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Dark Chest of Wonders
October 6, 2004

Well, well. Two updates in one week. It's a milestone, folks. Let's hope things continue like this.

Kick off your shoes and get comfortable, everyone. This one is a bit larger than normal. :P

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LONGEST. LETTER. EVER.

Dear RpgFan,

First off, as in every other letter I have written to your site over the years, I would like to congradulate you and your team on a job well done with the site. It is without a doubt the finest and most detailed source for RPG information on this great information superhighway :). Anyway though, down to business. After reading a few of the letters posted in the previous mailbag edition, I came across the conclusion that a lot of these guys are merited in their complaints against the developers of today's role-playing world. One of the biggest issues that seems to plague these gamers, an issue which i whole-heartedly agree on, is the lack of effort put into storytelling with some of the more recent RPGs to grace our consoles in the past few years. I can recall a time where literally every RPG was anxiously awaited.(by merely the select group of rpg players of course, as action adventure, and platformers were more prominent)Yes, to those of you who know where I'm going with this, I am referring to those blessed years of the Super Nintendo.

Those years, as every avid Rpg player knows, were the years that brought forth to us the holy grails of RPGs. To name two of the biggest, Final Fantasy III for the SNES(FFVI) and the every loved Chrono Trigger. These titles were a revolutionary breakthrough for their time, as not only did they supply the graphics fanboys with their eye-candy, they also provided two of the most memorable stories and soundtracks in RPG history. To think that these titles were in development for longer than some hit sitcoms aired on TV is a wonder. I mean, have you noticed how impatient gamers have become over the last decade? It's almost as if they badger the companies for their product to the point where some companies end up releasing their games to the public in an effort just to keep their fanbase, and forget that if they want that very same audience to stick around, they have to work tirelessly on their project until it's perfect, delaying it as much as needed so that the experience is as memorable as it can be. Sure the delays suck, everyone knows people hate to wait for something that they know will be incredible. However, I for one feel it is downright vital to that game's success for the developers to worry less about the complaints of a few gamers as to the game's release, and focus more on its perfection.

As i stated previously, my reading the last mailbag edition prompted this thought, and as such, I'll point out an example. One of the most prized editions to any avid RPG gamer's collection is a little game called Xenogears. One of your submitters mentioned that this game had everything, even down to the environments themselves making you feel as if you were actually there. So why then couldn't Final Fantasy X be the same, or for that matter Star Ocean 3? It's simple. Although I'm not entirely correct in my assumption, I believe that the flaws that have plagued these two titles, among a few others no doubt in the recent years, are due to the fact that gamers have become impatient with developers striving for the perfection of their games. Perhaps even, that the wiser developers have left the companies, and a newer generation intent on providing the public with a "quick fix" in terms of RPGs have taken over. Now I know this is pure speculation, and I'm certain that this ONLY applies to a very small number of games that have been released, but there definitely is a hint that something has gone wrong with some developers when it comes to the quality of their products. Bringing up some back-up on that issue, we all know that Working Designs is the king of delays when it comes to their games. Many a time I found myself cursing them for delaying Lunar SSTC, Lunar EBC, and of a more recent note, Growlanser Generations. However, despite my complaints, these games(except of course for GG, as it has yet to be released) have proven to be instant hits in literally every category of their development. Also, I seem to remember both the Lunar games being some of the most sought out titles in RPG history.

Moving on to a different note however, my biggest issue with RPGs today is a lack of divine storytelling. Sure there have been a few that have REALLY made me fall in love with the genre all over again, for instance Xenosaga, Suikoden III, as well as Kingdom Hearts, but the fact of the matter is that these titles are few and far between. To me, it just seems as though we have been denyed of that golden age where almost every Rpg has been a hit, and instead have been subjected to only a few scattered over a period of a couple of years really make the cut. RPGs have set themselves apart over the years because in essence, they have provided players with their own viewpoint in exotic worlds, immersing them in their own "storybook" of sorts. It just seems wrong to produce RPGs with these "hyped up battle systems" or "state of the art graphics" if you can't remember that you have to focus more on what makes an RPG an RPG: its story. All in all, I really think that this subject is one to be pondered upon, and perhaps it could even be a theme for a future edition of your mailbag.

Sincerely,
Nathan

Ah yes, the days of yore. The SNES era of gaming is what hooked me on RPGs, thanks to the almighty Final Fantasy IV. Iíll always look back on those games with more than a little love. But Iím not stupid. I know most of that love is due to nothing more than nostalgia. When you look back at the plots of some older RPGs, youíll probably see that they arenít as flawless as you might think.

Sure, Chrono Trigger was a damn fun game, one of the best on the system. But do you really think it possessed ďdivine storytellingĒ? You can sum up the whole of Chrono Trigger with one little phrase: kill the big bug. Thatís all the game is about. Sure, you have all the stuff with Zeal going on at the same time, but thatís more of a side thing. To me, CTís plot is much like the plot of everyoneís game of the moment, Star Ocean 3. Like SO3, Chrono Triggerís story is less important than the gameplay. Just ask someone what their favorite part of Chrono Trigger was. Iím willing to bet that the majority of people would mention one of the fights, particularly the big fight with Magus in his tower. As much as I like Chrono Trigger, I know where it succeeds and where it falls flat. The storyline is very much the latter.

Now, compare that to a game released in the PSX/PS2 era. Letís say, oh, Final Fantasy VII. If you were to ask people what their favorite part of that game is, Iíd be willing to be that very few of those answers would have a thing to do with gameplay. Instead, youíd probably hear about a scene like Cidís successful flight into space, or Red XIII standing over the ruins of Midgar. And if at least half of those answers arenít about Aeris getting impaled like a pig on a spit, then youíre asking the wrong people. :P

So, what am I getting at, you ask? I think itís a bit hasty of someone to say that RPGs had stronger stories in the old days when so many fantastic stories have come onto the scene within the last seven or eight years. Valkyrie Profile, Final Fantasy X, Shadow Hearts, and Vagrant Story are all strong examples of stories that can easily go toe-to-toe with any SNES-era game, if not just outright trounce them.

ÖWell, except maybe Lufia II. That game still holds up well, both in terms of plot and actual gameplay.

As for delays, people need to quit getting so bent out of shape over them. So a game get's released a later than normal. Big deal. Spend that time with your friends. Take a walk in the sunshine. A delayed game is not the end of the world. Just don't say that on a GameFAQs message board, or you'll face a cyber-lynching.

Long letters = long answers. Maybe I should institute a length limit. :P

 
And now, three questions easily answered with a rental.

Hey love the site

Anyways I'm wondering if SO 3 is worth getting, I have enough money to get the game, and I'm very interested in it, but I keep hearing things about it. Anyways let me just ask you a few questions. Is the story good? A lot of things I here is that the story takes to long to develop and I'm just hyped up for a good story right now, 2nd is the music good, can't play an RPG without good music right, and Im also hearing that some of the songs are whack. 3rd how is the gameplay, I know the battle system looks cool, but is it really what it looks like, or are the controls really sloppy when you play it, thanx.

Is the story good? Well, it doesn't outright suck. But it isn't the greatest thing ever, either. It's hard to answer this question without knowing your definition of "good".

Is the music good? You tell me. If you like any of Sakuraba's other soundtracks, you'll probably dig this one, since all his music sounds identical. If you don't like any of his other work, then you certainly won't become a fan of his based on this OST. I will say, however, that I think this OST is Sakuraba's weakest, but the battle theme is by far one of my all-time favorite ones.

If you haven't heard any of Sakuraba's stuff before, I recommend that you go peruse our humble soundtrack section for some audio clips. Anything from the Star Ocean series should give you a good idea of what his music is all about.

Is the gameplay any good? Yeah, it's just fine. The AI of the computer controlled characters can be roughly equivalent to the intelligence of a lamp post at times, but it's manageable.

 
A Sony product with technical flaws? How rare.

Recently, an analyst firm has been talking about current errors with the PSP and its battery life and heat sinks. Apparently current models of the PSP will only run for ninety minutes during gameplay and run hot. Although this is a purely technical issue, it leads me to believe that RPGs on the PSP will be scarse. Why? Even if they double the current battery life, making it a whopping three hours, you still have pitiful battery life. Even portable RPGs last upwards of thirty hours. Don't get me wrong, here, I'm sure there will still be a dearth of games for the PSP, but the battery life seems to be pitiful. The chipset Sony is working with is more than a bit more powerful than the DS's, but I know I'd rather be able to play N64-caliber games for ten to fifteen hours on a road trip without a charge than a first-gen PS2 title for three.

I'm also a bit skeptical of a disc-derivative drive on a portable. Certainly Sony can produce CD components that last - My MP3CD Walkman has lasted me over two years without any problems. SCEA, on the other hand, seems to have quite a bit of problems. My 1000 series PS1 died after three years, and my 59000-series PS2 is dying after just over two years. Is that to say that I'll need to buy another PSP in two and a half years?

Possibly the biggest flaw in this rant that now has nothing to do with RPGs is a simple one: the screen is exposed. I think everyone agrees that the SP and DS's flip design is superior. Ah, well.

Don't get me wrong, I've already been locked into getting a PSP simply because of Gran Turismo 4. But that's another story for another day.

-John
The Webmaster

Ah yes, the almighty PSP. When I first heard this news, two words immediately came to mind: big shock.

Admittedly, I have practically no confidence in Sonyís ability to manufacture a quality video game platform that can actually endure the test of time. Having a few Playstations die for no real reason hasnít exactly made me a believer in Sonyís ability to deliver the goods. But a hand-held video game system should be something that comes easily to them. After all, Sony has been a leader in portable electronics for as far back as I can remember.

The battery situation is probably the fatal flaw as of right now. Ninety minutes is nothing these days. Thatíll certainly make playing an RPG more of a hassle than it is worth, but such a short battery lifespan isnít conducive to playing other games, either. Personally, I do most of my handheld gaming out on the road. If Iím gonna have to hover near an outlet to charge the thing every hour and a half, then you can rest assured Iím gonna grab my GBA/DS when I head out the door instead.

Of course, itís way too early to consider this to be a death knell for the PSP. Iím sure the brain trust over at Sony will figure out a way to deal with both the battery life and the overheating issue. They could probably start by taking out a function or two. God knows there are plenty to spare....

And that open screen design blows, plain and simple. Iím not going to even pretend to be diplomatic about it. :P

Closing Thoughts

Remember last time, when I said that I had said that I would have a new topic up sometime between that update and the previous one? Well, Iím a filthy liar. Keep your eyes open for it.

~ Daniel Stringer (letters@rpgfan.com)



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