RPGFan Editorials - October 3rd, 2000

Step back over a week ago, the editorials section finally stopped collecting dust and was moving again. Although it was up and running, something was wrong... the layout. Editor StahnMahn pointed this out to me, and he suggested that I should perhaps, use the Mailbag layout for the editorials. This sounded like an excellent idea, and if you look below, you can see the results.

Jeff Davis, our former Mailbag Editor, used to run a "Song of the Week" feature. I'm very much so, a RPG music lover, so in honor of stealing his layout and idea, I'm going to continue that feature by bringing you a new song for every update. If you are reading this Jeff, you should feel honored. ;)

The two editorials from the previous update have been incorporated into this update. This makes it less messy in the archives for those who would look through these in the future.

An Abundance of RPGs

Maybe Iím just getting old... maybe Iím just getting spoiled or maybe Iím just plain weird but somehow, I kinda miss the good old days of the 8-bit/16-bit era. Let me explain what I mean by that. Do you remember (for those of you who were playing those systems) how thrilling it was when a new RPG was coming out? How long you were anticipating the release of the next big RPG coming out for your favorite system? The sheer joy and excitement of coming back from the store with that RPG that youíve been waiting months and even years for and plugging it in to your system and firing it up for the first time? I still remember those times and unfortunately, I donít think Iíve felt that excited about RPGs in recent years. Maybe itís because Iím getting older and maybe I donít enjoy RPGs as much as I used to but I think thereís another reason for it. In my opinion, the biggest reason is "abundance".

These days, it almost seems to me like the release of an RPG isnít an "event" or a "happening" anymore because itís too common and it happens too often. Back in the old days, you were playing an RPG and then it could be another 6 months to a year until another good RPG came out and by the time you got it, you were so starved for an RPG that you enjoyed it ten times more. However, with all the RPGs available right now, I think this level of excitement has drastically gone down. I think people are taking RPGs for granted. People are more difficult and more demanding because of the amount of choice there is on the market. Back then, I didnít give a damn how badly translated an RPG was because I was just so happy to play it and things like the translation quality seemed like very minor details to me. I didnít care that all the names in Phantasy Star 4 were wrong and didnít fit with the names of the same characters or items in previous Phantasy Star games. I was just so happy to finally play the game that I had been waiting 3 years for (maybe even more). I wouldnít have cared about the "son of a submariner" line if I had played Final Fantasy 3 on Snes back then or the "spoony bard" line from FF2. My focus was on the fact that I was actually PLAYING an RPG and I was ecstatic just because of that fact and nothing could come in the way of my enjoyment (unless the game was REALLY bad). This is what happens in my opinion when you are forced to wait so damn long between RPGs that you start craving them even more. Somehow, I miss this feeling even though back then I was pissed off that there wasnít more RPGs available than that.

Now, letís examine RPGs today. Iíll take June of this year for example. From June 5th to July 5th 2000, we got 9 new RPGs. Yes, thatís 9!!!!!! And maybe I even forgot a few in there. We got Legend of Mana, Legend of Dragoon, Vanguard Bandits, Rhapsody, Silver, Evolution 2, Diablo 2, Icewind Dale and Deus Ex. So basically, in the last month, I got 9 new RPGs. How the hell am I supposed to decide which one to play? What if there are 3-4 RPGs on that list that interest me? Where am I going to find the time to play all those RPGs? Gone are the days of being able to play every RPG that came out on your favorite system, gone is the excitement of getting a new RPG because when you get something so often, it starts to become less exciting. Gone is the anticipation of waiting for that long-awaited RPG. These days, all you have to do is get another RPG to tide you over until the one that youíre REALLY waiting for gets released and by the time it does, youíre not as "starved" for it as you would have been if you hadnít played an RPG in over a year!!

In July, Koudelka and Threads of Fate added once again to the Playstation RPG library and August saw the release of 2 other big ones in Chrono Cross and Valkyrie Profile. Since the beginning of the year, weíve seen the release of Vagrant Story, Wild Arms 2, Alundra 2, Saga Frontier 2. If I didnít forget anything, thatís 12 RPGs at LEAST for the Playstation in 8 months (and Iím not even going counting any import RPGs in there). An average of a little more than one per month. And donít forget that weíre not counting Dreamcast, Gameboy and PC in there. As much as I think that getting more RPGs is a good thing, Iím also a bit concerned because of the reasons I explained above. Maybe Iím the only one who sees this as a bad thing, I donít know. Maybe itís the fact that I have almost no time to play RPGs anymore because of several factors (regular job + RPGFan + a personal life + other responsibilities) and that Iím pissed at the fact that I never have time to play all the RPGs that I WOULD like to play since there are too many of them. One thing is for sure though... this constant flow of RPG here in America is probably like the second coming of Christ for those who love RPGs, have lots of free time and lots of money. Itís just too bad that Iím not one of them...

- Rudo

Putting aside the fact that he's my boss, and the fact that he will fire me if I don't say what he wants to hear, I'm inclined to agree. Joking aside, I really do agree with what he's saying. With the extensive amount of games flying out, it already takes enough time just to decide what game you're going to purchase out of the zillions on the shelf, and for many of us who are scraping enough dough to pay for food and clothing, and maybe a game or two, after college bills, we can't afford to purchase all these titles without sacrificing education, which in my case, is unacceptable, and hopefully in everyone else's case too.

Famitsu Magazine

Famitsu, Famitsu...what's the big deal?

It's everywhere. "Famitsuu rated Vagrant Story 40/40! It must kick ass!" or "Growlanser? Only 28. Let's pass on that one." Import gamers on this side of the world blindly follow the reviews of Famitsu as gospel. Heck, even most US magazines do it. With their supposedly tough grading policy, a high scoring game on Famitsu must surely be an instant classic...but wait a minute. How many of these people who actually look at Famitsu's scores have actually read the magazine? I'm willing to bet that it only makes a small fraction of the total population. Then how is it that so many gamers are actually taking 20 word reviews from a review who didn't even play 10 hours of the game?

Let me explain. Famitsu is a weekly (some times bi-weekly) magazine with about 20 reviewers, divided into groups of 4 reviewers taking on a game, depending on the number of games released that partiular week. And these reviewers often review 10 games every other week, with the review section being divided into 2 teams if the number of games to review goes to around 20. Now let's do some simple math. 10 games reviewed in 14 days would be 336/10 = 33 hours 40 minutes to spend on each game...and this is assuming that the reviewer is a crazy monster machine who needs no sleep, no food, no writing (wait...aren't they reviewers?), and no sex. If we do a semi-more realistic and assumes a typical reviewer gets some sleep, eats, and actually writes, we would be left with about 14 hours to play a day, which would average out to about 19 hours 20 minutes for each game they have to review...and let's be honest. What's the last time an RPG could be beaten in under 20 hours? Not too often, I'm willing to bet. Would you trust a review from a person who is reviewing based on a prolonged first impression? Hell, don't you expect reviewers to have actually played through a game before giving his or her opinion on it? If not, excuse me for a second while I write reviews for every single RPG I've ever played in Famitsu style. I won't take long, heck, not even an hour.

Not even an hour? How can that be? Surely the writings each Famitsu reviewer brings on the table surely is full of intelligent opinions that would give the reader a good idea of what to expect. Do you think that 20 words is enough? I hope so, since that's all you'll ever get from a Famitsu review. They usually range from the comments such as "Easy to play. I liked the controls." or "The atmosphere was very nice. Fast action." (All of these are actual quotes, by the way). In other words, they're the type of reviews that you'd expect if you asked a typical sales person in Electronics Boutique or Babbages on how he/she thinks about the game. Would you put your money on reviewers such as these? I wouldn't.

Let's use an American example to give a better idea on how Famitsu is like. Let's take EGM. EGM is loosely based on the Japanese magazine so it's easy to use this mag. Now imagine each reviewer reviewing the same number of games every week and writing about 1/3 less text in their little commentaries. Oh and they have to give whole number grades, no decimal. That's pretty much what Famitsu is and for the life of me I am still clueless as to why every single goddamn US site (heck, even RPGFan) quotes Famitsu scores. Famitsu has given more perfect scores over the last 2 years than for the last decade! How in the world can you call that a tough magazine? It might've been called a tough mag years ago when it didn't give 30's to anything that starts off good, but that is no longer the case. Heck, Famitsu even gave the N64 version of Daikatana a 29, just a point shy from getting a "Recommended" Label stuck on the case of the game. DAIKATANA. Need I say more?

Of course, if people still insist on treating a review of the game that is from a reviewer who hasn't beaten it, nor can give any details as for why he or she likes it as gospel go right ahead, but things like this makes me wonder if the sources that love to quote Famitsu so much actually knows how the magazine operates. I for one would much rather read a longer review, regardless of the score, just so that I know more about the game itself. Maybe once these people actually know the format of the magazine, they'll change their minds.

- WooJin

Honestly, I've never read, much less seen Famitsu magazine. When I was younger and naive, I bought into the hype of the scores in Famitsu back when I had the "Give me Sega or give me DEATH!" attitude, but I've long since grown out of that, and Famitsu does indeed, seem to be giving a larger amount of various games, high scores. I would be guessing that there are too many games for them to play, so they have even less time than they used to, to play these games and review. I never cared for the little mini-reviews in EGM magazine though, part of the reason why I stopped getting magazines.

The moral of this story? Read the lengthy reviews here at RPGFan!

Final Fantasy Mistakes

Square, HELLO! Is the re-release of Final Fantasy 1-3 for the color Wonderswan really that great? I don't think so. Why you say? First let me say, I'm very glad to see Square show interest in these classics by re-releasing them. I love these games as well as many others and it pleases me to see that they are not forgotten about (as they shouldn't be). But on the Wonderswan? Come on! Why not on the PlayStation 2 as a REAL DVD Final Fantasy Collection? Think about it Square.

OK, I'm an RPG passionist as well as many others out there, and I would love to see all of the old, classic final Fantasy games in English. The Wonderswan is ok but who wants to play these classics on a small, portable handheld with limited abilities (same with the Dragon Warriors). Who wants to sit and play them on a Gameboy when they could have them all on a disk on the PlayStation?

Give these games the respect they deserve. Just imagine all the possibilities: all the art from all the games, the music, and the extras (Japanese and English on the same disc) could all be included. This would really be a treasure. Square, you could make a lot of money with this. We in America have especially got the shaft. There have been some recent re-releases such as the Final Fantasy Collection and Chrono Trigger in Japan. In America, we didn't even get Chrono Trigger! WHY? Also when the collection was released here, we didn't even get FF4?! WHY?! These are two of the best games ever! Back in the day of the release of the first 3 Final Fantasy games, we Americans only got one of them. Is there any justice? Am I just dreaming.....?

- Gen.

I also do not understand Square's choice in developing for the Wonderswan. I haven't read up on the system, so I don't know how successful it is in Japan, but a US market doesn't exist at the moment, so I don't see the Final Fantasy I-III remakes hitting our shores anytime soon. In regards to the Chrono Trigger remake on PSX, I think it would have been a good move to bring it to US shores. Anyone who's checked out Ebay lately knows how much the SNES cartridge goes for. One of them, at the time of this writing, is going for a whopping $250 (and the reserve on it is not met!). I'm sure it would have been a money-making success.

The Elements of Videogames

Over the past few weeks since my return to RPGFan, I've been hearing the subject of graphics in RPGs, or video games in general, on how important or unimportant they are, a lot more than I used to. For the majority of the people I know from the message boards on the site, the typical opinion is that "graphics don't matter, as long as there's plenty of gameplay". There are also a few other opinions as well, simply substituting one element in the previous sentence with any other element in a video game, such as music or story. But I wish to provide a different perspective on the whole situation.

When someone tells me that graphics aren't important in a video game, I often times laugh to myself, because the majority of these people run to Babbage's or EB World, and look at the backs of the CD cases for upcoming video games, and drool at the screenshots for upcoming releases. If they aren't at either of those stores, they're busy drooling over screens in our pictures section as well, for games that haven't hit our shores just yet, such as Grandia 2 and Final Fantasy 9. It bothers me that people have become scared of being labeled as a "graphics whore" or a "FF7 RPGer" (implying that said person got into RPGs because of Final Fantasy 7, which really is irrelevant) and have just gone along with the crowd, shouting out that graphics don't make or break a game.

I however, say that graphics play a VERY important role in a video game. Those of you who have already decided that I'm wrong before having read this entire editorial first: here's some food for thought. When you first selected "Start New Game" upon placing the Final Fantasy 7 CD into your PSX, and saw the opening movie, as the camera zoomed out from Aeris' face, all the way to some thousand feet in the air, giving you an view of the entire city, what went through your head? Unlike the games of the past, which contained cities that seemed to have a population of 10 people and everyone standing in place doing nothing, for once, you were seeing a living, breathing world, and saw the imaginations of the developers before your very eyes. Those who think that using your own imagination is better, should stick to AD&D and create all the worlds you want with a pencil and paper, but as for me, I'll gladly see the imaginations of game developers come to life.

I consider all of the elements in games to be important. If the music is so dreadful that you are blasting the latest Teen Pop CD in your CD player, with the game's volume turned all the way down, that alone can ruin the experience. Could you imagine trying to defeat Kefka in Final Fantasy 6 with Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again" on repeat, playing in the background? I imagine many of you really love the final boss theme in the game, and can any of you honestly tell me that you would enjoy the game just as much if we ripped out the soundtrack?

Imagine if you had the muppets from Sesame Street traveling on the Dragonship Destiny in Lunar: Eternal Blue, rather than Hiro and gang. Could you imagine how ridiculous the game would be with Big Bird and Kermit the Frog trying to save the world by singing the ABC's? And imagine if you hated Sonic The Hedgehog, and he ended up with Luigi instead of Mario and started grabbing the mushrooms and touching the flowers to throw fireballs in the next Mario game? I for one, think characters play a rather important role.

Rather than going on, I'll end it all with a few lines to consider. To those of you who still think that gameplay is the only thing that matters, I suggest you play Monopoly, Scrabble, and other board games more often, considering that they concentrate on that aspect alone, and you won't have to spend so much money. Those of you who say that story is the only element that matters, should probably purchase books and novels, since they cost about a tenth of what a video game costs. Those of you who think music only counts, should stick with music CDs, they're somewhat cheap. Those of you who only think graphics matter, should perhaps take up photography as a hobby, since you'll get the most realistic images ever, and you can even take them with you anywhere.

I hope this has been an enlightening read.

- Parn

Considering that the above editorial was written by yours truly, I have to be biased and say that I agree with myself, 100%. Otherwise, I'd be considered to have split personalities or something, and would be the butt of all your latest email bombs and jokes. :)

Difficulty in RPGs

Although RPGs are going through a renaissance right now, this does not mean that every game being produced is as splendid as the RPGs some of us "older" gamers grew up with. As a matter of fact, many who emailed me about my April 29th editorial on RPGfan (entitled "Old Folks and RPGs") agreed with my statement that most modern RPGs are unrealistically difficult. After all, how much fun can a game be when you spend a month getting to the last boss, and your party gets destroyed by him in the first few rounds everytime you attempt to defeat him?

Once upon a decade ago, you could easily remedy this situation in an RPG by going back to the last "Dungeon" you visited and then building levels. I remember having trouble with Zophar at the end of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue (Sega CD version, of course). My party, though determined, fell prey to Zophar's Second Form, who had a habit of casting a black hole underneath my brave troops, doing in upwards of 900 points of damage to them. After many failed attempts at beating the game, I decided to go back to the "Tower Tubes" section before the last boss and build levels. Over the course of the week, I gained nearly 15 levels and went back up to fight Zophar once again.

Only this time, he fell easily and without effort.

I could give many more examples of games which allowed this kind of "trick", such as all four Dragon Warrior games, Ys Book 1 & 2 for the TG-16, and one of my personal favorites, Cosmic Fantasy 2. As a matter of fact, just about every RPG released during the 80's and early 90's never bothered to penalize you for building levels, nor did they prevent you from doing so. However, things have changed, and thanks to the complicated combat systems that have become a staple of the "New School RPG", if you cannot beat a "Boss" at your current level, you are, to put it bluntly, screwed.

A fine example of this distrubing trend in modern RPGs would be Final Fantasy 8. Although it has a fine plot, and some very beautiful graphics, its combat system is one of the strangest I've ever seen. Not only do you have to spend nearly five hours "Drawing" magic out of enemies in between boss battles and dungeons just to survive, but the enemies gain levels with your party, thus negating any advantages your level-ups bestow upon you. Even the strategy guide I read for the game gave me "suggestions" on how many battles I should fight before each boss, so as to limit the experience level my characters enter the fight at. Call me old fashioned, but I think worrying about how many fights I get into before a boss to be just a bit too bothersome.

I got into this genre thanks in part to FCI's wonderful PC-to-NES port of Ultima 3, and have never once regretted being an RPG fan. Unfortunately, most of the games I have bought in the past two years have ended up collecting dust on my shelf rather then giving me good gaming memories. Whether it's Chrono Cross' non-existence of level-ups, or Final Fantasy 8's monsters gaining levels along with me, I find the "New School" RPGs much too "constricting" than what I'm used to.

One thing I loved most about this genre was that I could lay down on my couch, a cold drink in one hand, my controller in the other, and simply cycle through random battle after random battle with a single button press, doing nothing but building levels, making my party god-like in preperation for the next dungeon's boss. That fond memory, however, is now just a memory. I can only hope with the run-away success of Dragon Quest 7 in Japan that we see a resurgence of the "Old School" RPG.

Until then, my Turbo-Grafx 16 and my NES remain hooked up to my television.

- Cloud Hurler

While I have not played Final Fantasy 8 more than a few minutes, and I have not played even a second of Chrono Cross yet, much less seen it for sale in my town, I do agree that there is a big difference between the RPGs of old, and the RPGs of new. This doesn't only apply to RPGs though, as games are constantly becoming more and more complex. Those who have played strategy games like Master of Orion or Civilization know how much more complex the sequels are. Games like Homeworld are almost too complex, and you end up spending time reading the manual to figure out how to do something while the enemy is shooting down your ships in real time combat.

You must remember though, that while I may find some of these games difficult, others breeze right through. It's the same case with other genres, as I can run through a Shining Force title on the hardest level setting with few/no casualties, but ask me to compete with someone on Ridge Racer, and I end up losing every time. Everyone is good at something, but just the same, everyone is bad at something as well.

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