. Oh well, not that big of a deal since it is a nice bonus for longtime fans.

Final Fantasy III.  I did the DS version, and I remember being intrigued but not exactly falling in love with the thing.  Final Fantasy V did it better, and I will not recant that statement for anything.  III was interesting to experience once, I see no need to do so again, especially when it would mean going through the final dungeon gauntlet again.


Wheels' Comment

 Final Fantasy III seems to be another experimental game just like II. It doesn't quite get the job system right, since ultimately not all of them are very useful, and the game too often forces you to use certain ones. Not bad for a game from the NES era though. I'd say it's a shame that we never got the original, but the DS version is a fantastic remake. It would be nice just for historical purposes if we had access to the original version in legit English, of course.

Final Fantasy IV.  Wait, I played it on SNES, on GBA, and on DS.  What else is there, the PS1's load time-plagued port or the PSP's prettier version?  Um... dates back to the time when I would replay things willy nilly unless I hated their guts the first time.  I have nothing fresh to say on the thing ready to go.  Sorry.  Is The After Years anything worth experiencing?


Wheels' Comment

IV is a classic and we'll just leave it at that, though I am curious about your opinion of the DS version since it is a bit different. The After Years isn't great or anything, but a good time if you're a fan of the original. Makes a nice addition to the already gorgeous PSP version. I'd recommend that over the original Wii version, which required you to download all the chapters as separate dlc. Plus, if it hasn't been said enough, the PSP version has nice graphics.

Final Fantasy V.  Sunk something like 70 hours into the GBA version.  This game rocks.  Job system is awesome.  If it gets remade I'll certainly play it again.  Plot ain't much, but who cares?


Wheels' Comment

Yeah the plot of V is awful but the battle system is so good it's hard to really care much at all. Besides, it never takes itself too seriously so it manages some funny moments. Odd that an anime was made as a sequel to this game considering the lackluster plot. Anyway, nothing much to add, I'd love a remake with some extra jobs. Seems overdue don't you think?

Final Fantasy VI.  I've got nothing worthy of this ready to say, nor do I really need to.  It's good enough that pretty much anyone who gives it a shot will come away saying that it deserves all the accolades it's gotten over the years.  Oddly, even in these times of rampant sequels, Square Enix hasn't touched it.  Good thing?  Couldn't say, but the game doesn't need any updating to be worthy.


Wheels' Comment

  Kefka

Final Fantasy VII.  This thing.  Sure I COULD play it again.  I don't really want to though - all the hours I put in the first time (about one of which came from Sephiroth being a jerk with his attack animations that lasted forever) were enough.  Not a fan of slimming the combat lineup down to 3.  For a 17-year old game now, its translation is horrible.  Never touched its sequels either, though I think you said Dirge of Cerberus wasn't as bad as its reputation.


Wheels' Comment

Well sure, Dirge of Cerberus didn't have an overly bad reputation, though it still isn't a great shooter. Still, as an RPG-ish shooter it can be fun at times. I won't say Final Fantasy VII is in need of a full remake, but looking at the nice updated ports some of the older titles have received, I could certainly see that happening for the game. Just something to get rid of those blocky hands and that translation, you know what I mean? The game still offers a very good time despite my many issues with it.

Final Fantasy VIII.  No.  I got through it once.  An extensive remake would have to improve on everything I hated the first time, which was a lot.  I only played it about 4 years ago so my mental state hasn't changed sufficiently to make me suddenly tolerate what angered me so intensely the first time.  Want me to play it again?  Here, I'm holding out my palm.  Without monetary compensation it isn't gonna happen.

-JuMeSyn

(TO BE CONTINUED...)


Wheels' Comment

I can't really blame you. My own replay required the purchase of a guide so I could be assured of getting through the thing (I wanted to finish all the main Final Fantasy games I hadn't yet completed before XIII came out).  An odd thing happened, in that I actually learned to appreciate and like the thing. I can't recommend it or even describe why I enjoyed it, but I did. It's an odd game, even odder than SaGa in some ways. Would love to read a documentary about the making of VIII.

Anyway I'm splitting your letter between two weeks,  so look for the rest next week! There better not be a connection challenge in the second half...

The Unlimited Sagas

For many years, Iíve been hearing how notoriously bad Unlimited Saga is. Gamers mentioned how flawed, unintuitive, and confusing the whole gameplay is. Nonetheless, I did want to give it a shot myself to see myself what all the fuss is about. I decided to wait until it became very cheap or getting a free copy. It was probably in bargain bin prices for a while, but still never felt that itch or mood in making an impulsive purchase for a poorly received game. When RPGamerís mailbag host offered a free copy on twitter, I impulsively jumped in on the opportunity. All this time, I'd never really seen any of the footage or know about the gameplay details for some reason. I was going in blind, not really knowing whatís in store for me. I heard it was very bad, but never felt compelled to actually look into why it is so bad. If the game is as bad as people say, then itís simply another game to add to my collection.


Wheels' Comment

I've found it's always important to do a little digging whenever you see the general gaming population hating on a game endlessly. Sometimes that can be the sign of an under appreciated gem that just doesn't jive with the expectations of your average gamer. Of course it can just as often be a complete and utter turd, but it is worth investigating. Otherwise I never would have tried Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter or Resonance of Fate.

When I finally did start it up during a weekend, it isÖ ermÖ quite something to say the least. I was highly suggested to check out the tutorial videos on the gameplay mechanics before starting. I only watched three of the eight videos, and then went on to play to get a feel for some of the learnt mechanics before delving further. I was very glad I watched some of the tutorials; otherwise I wouldíve been completely lost. The game does nothing at all to teach you any of the mechanics. The instruction booklet covers some things, but only some of the basic parts. I chose Laura as my hero since her scenario is considered to be one of the easier ones.


Wheels' Comment

Possibly the number one issue with Unlimited Saga: the game does very little to teach you how to play it. Now it's important to note that this is a very different ambiguity than that of say Dark Souls. Dark Souls presents the player with everything they need to learn everything about the game, just doesn't outright explain things. Unlimited Saga does no such thing, and for some mechanics like learning magic, it's largely so obtuse that it's nearly impossible for the player to figure out. Easily the game's biggest flaw in addition to some weird control issues, like requiring the use of the R3 button (in a game that is menu-based).

There are lots of little things that are off or needlessly complicated, but Iíll try to keep it simple. Main problem is a lot of the mechanics are convoluted that require you to go through several menus whereas it would be an extremely simple task in other RPGs. Actions such as opening up a treasure chest require repeatedly go through several menus to take several actions whereas most other RPGs, all you do is press a button and viola, you get an item. If I want to initiate a battle with a monster I encountered, I need to go through several menus to start fighting.  I also needed to wrap my around some of the gameís terminology such as HP acting as sort of an armor whereas the LP stat is the ďHPĒ stat as we know it.


Wheels' Comment

Yeah, it's fine for a game to be complicated, and largely Unlimited Saga's design as an analog to table top RPGs works fine. The interface is just incredibly poorly designed. I'm not sure how that went so wrong. There's just so many things that could have been done very simply and made for a much better game. I wish that some day someone could go through and clean this thing up.

At least combat is not so bad after getting a feel for what does what. Only issue is feeling a little overwhelmed by having a lot of different attack and skill options. I donít really know what some of the skills do, due to lack of descriptions during battle, and not sure which attack does better or not. At least Iíve been winning battles pretty easily so I stick to what works best, and keep an eye out on equipment durability. However, you gain no EXP for battles. According to the tutorial video, battles supposedly help increase your HP the more you fight. The way to actually build up your character is through some other complicated mechanic I have yet to grasp. While I had no trouble with the battles so far, not figuring out how to strengthen my team will likely cost me in the long run. That is if I stick to the game for whatever reason.


Wheels' Comment

There's a whole thing at the end of quests where you get different icons to place on a board to enhance your character. The odd thing is I think you have no choice but to immediately place something, so you can mess your character up if you already have a good build. It was something weird like that. I haven't played Unlimited Saga in awhile. Finishing quests is the important thing though, so I think it is important to try some side quests and not just go through the main story for your character of choice.

In spite of all the negativity, I actually didnít have much of a bad time from the three to four hours Iíve played. Iím alright with the board-game approach to navigating around dungeons. I find the aesthetics and art style pretty interesting for what it is. The gameís presentation is pretty abstract, but it works for me. Being a sucker for 2D graphics, I thought all the battle sprites looked great. It still holds up quite well for a 2003 game. There were moments I felt were pretty intense during one of the quest where I went around trying to pick up cargo while a very dangerous enemy could pounce on me any moment. I can keep it away for a limited time with an item, but my supply was limited, and almost ran out before completing the quest. And of course, the biggest positive is the fantastic music. Somehow, I overlooked that whole soundtrack for all these years. I ended up listening to the battle theme on repeat after playing. Itís unfortunate that Masashi Hamauzuís great compositions come from either hated games (this), smaller games that never got a Western Release (Sigma Harmonics) or from polarizing installments (Final Fantasy XIII).


Wheels' Comment

Yeah the soundtrack is fantastic, and under-appreciated for obvious reasons. There are a number of different battle themes, all of which are great. The audio/visual design is easily the best aspect of the game. I'm glad you enjoyed the board game type approach, as it seems most didn't get that. There's really a lot to like about the game, but so much of the design was botched that getting to what is good about Unlimited Saga just takes an unreasonable amount of work. It's a crying shame.

I guess it also helped that I studied up briefly right before playing. At least I knew what I was doing somewhat and avoided being completely dumbfounded on how to do anything. I can only imagine how daunting it could be for a player to jump right into a game like this blindly. As previously mentioned, I chose one of the supposedly easy characters to play through. I wonder how brutal it would be to play the harder characters, especially with the Rat guy, Armic, who I got repeated warnings not to start with him. Again, the biggest problem with Unlimited Saga is that a lot of its mechanics are needlessly complicated, and the game teaches you none of it. You have to do various things in a roundabout manner to get simple things done. It is complex for the sake of being complex.


Wheels' Comment

It should probably be taught to interface designers as an example of how not to design your game.

Iím not sure whether or not I will continue onward with Unlimited Saga. A normal, sane gamer would drop it right then and there. However, there are some small aspects I find a little interesting, and I kind of felt proud when I began to have a bit of a feel for the game. I also barely got into the story to see how it plays out. Maybe I would feel engrossed in a tale in spite of the gameplay working against me, or maybe I have not delved into the true horrors of the game. Maybe I want to play it to see if I can conquer its oddities and showcase to friends that I am crazy. Iím primarily a handheld gamer like the Editor in Chief so most of my time and effort is more with portables. I may or may not try Unlimited Saga again, but at least I gave a shot, and it didnít break me.

-TBD87


Wheels' Comment

This would make a nice portable game (note: if they also fixed some of the many issues). I encourage you to stick with it. It's a very interesting game once you learn to navigate the glaring flaws, with a lot of depth to it. There's even the replay opportunity thanks to the different characters having their own stories. When I decided to give away my extra copy I was hoping whoever ended up with it would be able to navigate beyond all the issues to see that there is something to the game, and you've succeeded admirably. Unlimited Saga is a dire warning on how bad things can get when a developer fails to get the little things about a game right. With a better interface, controls, and a better way for the player to learn the mechanics, Unlimited Saga could have been a fun little gem of a game. As it stands, it will remain the game that seemed to derail the SaGa series (at least in the West), and an adventure only had by those brave enough to dig through its mountain of flaws.

Top Tweets


Wheels' Comment

Worst RPG: Mugen Souls
Best: Dark Souls 1/2
Worst Best: You mean a "best" RPG that is bad? I dunno, Final Fantasy VII?
Best Worst: Unlimited Saga
Most Overrated: Mugen Souls
Most Underrated: Resonance of Fate / Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
Most Rated: What? Most Rated? Zelda
Most Known Unknown: Persona 4 Golden
Most #Swag: Ys: Memories of Celceta. That game's collectors edition came with some serious swag, including a four disc soundtrack with music spanning the whole series.

Russ, if Dragon Quest 7 gets announced I will record myself doing this William Regal dance, wearing a silly hat, and buy an extra copy to give away.

William Regal
                            dancing

This is for you Jim:


Hot Topics

Here are some hot topics I've seen around the net:

  • JRPGs don't seem to be having much trouble selling decently in the West, so where has Dragon Quest gone?
  • Atlus has announced localizations for the upcoming bananza of Persona games, but what of Devil Survivor 2: Break Record?
  • If Child of Light is a success, will we see more RPGs with the UbiArt engine?
  • Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

See you next week!

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