A Random Spew of Bile Directed at A Few Recent RPGs

August 21st, 2013

   

I got tired of grabbing pics before I made it through all the games.

I didn’t play any more of Corona this week. Seinarukana, ever the slave driver, reared its head again as the real script compiler for it was finally bludgeoned into working on English text, which opened up all kinds of special new surprises. Like the existence of save-labels needing translating for every single scene in the game. All 500 of them. And that the scripts apparently use furigana at times, which the ones I’ve been working off of decided was something that just wasn’t worthy of informing me of, so hey, nothing like getting to redo and recheck work, right? And all ~650 or so strings from the exe, which is about 620 more than I expected. Granted, only a fraction need to be translated since many are for debug functions, but I still need to go through them all. But at the same time, it also showed some neat things that I’m hopefully able to implement that are simply commented out. Well, and I found a new and somewhat bizarre bug too, but we can leave finding that one as an exercise to the eventual audience.

So all I really played this week was a few hours of Xillia. Well, and practiced my Poison Akane just because I like the warm feeling of taking off 80% of a life bar in one basic combo. That left my two options as a writeup of something older I have played significantly (which would likely be Prism Ark) or rant for a while about my recent frustrations with a few recent RPGs. Well, recent being most of the last year or so. Since the bile’s still churning in my gullet over Xillia’s awful beginning, let’s go with that in an undirected random venting spew of frustration and bile. 

  

Let’s start with Xillia then in the list of games that I feel have personally slighted me lately. I continue to be baffled by Namco’s love of the Chain Capacity (or Assault Counter or whatever they’re calling it) system. Who exactly thinks to themselves upon seeing Abyss/Vesperia’s combat "Boy, we’re giving the player way too much freedom. We better limit that with a tiny hard to see number." I have this sneaking belief that it’s a solution to the ever-awful AI. If they can’t get the AI to act more like a player, this way, they can get the player to act more like the AI. Making it variable by critical hits or really any random factor just makes matters worse.

And then there’s also the special attacks. What chains into what? Who knows! And this vaunted link system that will change what pressing an attack button does on the fly? Why thanks. I didn’t want to execute the same normal attack as before. I did want to go vaulting into the air instead. I play fighting games. I can handle a complex engine. What frustrates me is not knowing what the button is going to do when I push it. Or worse, having a basic combo interrupted because the AI got its ass into place while I was already attacking.

 

Maybe it’d even be forgivable had it been implemented well, but more often than not, the little combo rondo takes place 3 feet above the enemy’s head because they were too small, too heavy, one pixel off from due north, etc. Nor do I really see what the problem was with something far more basic. You get three regular attacks, chain into any special, chain into any EXTRA special. Someday, once you’re used to it, we can start messing around, adding cancels, different chains, maybe even a fourth or fifth normal attack. Press buttons and maybe, if the special link thing activated a quarter second before, something entirely different happens, is just repeatedly frustrating. This great new ‘strategic’ mechanic interferes with my own elaborate strategy of "press attack button three times, then press special." So I play most of the time with it turned off. Fantastic work on that one, Namco.

And to close off my Xillia rant and segue into the Atelier games, enough with the goddamned busy work. Christ. These maps are already practically lazy MMORPG maps as it is, giant two screen meadow followed by giant two screen meadow followed by a coast followed by a giant two screen meadow followed by backtracking through them, but then take all the crap strewn literally every 15 steps and individually drop it all off at every single shop? What fun. At least it gave me a break partway through to collect rocks in a town.

There should be a formula weighing the amount of BS a game makes you do just so you can keep playing the game. And on that note, we’ll get a twofer here with Meruru and Ayesha, two games that I really think I could have liked even if Gust is still struggling to get the combat engine back to where it was with MK five years ago… if they weren’t so determined to piss me off in spite of themselves. I had kind of a similar positive initial experience with both. Admittedly, that was a lot because I didn’t like upgrading equipment until I needed to, so that ended up creating a lot of nice challenge. Challenge that immediately evaporated in both games the moment I stopped and upgraded my equipment, but it was nice while it lasted.

 

At the same time though, it was frustrating to go to the ‘wrong’, higher level places, clear them out, and then be forced to cake walk through the easier ones, and find after spending 6 months clearing out the western path, that if I had instead gone to the 3 day northern path that looked useless, I’d have been given magic shoes or gloves that would have cut down my other voyage’s time by half. There’s clearly a natural progression, so why is freedom even given in this way? I’d much rather have a more controlled and balanced game than be forced to mindlessly kill another 40 palette swapped squirrels. And where’d all the bosses go? Are we taking lessons from goddamned Tales of Destiny? No, backtracking to kill a damned bear from one area higher does not count as a mini-boss.

Where Meruru really killed me though, was the bloody Clippy-esque ‘friendship’ events. The quickest way to piss someone off and make them unproductive is to constantly badger them when they’re trying to do something. Can I make do some alchemy? But after each component, we’ll need to go eat some pie, fix a window, look at some flowers, go shopping, hook some lesbians up. Christ. Creating three items, about a five second process in Kamidori or 15 seconds in MK, turns into an arduous, constantly interrupted process more irritating than a half dozen Clippies all badgering you that it’s time to put down what you’re doing and have pie. You are not as cutesy, heartwarming, silly, or lesbian as you think you are, Gust.

  

Ayesha ‘solved’ this by kicking about 80% of the events to the world map instead of the workshop, and admittedly, it is less annoying to be interrupted there since you’re less likely to forget what the hell subitem you were making with what properties and why, but it was still obnoxious to have 4-5 pit stops while trying to simply get back to playing the game, but as the game went on and it started spawning absurdly powerful palette swapped minibosses that you only know are worse than anything the ‘plot’ is going to throw at you by going there and being one-shotted, my patience began to wear. 

The second to last straw was when I beat the game. I mean, I killed what was clearly the last boss. The story was over. Everything was wrapped up. And then when the question was asked "So, what the hell just happened?" the answer given back was "You don’t need to worry about it. Go home and make some damned pie." No, seriously. At least when Vesperia did the same thing, it had the good graces to let you go out feeling like a champ before it sprung "Uhhhh, there’s some extra evil sitting around. Go to these 6 dungeons because, uh… Look. Just do it." So like Vesperia, I declared the world already saved and quit there. Actually, I didn’t. I checked an FAQ online to see if that was really it, whereupon I discovered that I had been locked out what might have added some more to that because I had ‘accidentally’ killed a boss without visiting a specific useless out-of-the-way spot enough times first. That was what prompted me to consider the world saved and move on.

Last up is Fire Emblem: Awakening, and that boils down to really one simple thing. It’s a complaint I’ve had with the series for a long time too. I think I would have loved it too, had the cast either been a third the size or the maps twice as big. I had higher hopes for the game too since FE4 and the crossbreeding of nobles is my favorite one of the series, but similar to my issues with Xillia so far, the excessive complexity killed it for me. Not that it was complicated. God no. It was that it gave you literally dozens of characters, went "choose however you want, that’s cool," with one hand and "YOUR CHOICES SERIOUSLY MATTER" with the other. It’s just a massive demonstration of Paradox of Choice (or Buyer’s Remorse, or Paralysis by Analysis, etc etc) in action.

 

Let’s explain then for those not in marketing or usability. The Paradox of Choice is a psychological phenomenon (technically debated, but let’s roll with it) whereby giving more choices, which logic says will satisfy the chooser more since they can choose the exact option that is best for them, will instead come out of it less satisfied than if they had fewer options, or even make no choice whatsoever. Prototypical example: Given the choice between crunchy or smooth peanut butter, everyone can easily make a decision and is satisfied because they understand the alternative. But if instead, there’s every combination of crunchy vs smooth, brand vs generic, organic vs non, sodium vs sodium free, preservatives vs non, etc, etc, etc, what was once a simple automatic decision becomes an extremely complex one requiring cognitive attention. Or if you want a more technical example, imagine trying to figure out how to start a car vs start an airplane. One is a simple automatic process. The other terrifying and filled with uncertainty with the only real difference being "number of buttons."

FE:A then did almost every single thing it could to make these choices get under my fingernails and dig in. There are lots of ways to make them work. Make them very limited and forced choices like FE4 did. Or incremental low-impact choices like Civ (or really, most strat games). Or make the gameplay very different between using characters to not make the grind feel so painful. Or not force so much effort into making a choice. They could have encouraged experimentation with a strong rubber banding system like Disgaea, but leveling and relationship building progresses very slowly so just making a choice at all of either characters to use or relationships requires significant and cognizant commitment. It also loves to remind you of all the characters you’re neglecting and relationships you haven’t grinded, so there’s buyer’s remorse added to any choice made too. And maybe it could be worth all the investment and effort if the reward was worth it, but no. There’s too little difference between the characters and the outcome for the effort put in.

     

And so when I started getting to where the kids’ side stories were being unlocked, I simply didn’t want to deal with all the rigamorale of unlocking that stuff. It said "You want all the toys? Better get grinding!" And I opted out. Of the whole thing. I’m sure that the weight of these choices is less for people who expect or even want to play through the game multiple times and/or love to grind the hell out of it, but I just got fed up and left. And then sent it to a farm in Canada months later. Packaged with a copy of an Idea Factory port that somehow found its way into my house despite never being purchased or given to me that I felt dirty just knowing it was in the same house. I feel better now knowing it’s in another country, likely tainting the Canadian water supply with its filthiness.

Consider anything I didn’t mention about the games above as something it did well then. That’s not true, but I’ve got to use my multiple degrees built around pointing out crappy design for something. I did enjoy most of them (jury’s still out on Xillia) until they gradually wore me down like an insistent sandpaper rub on the groin. Perhaps once only tingly, but raw, bleeding, and painful after 20+ hours. I could probably do another few paragraphs on why the newer alchemy systems are poor or the flat out bizarre design choices of Xillia. My favorites so far are the ability to make giant purple eyebrows hover 2 feet to the side of a character, and having four save points in a one-screen village plus two more literally four steps outside it, in addition to a quick save anywhere option. The phrase "spoiled for choice" comes to mind.

      

And now, back to work. All 650 exe strings. Aah, the heady life.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 19 Comments »

19 Shouts From the Peanut Gallery

  • nightshadow2239 says:

    Wow, I never pegged you to be the type that could sit through a Atelier game. Having that “don’t worry about it” ending must have made it worth it though huh?

    I’m a fan of Tales Of games, but haven’t got around to playing Xillia yet. I heard it was good, but considering your rant I have my doubts now…

    FE:A Is also a game I seriously want but don’t have a 3ds for. I’ve played and enjoyed pretty much all FE games so far and friends are saying FE:A is awesome. I swear though, reading your review made me depressed.

    Idk, but perhaps the staple pessimism Aroduc Inc. will allow me to enjoy these games more by having lowered expectations.

    …Thanks for the fan pics!

    Aroduc says:

    Mana Khemia is one of my absolute favorite RPGs ever, aside from the awful plot. Mass party engine, excellent balance between characters, very fast and fluid combat flow, excellent sprite work, amazingly good pacing and escalation of mechanics and even basic attacks, etc. I did really like Meruru too for the most part. More than Ayesha at least. It just wouldn’t let me bloody play it without pissing around. I did skip out on Rorona and Totori due to not having a PS3 those years, so I avoided some of the awkward transition years which probably helped.

    FE:A does a lot of things really great. I love the presentation and combat, but it just piles too many practically identical characters on you and then goes “Make sure you get those relationships going!” and a very very few maps to play with. Sure, you can use the outworld gate or whatever to spawn dozens of slightly different enemy parties on them, but the game very badly needs something like Disgaea’s Item World if it wants to run with that kind of grind, not the paltry number of tiny stages it actually has.
    Or you need to resign yourself to only unlocking about 10% of the sidestory/extra character content by just playing it normally.

    Shinji103 says:

    You realize that Aroduc’s blog commentary needs to be taken with a grain (or sack) of salt, right? How often do you ever see him say anything positive about something? *rolls eyes*

    In Xillia, I know EXACTLY what each button will do when I press it. I know EXACTLY what combo my character will activate, and I know EXACTLY when will chain. Why? Because I read the tutorials. The text boxes that pop up when a new feature is available. :P

    The setup system makes it perfectly clear what chains with what and how to activate it. The ONLY problem I had when I was playing the game was the language barrier; I got Xillia (and Xillia 2) when it first came out in Japan. I can understand Japanese speech and characters, but kanji is always hard on me. (and this game is full of it) Despite that, I still mastered the system without consulting a guide. I can bounce a boss back and forth between Milla and Jude consistently with extreme chaining in Overlimits mode.

    It’s not hard if you actually pay attention to what you’re doing. So don’t let Aroduc’s negativity put you down, espcially if you’re already a Tales fan.

    Aroduc says:

    I find it impressive that you could read tutorials but not read anything else.

    Including what I wrote in English, so at least you’re consistent.

    nightshadow2239 says:

    Oh haha dw. I’ve been following Aroduc for years and I know that everything he says comes with a 10/90 positive/negative rating when in fact its usually better.

    Hes just being a tsundere =)

    Mugi says:

    You have nothing to worry in regard of Xillia, the combat isn’t hard, the combat is decently well explained, however what the thread topic creator missed is that to figure stuff like that out you need to dig a bit into the menus to read up about chained arts and with whom. It’s a bit bad explained in game but it isnt special complex or anything.

    My recomendation is to look at the menu screens options at the bottom, there is a few ways to list and extra options listed down there, super easy to miss if you just plan to rush the game.

    As for the game itself, it’s one of the better Tales of games, it’s defetively not the best in the series depending if your a Symphonial or Abysian but it’s defetively not close to the worser games in the series.

    The story is also quite fine, in fact a JRPG who have a Epic grand story without a evil villian is a feat in itself.

  • Apathy says:

    Well, that was an interesting read. It does say something that you’ve enjoyed some 20+ hours of the game but certain things at the end just grinds your gears rubs you the wrong way. Hmm, is there a game where you were in a similar situation but the ending made you forgive them at the very least?

    Oh, and good luck on working on Seinarukana!

    Aroduc says:

    Not really. If it hasn’t impressed me before the final twist/ending, I doubt it will at that point. I do think Anachronox had a pretty hilariously great ending though. Shame about the actual game itself. I don’t really think games (especially not console games) are a bastion of great writing either though. I grew up playing a lot of Lucas Arts adventure games, so that’s where my baseline lies. So long as the story/writing are doing their job of informing the gameplay without interfering with it, I call that a win. There are a few exceptions, but not a ton.

    There are, however, plenty of games that have just horrendous beginnings (Valkyrie Profile comes to mind) that pull it together later and become quite excellent. Presuming you can suffer through obtuse controls, unexplained mechanics, etc.

  • ShuffleAir says:

    Besides the gameplay and odd design choices of Xillia. What did you think of the story and the characters? I just finished the game a couple of hours ago and I thought the game overall was good, not great though.

    Did you play Graces? Xillia can’t be as bad as Graces… though I do like Graces as well.

    I personally found Totori to be my favorite of the Arland trilogy. Hopefully you find time to try it. It had less friendship scenes and kind of more of a serious plot. I also liked Totori much more as a character than Meruru, so that could by my main contributing factor.

    Aroduc says:

    I played enough of Graces to engender a hatred of the CC system. The awful friendship plot, sidequest fatigue from them being just everywhere, and that without TP, regular battles got exceptionally pedestrian wore me down and I wandered off around halfway through never to return.

  • UltimaLuminaire says:

    Oh, snaps. The burn.

    Speaking of RPGs, what are your thoughts on Project Phoenix? My buddies and I are pretty paranoid. Don’t know if it’s real or if it’s some troll effort by the powers that be. Worse, it could be “too true to be good,” and we’ll end up with a steaming pile of secrets. Brrr.

    Aroduc says:

    Largely ambivilence as last I saw, they hadn’t really defined anything but thrown around a bunch of buzz words about reviving JRPGs with an RTS engine or something. Almost like something you’d expect from Molyneux, and could never possibly hope to live up to the marketing pitch. I don’t fully understand the fervor people throw at crowdfunding things either, although would love to get in on it!

    The receiving money part for doing things. Not the throwing money part.

    UltimaLuminaire says:

    Yeah, the lack of specifics is weighing on the mind. Most of the compelling force is with the talent they’ve brought together, and that’s being shielded from scrutiny by everyone’s nostalgia glasses (thanks, Nobuo Uematsu).

    Speaking of which, just like last time with Romanesque, let us know when you’re using a crowdfunding campaign to create something. It would be interesting to see what you could do.

    Aroduc says:

    It’s a tricky business with anything including pornography, especially the more official you get. I know people at Mangagamer are looking closely at it for at least one project, and I’d like to be given sufficient freedom to try it out for some stuff with Jast, but… well, nothing yet. New is scary and these aren’t great big companies with lots of staff. XSeed (I think) has also expressed some severe reservations about using crowdfunding for localizations (in regards to the Sora no Kiseki series and their absurd amounts of text making it very expensive), since if it works well, they believe it’d encourage the original companies to cut out the middleman entirely, although I imagine that’d either lead to them trying to do it themselves (badly), or at best, a situation like Moenovel’s… thing.

  • tachi says:

    I don’t know, I feel like your fire emblem criticisms lack merit. Between the streetpass armies and the random encounters on the map there’s plenty of easy grinding both purely for levels and for supports. Supports you can just load up anything since all that matters is how many times the 2 characters team up.

    I pruned my army based on the criteria of a) is this character a hot babe b)are they useful in battle and it turned out okay. The kids justified all the extra grinding for them seeing as how most of them were almost immediately more powerful than their parents, my two daughters I had via tharja in particular.

    To be fair, I did look up a lot of stuff ahead of time, like what characters you recruit when, their classes, who has which children, so I wound up planning way ahead of time.

    I guess losing enthusiasm for a game can be very personal. There’s a ton of 3ds games I don’t think I’ll ever finish now that I’ve put them down: monster hunter, code of princess, devil survivor overclocked, etrian oddlyssey iv…

    Aroduc says:

    The slight switching up of armies with the random/streetpass/outworld whatever stuff wasn’t different enough for me for it not to become tedious, nor did the characters play differently enough for there to be any kind of meaningful change between them above and beyond the standard RPS triad, although I think larger/more involved maps ala FE4 would have been a better solution than messing too much with the core mechanics, although a greater variety and differentiation of skills and usage (like Kamidori does) would have helped too.

    And I dislike pruning. When given all the toys, I want to play with all the toys, which is probably why I love mass party games like Ogre Battle, BoF4, Mana Khemia, etc as much as I do. Or even forced into it like Valkyrie Profile, or… uh… Dynasty Warriors 7? Plus, FE:A likes to remind/taunt you with the barracks events of all the characters you’re not using.

    UltimaLuminaire says:

    It’s also the fact the game could greatly benefit from an item world. It’s the sort of element that complements tons of characters, especially since it includes extra depth to your grinding, more items for each character to use, and more opportunities to challenge the battle system’s mechanics. I don’t actually agree with the idea of grinding in Fire Emblem, even in Awakening, but the suggestion Aroduc made is crazy solid.

  • GF202020 says:

    > practiced my Poison Akane just because I like the warm feeling of taking off 80% of a life bar in one basic combo

    Fiona’s better. :3

  • Regulus says:

    @Aroduc: I can definitely understand why people wouldn’t like the CC system that Team Destiny’s pushed since Destiny 2 and the PS2 remake(s) of Destiny. It certainly can make things more complicated than they need to be and in Destiny/Graces taking out a standard MP tends to not help. Xillia I barely even noticed the CC’s after the early parts of the game though since artes only tend to take one CC to use and you can just spam them freely and you’ll tend to have more than enough CCs to attack with. Early game though I can see there being issues with that. But at its purest, the CC system enables things like this that there’d be no way to ‘regulate’ without such a system: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfFEcpYnEdA

    Xillia as a whole definitely seemed rushed to me. The in-between towns ‘meadows’ as you called them were all wide and empty and full of random MMO loot to turn into every shop and upgrade, and in contrast to that the second half of the game railroads you along to hide the fact that there was probably a lot more of the second world that they never finished making. Funny enough though combat alone tends to be good enoguh to make me not mind Xillia’s flaws that much though.

    Abyss is still my favorite of the series by a landslide.