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Ethos and Riddles talk about video games...
            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

Ethos’ Relapse Part 4 – Blue Dragon

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Blue_Dragon_LogoNow Riddles said Lost Odyssey did a very good job of emulating a traditional old-school RPG on a modern console, but I don’t fully agree. The battle system is more involved and more focused on magic, the presentation is a little experimental, and there’s not an overworld in the same way there is in so many traditional RPGs.

In fact, I’d say – for all things better and worse – my pick fits the description a lot more. Blue Dragon is almost element for element an experience you could find on your SNES. The plot and mood is paper thin, combat – although it can include more involvement than, say, FF1 – is very straightforward and mostly menu-based. And the job system, while a complete blast, is really just a barely expanded version of what I just saw with FFV.

That being said, however, if I’m able to take the game at only gameplay value it really is top-notch. The battle system is one of the most enjoyable of its turn-based family, and the menus are – in my opinion – slick and attractive. The battles are thankfully not entirely random, and while the job system is nothing revolutionary, it goes back to to raw addictive nature of the job system in FFV and the ability system in FFIX. It is a RPG for not only the traditionalist, but for those traditionalists who only like the raw niche mechanics of a genre that doesn’t misuse the term “traditional”.

Like Riddles, this week has reminded me why I love the genre that got me to love gaming while at the same time making me realize why it is such a niche genre. The reasons I love to play a RPG just aren’t widely shared and so won’t be largely catered to. Still, I’m glad to have relapses like this to spark the love I still have for leveling up and money-hoarding. But for now, bring on Mass Effect 2, bitches!

Ethos’ Relapse Part 3 – Skies of Arcadia

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

SkiesOfArcadia_LogoI was going to play Dragon Quest VIII here, but since I had more recently relapsed into Skies and since I like it more and it’s just a little less traditional, I decided to go with it instead.

While Skies has a traditional turn-based system and the leveling up and magic is fairly straight-forward, the game succeeds in making it all a ridiculous amount of fun. This is also a product of JRPG conventions with random battles, a search for crystals, and an adventure that takes our heroes across desert, water, forest, and ice. Not really original stuff, no, but Skies of Arcadia isn’t all cut and paste.

It’s really interesting returning to games like this that were among the first RPGs I ever played to realize that some things have still rarely done better. As Riddles has mentioned, JRPGs rely on menus, and Skies – as strange as it is to say – has really great menus. They’re attractive, fast, intuitive, and make all the “admin” stuff of a RPG a lot of fun. But other than making the menus and battle system streamlined and enjoyable, Skies also throws some unique things into the mix. Overworlds are nothing new to the genre, but being able to fly around an expansive sky in a floating boat is something that just didn’t exist before and hasn’t existed since. While most overworlds are boring and a welcome exclusion from newer RPGs, Skies actually makes it extremely fun to explore. The ships are a dream to control and the perfectly timed upgrades paired with discoveries make flying around the overworld a legitimate pastime. And just when you think gameplay is getting stale, the game gives you a new ship, a crew to control and customize, and a new strategy in battle tied to these new upgrades.

Still, 7 games into JRPG Relapse Week and the same themes seem to pop up, and they repeat the things people have been saying for years. Although I think this game is incredible, to enjoy it you have to be okay with random battles. You have to be okay with turn based battles systems, and you have to be okay with upgrading equipment and leveling up and navigating menus. It really seems to be a hefty condition list.

In any case, I’ve been enjoying this admittedly belated JRPG Relapse session, but there’s still one more to go!

Ethos’ Relapse Part 2 – Final Fantasy IX

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

ff9_logoLike Riddles, the first two games on my list are Final Fantasies. And like Riddles, the latter is a personal favourite. But I want to drop all the praise I give to FF9 for its story and characters and mood and music and focus on its truly JRPG qualities. One of the things I under-represent about my ability to replay this game over and over is its ability and leveling system.

The leveling system is about as basic as you can get. Final Fantasy IX was attempting to be a throwback and it absolutely was. You gain experience and level up causing HP/MP and crystal slot values to increase and every monster also gives out money for no reason. But all the appropriate information is there. The post battle screen is quick and informative and it doesn’t force you out of it, you can take your time looking at stats as long as you want without worry about the screen automatically moving on.

But I’m going into too much detail now. The system that I might love the most about IX, however, is the ability system. Each character can learn a wide variety of skills, and while some overlap, each have their own set that they can and can’t learn. These abilities are attached to equipment, but after gaining a certain number of Ability Points, the character learns the ability for good and can activate it at any time provided they have the right number of available crystal points. This system is such a prime example of why I love JRPGs. The characters have forced unique properties, but there is still so much choice. Would you rather equip a powerful new piece of armor, or stick it out with the weak one for a few dozen more battles to learn a helpful ability? Or maybe you’re absolutely fucking insane like me, and you’ll grind for hours to learn every single ability, even the shitty ones you’ll never use. The point is that it’s a system that rewards choice and reflects how much time you put into it.

Even slower with one character...

Even slower with one character...

However, coming from an emulator enhanced play session of FFV, it became screamingly obvious that Final Fantasy IX has the slowest battle system of all the Playstation-era games in the series. I enjoy the battle system, but waiting for your turn to attack is incredibly slow, and highlights the reason why it is called level-grinding. I personally love navigating menu systems, but Final Fantasy IX is certainly a victim of the “press attack until you win” form of grinding the vast majority of the time, and it does so in a slower manner than the two entries before it.

Therefore, I actually think Final Fantasy IX is the poster child for the very best and very worst aspects of JRPGs in general. Luckily, I always have the end goal in mind while playing these sorts of games, so the thought of learning a certain ability or being able to afford an item at the auction house makes the grinding a lot easier to me while it continues to absolutely baffle people like my roommate.

Anyway, while it was one of my first RPGs, I understand now how Final Fantasy IX was supposed to be a throwback to JRPGs of old. And, again strangely following in Riddles’ footsteps, my next RPG is one that breaks the mold a bit more than others, though perhaps not as much as Persona. It’s also one of my favourite games that I rarely mention on this site: Skies of Arcadia.

Ethos’ Relapse Part 1 – Final Fantasy V

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

final-fantasy-v-advanceWell apparently if you leave Riddles alone for a few days, he actually writes quite a bit!

Still, I won’t let my shitty internet situation this week leave me behind in my relapse. My gaming systems obviously still worked, so I was able to play the first two of the four, although not without issues of their own.

My SNES-generation JRPG was Final Fantasy V, as I mentioned in this week’s Scatter Storming. Although I have an old save file a few hours in, I decided to start from the beginning because I had no idea of context. So I stuck my PSX disc into my PS3 and started the game up. I went into the experience with the mindset that I’d be playing a game that was 17 years old, so I was expecting ghetto. So I suppose because my expectations were low, I was a little impressed. Everything seemed to take a lot longer than it should and it was no Final Fantasy VI in terms of presentation, but there were some choices that made me think that if I was playing the game for the first time almost two decades ago, I’d be very impressed.

Of course when I went to save over an hour in, the game crashed and I lost my save. So in a very rare move, I downloaded an emulator so I could speed through the beginning. Let me tell you, that speed up feature is addicting! But more about that in my next article when I had to play a JRPG without the ability to speed things up.

I still have a soft place for FFV. Like FFIX, it starts on a more lighthearted note after the opening scenes, and it tries to show more than just the melodramatic side to a character. Still, it’s far more shallow and much more sexist, and ultimately less satisfying for that. However, for a relatively old school 2D RPG, it always surprises me in that it’s more enticing than I remember. And that includes the job system. Like some of the other games in my Relapse, I love systems in which you level up abilities separate from your character’s main level and more importantly when you’re able to keep said abilities even after switching classes or equipment.

Final Fantasy V isn’t talked about much, but it is a charming little game that is quite a bit of fun and deeper than one might expect. But I’ve spent too much time on it, I’ve got to move onto Final Fantasy IX. Don’t worry, I’m going to attack it from a gameplay/comparison perspective, not entirely from a gushing fanboy perspective.