So hey what’s this?

Oh, just a new episode of Retronauts. That’s all; nothing to be alarmed about. But then what’s this?

Oh, I see. It’s Etrian Odyssey II. Like, in English and all.

Oh, hey! Etrian Odyssey II! In English! That’s fantastic. June 17 is looking like a very, very busy week, with Metal Gear Solid 4 in need of completion and Final Fantasy Tactics A2 crowding the hardcore portable RPG space. I think I will make time for EO2, though. I might even have finished the first by then — although, sadly, that didn’t happen while I was on vacation as I had planned since I spent my free time posting images here of Japan instead.

Currently, I’m nearly finished with the 13th floor after having become bogged down with the ant nest on 12F. Like most major FOEs in the game, the Royalant was a brutal fight that I won in part through sheer luck that I probably couldn’t repeat reliably on a second try. That might actually be what I enjoy the most about EO: The constant sense that I’m surviving through sheer audacity and determination, the knowledge that brute leveling doesn’t go nearly as far in this game as smart skill selection and application. I’ve been flipping between EO and Shiren this past month, and the two games (though considerably different in many ways) succeed largely because they share this key element in common.

I feel quite a bit more attachment to the mute, personality-free characters of my Etrian guild (El Spite) and to Shiren than I do to most game characters who are considerably better-defined. Ultimately, they both tap into the essence of role-playing’s original vision, allowing me to define them through their abilities and their actions and how they react to circumstance. This is, I have to say, considerably more satisfying than letting some wannabe film auteur define them for me with drawn out dialogue and story sequences. The biggest forum-rat complaint about the last episode of Retronauts was our observation that the Materia system turns the characters into generic, replaceable carbon copies with no innate definition besides their character models, as apparently it doesn’t bother some gamers. That’s fine for you guys, I guess; more power to ya. But honestly, the core concept of determining the growth and improvement of characters is essentially the last thing a game like FFVII has to draw upon for its claim of being a role-playing game; take that away in favor of hot-swappable powers and much of the appeal of the genre evaporates from the experience. Ultimately, you’re stuck with a crew of fighters whose salient traits are wholly defined by the developer (and in that particular case defined very poorly); more critically, you lose any sense of risk and reward in your choices. Why specialize and strategize when you can effortlessly wade through each situation with a quick visit to the Materia screen?

Anyway, this is a stupid aimless ramble and I don’t remember what the original point was. So, in conclusion, I can’t odyssey in Etria for the next week since I have to review Rondo of Swords and Dodge Ball Brawlers instead. I’m seriously never gonna finish that game.

14 thoughts on “So hey what’s this?

  1. Game companies sure like to lump big releases against each other, don’t they? The industry on a whole would probably be better off if they’d put the dang rulers away.

    I do think you’ve hit on something with the Materia there, but I view it as a good thing. I probably would’ve been much more irritated with Cait Sith if I’d ever needed to use him for sake of strategy.
    Actually, thinking on it now, the only FFs I still enjoy are the ones where I can almost completely ignore and neglect the characters I hate, and suffer no penalty when I suddenly DO need them. Not sure if that means much, but…yeah.

  2. I’ve always said that FF4 in many ways had the best battle system, because you had to think about how each character’s abilities would specifically help you in a given battle. That’s why I liked FF9 so much, too. I think if the materia system were rebalanced a little bit it might pick up some of Tactics’ job system’s success, but it would probably have been better to just go the FF9 route and have people learn different things from the same materia.

  3. Yeah, materia was, hands-down, the worst part of FFVII. The fact that they “updated” the materia system to be even MORE interchangeable is what doomed FFVIII, in my opinion. Hm, it was one of Chrono Cross’s main issues, too. Clearly didn’t learn very quickly, did they?

    Materia has way too many bastard children.

  4. Materia-like systems make sense if the whole point is to allow your user base to construct a set of avatars with novel and possibly broken skill-sets to their liking. What if FFVII HADN’T used a materia system? What if say… [CHARACTER EVERYONE HATES] actually had some irreplaceable skill (like STEAL)that actually meant (s)he was basically essential traveling companion? Presumably, you could create actual differences between the characters through good, careful writing and storytelling.

    … Perhaps this is why Square’s work is so hit-and-miss lately?

    On another note, I get the feeling that if FF8 were re-released now, I might really enjoy the strange what-would-happen-if-the-JOB-system-and-Materia-and-Espers-all-had-the-weirdest-puppies system. Reconsidering all of the elements, it seems like it SHOULD be a really deep, really interesting system that basically lets you choose and equip simultaneously a couple of pseudo-jobs and make rewarding-if-broken characters with a little patient grinding. But I’m probably forgetting about a hundred minor flaws that made the damn thing basically unplayable.

  5. After revisiting FFVII and realizing it was kind of awful in retrospect, I decided I would never ever go back to FFVIII. I loved it, especially for its bold experimentation with game dynamics, but I know that if I played it in the cold light of objectivity the horribly broken and unpolished bits would render it nearly as poor.

  6. See, one of the things I actually DO enjoy about most JRPGs is spending a half hour once in the menu screen balancing out abilities and deciding who’s on potion duty. The define-as-you-go systems (a la, I guess, Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid) you describe can be fun, of course, but it lacks that urgent “Okay, what should I bring into this battle?” feel the best hot-swapping systems give.

    I suppose the best of both worlds would be something like Final Fantasy V’s job system: you can choose how to develop your characters, but at the same time, you’re suffocatingly limited in what you can take into battle.

  7. What I don’t understand about the RPG genre is that the basis of the entire game (gameplay wise) is to level up and get better armor & weapons. How come every time I buy a new piece of armor or a new weapon my character looks exactly the same the next time i’m in battle. I just want my characters to have this epic look to them at the end of the game instead of the same blah look they sported within the first hour of the game.

  8. It’s probably mainly a matter of development time and related costs. How much do you really need a ton of outfits for each character as a detail, when it would set you back a lot of money for the programming and art? And how long would that mean you weren’t making money with the product? Spiffy outfits don’t really sell a game unless the game is all about said outfits. A nice detail, yes, but only a detail.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always chortle in my glee whenever I find out a game I like has that sort of thing. If I were developing a game, I would push for the feature myself. But I think it’s perfectly understandable when they focus on getting a good polished game out sometime close to when they projected it would be, leaving a little “bling” by the wayside.

  9. Every Final Fantasy I have played has accurate sprites/models of whatever weapon you happen to be using at the time, even the first one. But those characters have a very specific ‘look’ to them, which is probably the reason armor does not make an appearance over your characters.

    about EO, I beat the Ant Queen just a couple of days ago, and it was way harder than the Jungle King, who got bound into helplessness within 3 turns. 14th floor throws some curves with level design, which was almost unchanged from the start, so thats good.

  10. “After revisiting FFVII and realizing it was kind of awful in retrospect, I decided I would never ever go back to FFVIII. I loved it, especially for its bold experimentation with game dynamics, but I know that if I played it in the cold light of objectivity the horribly broken and unpolished bits would render it nearly as poor.”

    You could stand to mention this to people a little more. If I may say so it makes you look like much less of an anti-FFVII drone.

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