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"The group receive a respectable 200 exp for their toil, before watching Squatt teleport away, his final words being 'Come back when you're more of a challenge, kid!' Usually this would piss me off, but since I can take comfort in the knowledge that karma will soon come back to stab him in the chest, it doesn't bother me."
     -Ben, Wild ARMs Part 3

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11.14.02 :: Gameplay that does and doesn't suck

The opinions in this letters column aren't necessarily those of Jeanne Rubbo, owner of Even so, Jeanne owns *us* and has locked us in a dark closet with Tidus and Rinoa until we think of something funny. HELP! In the meantime, send in your comments, queries, whining, flames, spam, opinions, facts, opinions that you think are facts, and general idiocy to

[Jeanne's note: This mailbag was originally meant to be posted October 30th. Due to my own illness, I am just now getting around to it. My apologies.]

Welcome back, ladies and gents, to a Halloween-style fun-size edition of the VGR mailbag. By that, we mean it's shorter than usual, but that isn't our fault. *glare* Still, a few people were kind enough to share their thoughts on this week's topic: the best and worst of RPG gameplay. The letters sell themselves better than any intro could, so let's get down to business.

Suikoden II spoilers
One of the best battle systems I've played is the one in Rhapsody, A Musical Adventure. Your characters and the monsters show up on an isometric grid, and you select the moves and attacks for each character, and then let things happen. It was fun and simple and belonged in a better game. The worst battle system is the one in Thousand Arms... you have to poke buttons to make a selection, poke buttons accept the selection, poke buttons to let the Playstation know that you intended to poke the button to accept the selection, poke more buttons to let the machine know that you poked buttons and then when your turn finally comes, poke more buttons just for the sake of poking more buttons..... ARRRRRGH! On the flip side, the dating girls to upgrade your weapons ALMOST makes up for the horrible battle system. The best all-around game would be Suikoden I & II (played one after the other as if they were one game). Anybody who didn't get choked up when Nanami got the shaft in Rockaxe is a hard-hearted scrooge. And anybody who wasn't happy if they got the good ending probably was having a really bad day (or else was hoping for an ending where Hero and Jowy ditch Nanami and play "Hide The Sausage"). Speaking of the ending, why the heck didn't Jowy head north to rejoin Jillia and the brat??? Oh well....


Dating girls to upgrade your weapons, hm? No, that game wasn't written for the slavering fanboy, not one bit. The constantly poking buttons to confirm your choices sounds like someone took a play from ?Billy Owns Me: A Windows Users Guide." I can just see a ?Are you SURE you want to kill the big, bad monster?" option box come up, and your answer, of course, will cause that most dreaded of events, the Blue Screen of Doom. But I'm not bitter. The controls in Rhapsody sound very much like the controls for Final Fantasy Tactics, which my darling beloved little brother assures me is a better game than I've so far given it credit for (though the game guide artwork was superb). I have to take his word for it, since I'm so damned lazy, and haven't played FFT in a while. So sue me.


Agreed, you have no soul if you didn't at least feel like crying when Nanami was taken out. I for one was FURIOUS when I didn't get the good ending the first time, simply because I didn't know there was a good ending. "Whaaa? Nanami is really dead?! HEADS WILL ROLL!!!" As for why Jowy didn't head on up to Harmonia to follow Jillia and Pilika...HE DID. There's a scene somewhere in the ending that shows the threesome spying on them in their new home, and then Jowy walks away without them seeing him. He just decided he'd rather be with his Man Toy and Nanami than be married and with surrogate child. Who can blame him? Jillia is hot, no doubt about it, but she'd never want to play "Hide the Sausage."


Suikoden III and FFX spoilers in reply
Greetings, Oh Random Stars of Destiny. The topic of game play is an understandably vast one, so I'll just limit my comments to what I look for, game-wise, in an RPG. Here goes:

- The character should move fluidly through the field/world map. I know that's pretty much a given, but it's just so no game designer thinks, "You know what? No one seems to comment about the field mobility... I guess we can afford cutting the budget on that.."
- A quick, dynamic menu interface. Games like FFX, SO2, Suikoden II and most of the 16-bit ones have this in spades; others, like FF7, FF8, and the greatest offender in this department that I have played, Chrono Cross, are a pain to micro-manage. (Actually, 7 and 8 are more minor annoyances than pain, but hey, fanboys have the right to exaggerate)
- Battles should be short and sweet, unless a) you're at a lower level than the recommended one, or b) you're squaring off against a rare, stronger-than-most foe. If battles get long and tedious for any other reason, well, there's a problem there.
- Though challenge in RPGs is mostly artificial (Can't beat the boss? Spend an hour or two leveling up!), there must at least be one battle that can only be won by way of brains, strategy and sheer stubbornness. A few examples are Luca Blight, Seymour Flux, Beatrix and that boss you fight in Suikoden I shortly before that scene with Ted late in the game.

Oh yeah, and there's the stuff concerning mini-games, which is basically your conclusion from the past mailbag.

~Quartz Falcon

At risk of going off on yet another Suikoden tangent, I'm in full agreement about the need for at least some strategic boss battles. If you know you can beat anything if you're simply high enough in level, then there's no fun to it. Luca Blight is an excellent example (I don't even want to go into how much preparation time I generally have for HIM) and another one is the Water Dragon I recently struggled with in Suikoden III. My levels were high, my equipment was good, my weapons were why was it beating the shit out of me over and over and over? So I thought about how it was attacking and defending: with a circle of 2500-HP icicles. These icicles both protected it and allowed it to attack about seven times per round, and each attack would stop my mages from chanting. So I remembered that Jeane had Skunk Runes, which protect the bearer from being targeted by individual attacks. I gave one to each of my important mages, let the dragon target the people who didn't have them, and by the time he had gotten around to killing them, I had eliminated all his stupid icicles and then proceeded to kick his sorry scaly ass. Stuff like this is why I hate the mass assumption that videogames are mindless entertainment. This battle was like a fucking chess game. So there.

I should probably stop talking about Suikoden now.


QF, I have to disagree with you on one point. Despite having one of the most fucked up storylines EVAR, Chrono Cross was quite a lot of fun to play, battle-wise. I liked the ?no pressure" system a great deal, since I actually had time to think through what I was doing and set up some good attack combos. For me, the worst battle system has been the Active Time Battle systems in FFVIII and FFIX. There's nothing worse than getting yourself all psyched up for an ass-whooping, only to find out that the damned monster apparently has telepathy and knocks the living crap out of you just as you go to getting your monster-killing groove on. And I find that the battles swing from one extreme to the other in almost every RPG. By the time you're ready to save the world from the Huge Terrible Menace you've probably gotten to at least one side quest and a half-decent weapon. Or, if you're really gung-ho, you've got the bestest weapon in the game. A good case in point is my first experience with Jecht. The first time out, the battle took me at least forty-five minutes with Auron, Yuna and Wakka. Auron had the Murasame, Yuna had the Nirvana, and Wakka had a super souped up Rulebreaker, along with tons of Sphere Grid upgrades. Not bad, right? Wrong. Jecht knocked the shit out of Auron every time, to my screaming fury. Next time out, I took the easier route and did the weapon sidequest. So, now everyone's in the game armed to the teeth. Total battle time? Two minutes, tops. It took all the fun out of it for me, and I had to see Wanky McWankerson's big teary scene that much sooner. Thanks, game designers. As for the world map, well, I've never been what you'd call a purist on that score. I really don't care, provided that the map's done in such a way that you don't get lost easily. I can't stress how important that is. Game designers? Are you listening? Apparently not.


Where's the challenge?
Hello ladies, once again. On the subject of wise, I came to think of something I noticed about Final Fantasy in general; it's become too easy. Now this may just be me, but overall, I had a harder time playing through FF2 than either 7 or 8. After seeing how the challenge differs according to wise specifics, I discovered the following:

FF2: Separate classes - Now I'm sure customizing each character to your liking is fine for some, but I prefer to be given a set class from the start. Rydia was always a Summoner and no one else could use Summon magic. If she died in battle (and due to low max HP, she often did), I'd work frantically to revive her so she could bash the enemies with Leviathan.

FF2: Tougher status ailments - specifically, Virus. It's like the ever-so-classic Poison; only your HP is sapped at 2 HP per half-second. No way to heal it, except through waiting, dying, or ending a battle. The Molbols (yes, they were called that in FF2, for those who didn't know) were even worse, they used Digest, which consumed 4 HP every half second.

FF2: Tougher bosses - Not just in general, but more specifically, the Magus Sisters (who were recently used as a summon in FFX). Very tough lot, since 1) Cindy (the middle one) would revive the other two if they died, 2) Cindy had a Wall always on her, meaning Tellah's black magic was pretty much useless, and 3) Their Delta Attack would do a high-damage Fire, Ice, Lit, and the Virus and cycle back around. I was forced to fight her with weapons, and it didn't help that her HP was near 10000 and even the Fire Sword by that point did about 500 to her.

FF7: More Enemy Attack Variety - In FF7's defense, the use of Materia combinations like Phoenix + Final Attack gave the enemies more variety in their attacks, such as Emerald and Ruby Weapon's 9999 attacks. This game could afford to kill off your whole party in one swipe because there was a way to revive yourself using the aforementioned Materia combination.

FF8: Point-based magic system - FF8's system of no MP, but rather a stock of spells to cast gave the game a different feel, especially since spells were fairly easy to draw from just sitting and using Draw repeatedly. Most enemies early on in the game also didn't do much more than attack or use a simple spell.

I would compose more, but time does not allow for it. Thank you for reading.

~Alex Magusaka

Why Alex, you're welcome dear. It's always a pleasure. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't many of the Final Fantasy games still rely on the class system? I mean, you've got one Blue Mage, one Summoner/White Mage, one Hero with sword/gunblade/dagger, and one...other guy. If you're really lucky, you can even get one Grouchy Badass with a Big Sword - but I digress. Poor little Garnoa was damned near useless in FFIX, but she could call down Odin to kick your ass any day of the week, and that made her somewhat tolerable. And Rinoa...had a dog. It's got to count for something, dammit. Angelo was a great dog. As for the difficulty level, well, you're right and then you're not. Of the ?old school" FFs that I've played in the last five years or so, FFIV comes to mind first. Bear with me here; the ol' memory ain't what it once was. Anyway, I don't remember at any time losing a battle in as much a tizzy as I was when Ulti-frickin'-Mecia kicked my ass for the fifth time running. Blame it on bad junctioning. And I like MP over the Draw system for its open-ended applications. You may have only 1 Flare left in the whole world, but for 10 MP you can Osmose like anything and rain down ungodly destruction on your foe in any flavor you choose, provided, of course, that you're not in a boss battle. Because everyone knows that bosses are immune to all your really good spells, the bastards. Truth to tell, I think we all tend to romanticize our favorite games somewhat. Look at the FFVII fanboys if you don't believe me. Just don't look too hard, or they'll think you're Cloud come to earth. No one deserves that, my boy. No one.


I suppose one could blame the "lack" of challenge in newer RPGs on the fact that they're becoming more mainstream, and therefore need to be more accessible to the non-hardcore. I got the distinct impression while playing Kingdom Hearts that they wanted to make it easy for beginners to pick up--that is, until I started playing it. KH has the potential to stomp the pride out of even the most experienced gamers...and it will, repeatedly. Bosses like Sorceress Adel, Seymour, Luca Blight and KH's Black Dragon show that newer RPGs are capable of being just as challenging as your nostalgic favorites. Or something.


Aww, no one wanted to rant about Xenogears? Pity, really. We can save the bashing Xenogears topic for another day.

It's been a little while since we had a "fun" topic, and as VGR readers, we know you have the sick minds necessary to jump right into this one. Have you ever considered what would happen if Character X and Character Y had offspring? Don't let gender restrict you! Does Squall + Seifer = Ramirez (Squeifer) as Jeanne says? Are there any other characters that look like the love children of others to you? Take a page from Gregor Mendel and cross-pollinate some fictional characters for us. Come up with your worst and send it to us by 8:00 p.m. EST on November 19. We look forward to it!

Until next week!

- AG and Lita-chan

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