Roundtable - October 22, 2003 - Part 3

Googleshng: Moving along to our final topic of the night, and rounding out our trip through the land of nostalgia, what does everyone think of the abandonment of mazes by the modern RPG?

Jeff: Are we talking Phantasy Star 1 type mazes, with dungeon vantage point and everything?

Chris: If there's random battles in the maze, I say good riddance!

Alex: Today's mazes have certainly been condensed.

Googleshng: It used to be that when you were entering a cave, you needed some good equipment for your characters, and a pad of graph paper, today, you just have a straight line with walls made of rocks.

Alex: Very true. While I'll admit, I'd find myself getting stressed out on some of the harder mazes out there in RPGs, but at the same time, I liked their difficulty.

Googleshng: The original Phantasy Star was one of the more extreme examples of having to explore mazes yes, but I'd be content with the sort of experience found in the Dragon Warriors, or the original Final Fantasy.

Chris: Well the original Final Fantasy had mazes you could navigate without mapping...though perhaps that's why they seemed tedious at times for me... I have never played a game that I needed graph paper for....except Dungeon Magic on the NES...which wasn't exactly "fun."

Jeff: I think now, story progresses more than mind-numbing mazes with annoying traps. You don't have to have the best equipment, but you also don't have to wait for years to get your plot moving.

Heath: I have mixed feelings, really. Perhaps I ask for too much, but I think I'm like most gamers when I say I love a happy medium. I don't like the frustration of being lost, yet being overwhelmed by a massive castle or cave really gets me in the game!

Jeff: A game that had mazes and did them well is Persona 2. A game that made me wish I had never seen it and had mazes, Phantasy Star 1 and even Phantasy Star 4. If you didn't have the perfect armor, you were doomed.

Googleshng: That much is true, but I think a bit of compromise could be used here. I mean, the average game today requires no thought on behalf of the player whatsoever.

Alex: Chris: I have drawn out maps for Phantasy Star II.

Heath: Yes, that is often true.

Chris: ALX: I had to download them :)

Alex: Heh.

Heath: Legend of Legaia comes to mind. Straight paths, baby.

Alex: Those were kind of tough at times.

Chris: So I guess you all are right :)

Googleshng: ... you know, I believe this may be the single largest gathering of people who have played the Phantasy Star series I have ever seen.

Jeff: I think that's where we should put puzzles in lieu of mazes. I could wander hours in a maze and become level 99, or I could sit and try to solve a puzzle for 30 minutes. I would rather solve the puzzle, even if it means sacrificing butt-kicking levels.

Alex: Google: Cool! :)

Chris: Well I didn't finish PS2 because of it's tediousness though....

Chris: But yes, I liked Golden Sun a lot for its puzzles and think some mind challenges need to be back in RPGs.

Googleshng: Puzzles are a nice change of pace yes, but nobody seems to go that route these days save Camelot and Contrail. For that matter, the only old game to include a lot of puzzles was Lufia 2.

Chris: Well mazes could work well too, just don't make me forget where I'm going every 5 steps with another battle.

Alex: Jeff: Me too, I'd find myself leveling up extensively, as like a form of entertainment, than actually worrying about where the end to the maze was.

Jeff: I remember cursing until my face was blue at Final Fantasy X's Macalania temple. One little thing overlooked, and you miss the entire puzzle and have to restart. That will always be more impressive than any maze.

Alex: Heh, yes.

Googleshng: Getting back to the notion of spelunking detracting from the plot though, I'm inclined to disagree. If everyone says the fire crystal lies at the heart of a twisting labrynth full of deadly monsters, I'd darn well better be limping my way out with that crystal, following the map I had to make.

Chris: So you're not a fan of the easy exit at the end then?

Alex: That's when you know the balance between the plot and maze was done right.

Jeff: However, wouldn't the 5 hour trip down there make you forget why you needed it anyway?

Googleshng: Who said anything about it taking five hours?

Alex: Hehe.

Googleshng: Anything over an hour is overkill really, and I've yet to see it.

Heath: I think his point was that the maze was super-long and super-hard. So mazes are really hard to do right.

Alex: Yeah, tough monsters. Unless you run away from most of them. That was a tactic I used from time to time.

Googleshng: It doesn't have to be long, it just has to have enough twists and turns and choices for me to have to pay attention where I'm going.

Chris: Lunar made me frustrated like that. It would just keep throwing more monsters at me and distracted me from finishing the mazes...well more Lunar 2 really.

Alex: Every time you walked 2-3 spots, another battle would come up. Those were a killer.

Jeff: I certainly don't miss the days of Persona and Phantasy Star.

Heath: I think that fits the description Goog was getting into earlier about limping out of the dungeon.

Googleshng: Medusa's cave from Phantasy Star 1 is one of the better examples I've seen. It takes you maybe 15 minutes to get in and out, there's no boss at the end, but you had to find your way to your quarry and out pretty efficiently, or you'd be taken down by attrition.

Googleshng: Again though, that's the extreme side of the matter. My main point is just that it isn't right when the world can be saved by walking down a straight path killing the occasional squirrel that looks at you funny.

Jeff: On that much, I can agree with you, Google. Mazes are ok, but only if they are in the right viewpoint. Again, Persona 2's mazes were fine because they were overhead. Dungeon-view, I say good riddance to. Just don't expect me to go all 100 levels of Wild ARMs 3's Void maze. Much less make it required for the plot.

Heath: I often found myself going into a new area of Lunar 2, quickly discovering I was going to get murdered, and then I'd leaving/re-entering till I was a high-enough level to get the whole way through the dungeon in "meh, this will do" condition. Honestly, I really enjoyed the process--the dungeons got "mazey" and the enemies were tough.

Googleshng: So basically, we want mazes, not straight lines, and we want challenge but we don't want to have to abandon the story for an hour.

Chris: Exactly.

Jeff: I think that is a great assessment. Challenge, but don't put the seven circles of hell in front of me.

Googleshng: I'm not generally a fan of first person myself for what it's worth, although I did find it to be an interesting change of pace back with PS1.

Chris: Change of pace from what? What else was out?

Googleshng: Point. Still, a top view/first person hybrid affair every 10 years or so would be nice. In any case, as we seem to be drawing to a close, does anyone have any parting thoughts on anything we've discussed tonight?

Chris: Why is FFVI so good?

Jeff: I think you forgot an I on the end of that VI. Watch the hate-mail fly in!

Heath: Heh.

Alex: I second that - FFVI has a great balance.

Googleshng: Because it embraced the traditions of the genre while trying new tricks that weren't rushed out the door with no testing, I'd assume.

Jeff: FMVs are good, linear is ok, and mazes are just not a good idea unless you want to do them overhead vantage.

Heath: Make your FMVs flow smoothly, don't lead me by a leash, and give me nice, rough maze now and then.

Chris: Sounds good to me.

Googleshng: I'd like to thank our guests for being here. Join us again next week when we discuss three more topics with a new panel of guests. Oh yes, and if you'd like to see further pining for good old days, you might want to read this rant I recently wrote on the subject.

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