Grandia 2 came out on PC this week. The publisher is GungHo, better known for Puzzle & Dragons (I have no idea how they got the license). From all reports the quality of the port is passable, but I’m really kind of excited by what this represents. It’s the most recent example of a Japanese publisher digging out of their back catalog and putting games on the PC. I’m not sure which company started this (although I suspect Square’s desire to get all versions of Final Fantasy on everything helped), but it’s becoming a lot more common, and it’s a chance for people like myself to check out classics that were missed.
I was always told that PC games aren’t big in japan, except for Visual Novels. Consoles have traditionally been the place for JRPGs especially, except for the brief experiment Square tried with FF7 and FF8. The next example I can find is Square again, as they released The Last Remnant on Steam in 2009. This was the first game I encountered that fought very hard against being controlled with a mouse and keyboard, and so I didn’t play much of it (I still haven’t finished it). With a controller, I know people who prefer that version over the original (which was released for the XBox 360, a console I did not own until years later). Capcom noticed the PC Market a year later; Namco got in on the game in 2012. The Carpe Fulgur games (Recettear, Chantelise) opened up the doors for Japanese indies to see western release.
The funny part about that is that visual novels are starting to come over too. Our Game of the Month for Aggrochat is Hatoful Boyfriend, and there are lots of others on Steam at the moment. The world is flat indeed.
Blaugust is pretty good at getting me to finish my drafts. This is a post about That Scene in Final Fantasy 10. It’s fairly early (a few hours in), and the game’s 13 years old, so this is all the spoiler warning you’re going to get. There is a scene fairly early on where Yuna is attempting to show Tidus how to laugh. It’s incredibly, unbelievably awkward, and it’s frequently pointed out as an example of bad writing, or localization. If you don’t believe me about this, see for yourself:
The thing is, I think this scene does exactly what it sets out to do, which is to demonstrate how Tidus is strange, and doesn’t fit in, and isn’t really adjusting well. Spira is not a terribly happy setting in FFX, and attempts to make it brighter are doomed to failure. In case you’re wondering, it’s also not any less awkward in Japanese. What might be worth arguing is the value of this. Tidus is the player avatar (for better or worse), I think and making him look stupid turns some players off the game. This is really part of a deeper JRPG vs. WRPG thing, but I won’t go into that here.
It’s interesting to see the level of randomness we’ll accept in our games. This post is somewhat inspired by the running jokes regarding the luck of Bel and Tam.
One of the complaints Tam and I shared about Darkest Dungeon was the tendency toward “cascading failure”. It was my experience that an enemy crit might lead to your entire team getting stressed, which might make one go crazy and start attacking a party member who would then get more stressed and go crazy, until your entire party is dead. This remains a problem even if the enemies aren’t much of a threat otherwise. Darkest dungeon revels in its randomness, and it was a bit much for me. I figured it would be a good opportunity to examine how other games use randomness.
On one side, we have roguelikes. On the other hand, there are a lot of examples of games with no randomness whatsoever, like Super Mario Brothers. For the purposes of this conversation, I’m ignoring the second category, but there are a lot more of them than you might think at first. Most scrolling shooters, bullet hell or otherwise, have fixed patterns, with the only changes coming from reaction to the player’s position. Most platformers are similar, even modern ones like Rayman, Ori, and Super Meat Boy. (As an aside, Super Meat Boy is such a wonderful example of a lot of game concepts that I’m probably not going to stop comparing things to it until people no longer remember what it is.) Instead of talking about those, let’s start somewhere else familiar.
It’s not hard to see where the Final Fantasy series took its original inspiration from, and so it’s not a large surprise that it ended up with random elements to replace the dice rolling that tabletop RPGs use. As a result, there’s turn order, damage variance, spell effectiveness, enemy target selection, enemy attack selection, encounter rate, encounter type, and probably other things that I’m forgetting that are randomly determined. Even with all of this, Final Fantasy is not random enough that it feels unfair. You know that your fighter or monk is going to reliably do a certain amount of damage, enough to kill an enemy in X number of hits. You know that if you use fire spells on undead enemies, most of them will take more damage than usual. You can even have a good idea of how much damage enemies do, so you know when you need to heal. Even though there’s some amount of randomness inherent in all of these things, it isn’t overwhelming.
Roguelikes (so-named because of the game Rogue) feel like the above does not go far enough. Some of my favorite games fall into this category, like Risk of Rain, the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, and Diablo (think about it). Hallmarks here include all of the above, plus random (or semi-random) level design, random items, and getting set back dramatically if you die. The goal in this is to ensure that every time you play the game it’s a little different. The large death penalty also encourages learning, instead of memorization; your growing skill as a player is supposed to be the driving factor behind making further progress. There are enough games calling themselves roguelikes with progression systems that this isn’t always true.
My problem with some games like this is that it’s possible to get an RNG overdose. Using Risk of Rain as an example, if you’re playing one of the close-range characters and don’t have a decent source of healing by about 20 minutes (on normal), you might be doomed due to circumstances that are mostly outside of your control. Likewise if you’re the commando (the character you start with) and haven’t found something that helps you deal with groups, you’re going to have a hard time. Roguelikes in general tend to be somewhat bad about this, it’s possible to have lost and not even know for a period of time. In Risk of Rain in particular, this time is unlikely to be longer than about 10 minutes. In Darkest Dungeon, it sometimes wasn’t as kind. (Ex: “You didn’t bring enough shovels, but you don’t know that yet!”) They also have the problem outlined in the opening, where defeat comes from a series of unlucky rolls in a very short amount of time.
This doesn’t seem like an easy problem to solve. In games of this style, things have to vary enough to be interesting, without screwing the player over completely. You might argue that “screwing the player over completely” is the point, but I don’t buy that, and that mentality is why most of these games struggle to expand their audience. I think one of the best solutions is the ability to choose how difficult the game is, but this isn’t perfect. Diablo doesn’t make you play on Hardcore mode, but it’s there as an option. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon only makes you start at square one (Level 1, no items) for the bonus dungeons.
I haven’t given up on roguelikes as a whole, and I’m always interested to see how the next one handles some of these issues. The fact that other people like even the games I think are too random proves that there’s an audience that enjoys that. Steam certainly has plenty to choose from.
Today’s post was originally going to be about an annoyance I’ve found with WildStar advice, but I haven’t finished doing the required math for it yet, so I’ll pick a different topic rather than trying to talk math and being wrong.
A little over a week ago, it was suggested that the Breath Of Fire series might align with my interests. I picked up Breath of Fire 4 on PSN, and played through the intro, but it was recommended I play 3 first. (Breath of Fire is a little bit like Final Fantasy in that the games aren’t direct sequels, but they do share more than most numeric Final Fantasy entries.) The problem is, Breath of Fire 3 isn’t on PSN, and the PSP version was never released in this country. Despite that, it was fairly cheap, so now I’m the proud owner of a PSP copy of Breath of Fire 3. I immediately ripped it and stuck it on my PSP Go.
Starting Breath of Fire 3 is certainly interesting, I won’t spoil it for people who haven’t played it, but it’s not your usual “first battle against nonthreatening enemies with your main character” that so many JRPGs use. Soon after that, you do pick up as the main character (default name: Ryu) and things are a bit more standard. I just started playing recently, and I like the way the party is shaping up. In addition to doing decent damage with a sword, Ryu also has healing and protective spells. Teepo has a very similar stat spread, but instead picks up offensive spells. Sometimes party member Rei is both faster and stronger than the other two due to his natural stats and his higher starting level, but he leaves the party on occasion during the start of the game. I suspect the other two will have caught up by the time I get him back.
The actual systems are somewhat interesting. It’s fairly basic stuff, with each combatant acting in battle according to their speed. Characters who are fast enough (mostly this means Rei) can actually get an extra turn in an “EX round”, taking two actions for the enemies’ one. An interesting thing is that in addition to abilities learned naturally, you can use the “examine” command in combat to attempt to watch enemies and learn their skills. At this point I’ve managed to pick up a fire attack from a slime-like enemy (Does every game have these?), a bite attack from a guard dog, and a jump attack from a giant chicken. These skills can be transferred between party members with the use of an item. I like that the actual battles are fought in the normal areas, without transitioning to a separate battle screen (although characters do reposition as enemies spawn in).
Overall, this game reminds my why I liked the PS-era JRPGs. It’s fairly simple, looks good, and is fun to play. It might get overly bogged down in plot and lose me later, but I’m enjoying it so far.
It’s time for another post on multiple, short topics. Let’s get it going.
This is in its final day, and looks like it might make it if it gets enough attention. They did a live stream yesterday to boost support, and it seems to have done the job, but it still needs more. The Remix Mode in the original Amplitude was a very “modern” idea in a game that’s now 11 years old, and I’d love to see what awesome things come out of the new one should they get a chance to make it.
Final Fantasy 5 Draft
As Bel mentioned, I may have organized a bit of fun before the Job Fiesta starts for real. I’m gradually working my way through the first segment of the game (I’m behind Bel a bit and Kodra a lot). I’m chronicling my progress on YouTube here. Blue Mage is probably my favorite class in the game, because you can do some pretty degenerate things with it (none of which I’ve done yet). I’ve recorded everything so far, but I think I’m going to start cutting out travel and grinding.
WildStar Ops Week
If you really want to get a WildStar fix in, the servers will be up at random times between now and head start. I recommend checking their Twitter for information on when this is happening. If you’re more like myself and don’t care much about getting an hour or two of play in, this can still be useful. WildStar lets you save your character appearance in base-64. Keeping this saved in a document somewhere can help you get the appearance you want without spending a lot of time in the character creator on launch day, so take advantage of the opportunity while it’s open. This goes double if name reservation didn’t work out for you, or you want an early name that isn’t the one you reserved.
I mentioned this in my post last week, but the Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta is coming up in a few weeks. This has been a somewhat major social event for me for the past few years, so I want to share a bit more about it.
Final Fantasy V was originally released in Japan in 1992, and did not receive an official English translation until Final Fantasy Anthology for the PlayStation in 1999. (It didn’t receive a good English translation until it released for the Game Boy Advance in 2006.) Like FF3 before it and FF Tactics after it, FF5 allows characters to acquire and switch between several different jobs with unique abilities. These include classics like Black Mage, Thief, and Knight, but also new ones like Blue Mage and Samurai. The incredibly varied nature of the class system means that playthroughs can be very different each time, but certain combinations are almost game-breakingly powerful. Seeking to make the game a bit more challenging, the idea for the Job Fiesta was born.
The Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta got its public start on NeoGAF, in 2009. According to RevenantKioku (RK), it grew out of a small group drafting classes, and expanded into random selections when more people expressed interest. The basic rules are that you can only use the jobs assigned to you, and you must use all of the jobs assigned to you (in any combination, before you are required to have one of each about 1/3 of the way through the game). The first year, 48 people participated and 15 finished. It continued for a year (the first year I participated), and participation went up significantly. This time, there were 125 players and 24 victors.
In 2011, things got a bit bigger. Registration was done via Twitter rather than the forum (allowing for some automation and wider participation), and the event became a fundraiser for Child’s Play. 484 people registered, and 122 of them finished, raising a total of $2000. The fiesta expanded again in 2012 and 2013, raising $7455 for Child’s Play last year, expanding the options available to players each time. I don’t know what the new options are for 2014, the only hint so far is this image:
Luck of the Draw
The fun part of playing through this way is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. Obviously some combinations are easier than others. Some single classes are capable of carrying the game on their own, like Black Mage or Samurai. Others really rely on a combination, like Red Mage (needs another caster) or Blue Mage (needs Confuse/Control from another class). It can also point out some classes that are traditionally ignored, but can be extremely powerful, like Bard and Dancer.
Almost any combination of classes can finish the game, and the community is supportive if you get stuck. I strongly encourage joining this event if you like old-school Final Fantasy, even if you haven’t played FF5 before.