Double Agent
Genesis revisited - September 6, 2000 - Chris Jones

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. Kung Pao chicken is extremely hot, but I keep forgetting that for some reason. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Lots of letters, so not much in the way of an intro today. But I don't much care for what is calling FF9's US box art - too crowded.


Those were the good old days (*FFIV and PSIV spoilers*)
Hey, Agent;

Ah! During my childhood I spent many an hour on my trusty Sega Genesis. I would become immersed in many classic titles, marveling at the unique play mechanics and lush graphics of games such as Landstalker, Beyond Oasis, PS 3 and 4, and Shadowrun. Don't forget the Sega CD, which produced classics such as Popful Mail (the ultimate joy of platforming and RPGing in one anime styled package) and Lunar. Keep in mind that the only access to a SNES was at my cousin's house (where I ALMOST beat FF2/4), so I was a very RPG-starved lad at he time, until I visited my local video store and picked up a copy of Landstalker. You could not imagine my joy and frustration at this game which took up many gaming hours. It introduced me to anime-style art and the virtue of patience while gaming. Soon, thereafter, my friend found copies of Beyond Oasis, PS4, and the Shining Forces for sale cheap. He bought them and we played. Sega's RPG lineup, while not as huge as Nintendo's was, it had more charm, because of the hard work and dedication that went into each one. While I must admit I enjoyed spending long hours with Kain and watching my friend Tellah die, it wasn't the same as seeing Alys, my beloved teacher die. That moment defined RPGing for me, and will always stand out as one of the Genesis' highest points.

To Alys
Mike Tobey

Interestingly enough, the majority of letters I got about the Genesis weren't paeans to how it completely blew away all other systems in the history of gaming, as so often happens in system wars. Instead, the writers focused on the solidly enjoyable times they had with a wide variety of games - as John Cusack's character from "High Fidelity" might have put it, "Just good... really good." Can't argue with that.

Mojo's minions react, part one
The voices in my head are telling me to kick-om your butt.

Nothing personal... heathen.

J. Parish
Founder and President, Mojo Fan Club

I might have expected this - the evil Mojo is marshalling his forces against me. It's interesting to see how his reaction evolves from crude physical threats in the letters below, but for now I tell you all to fear not: I am well protected from Mojo deep in my hidden lair, and operations against him are already proceeding apace.

Or did you think it was just a coincidence that the Mojo Fan Club's website is currently unavailable?

Getting weapons out of storage is an essential part of any RPG
Something that AL(who blahblahblahblah) neglects to realize is that perhaps Vagrant Story's afinity system isn't "Too hard to understand," but is instead "Too cumbersome to be fun."

The sheer ammount of affinities in Vagrant Story, while giving you a lot to think about, is simply too many affinities to be weildy. While I can admit that things are usually a lot easier if you have a weapon that is devoted to Human/Undead/Dragon and another than is devoted to Beast/Phantom/Evil, that only cuts down on things a small amount. You're only allowed to take 8 weapons with you wherever you go, and the process for taking them out of the inventory box is about the most needlessly time consuming and irritating process since the Vaults in NES Dragon Warrior game. The point is that regardless of the fact that you can make weapons that damage multiple enemy types, there are just too many factors involved to be *fun.* Can you explain to me why a HUGE katana with an afinity of well over 55 can inflict 0 damage to a human enemy? Screw the blunt/edge/peircing deal, and forget the elementals for a moment too... what sense does this make? I am hacking away at a peon guard with a REALLY freakin' powerful weapon that by rights should be slaughtering him... and I'm doing 0 damage. Now, I'm not so set in my ways that I'm not willing to switch weapons, but out of all the weapons on my character, I find this to be the case with every last one. Were this the case with just one random peon guard, I would not be so frustrated by this, but there was a whole patch of peons who were similarly resistant. The LAST thing I wanted to do was hike back to a smithy just to go through the tedious storage box-intensive process of mixing and matching all my weapon blades just to handle a patch of peons.

You see, it's not a matter of "intelligence" but rather one of "fun." Do I have fun managing a bazzilion elements that are set up in a freakishly annoying pattern? Do I have fun endlessly hacking away at dummies? Do I have fun packing and unpacking a storage chest that commands me to save my game every time I want to look at just one or two (out of many) weapons at a time because Ashley can only hold 16 blades on his person? HELL no.

I'm continually a little surprised by responses on both sides of this debate: I didn't find Vagrant Story's weapon system to be as mind-numbingly dull or as fascinatingly complex as everyone else seems to. Once I more or less got things figured out (about five hours in) I was consistently hitting between 50 and 100 points per attack - and this was just from switching around accessories and gems every time I encountered a new enemy. I didn't much bother with forging weapons for different enemy types, I just made the best possible two handed weapon I could, regardless of edged/blunt/piercing, etc. Minimal fuss, maximum damage. I can see how some might find even that too complex, and how others might be tempted to experiment with game mechanics for hours on end, but it just ain't that complicated, folks.

Shining Force shines forth
If by calling the Genesis "Sega's last really great system," you are referring to commercial success, then I concur. But I would argue that the Saturn was certainly "great" in terms of content, seeing as how my total number of games for that system outnumber those for any other system (including SNES, Genesis, N64, PS, and DC).

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I fail to see how the Genesis could be considered superior to the SNES RPG-wise, but it definitely had its moments. Paramount amongst these is the Shining Force series. Tragically, I was only recently exposed to the wonderful SF1 and 2 via emulator, and I was thoroughly addicted to them. (In defense of ROMs, if I had not played them, I most certainly would never have purchased Shining Force 3 for Saturn.) These games were the very essence of fun, introducing a new style of strategic combat that was much different from the RPG's I was used to. I have since learned that Shining Force was basically a simplified version of the type of strategic battle games found on PC, but SF has that great characteristic we like to call "charm" inherent in many console RPG's, which make it an enduring classic. The characters were very diverse and interesting, even if cliche. I must say the dialogue was far better in part 1, as part 2 made some bizarre attempts at wacky humor (and don't get me started on Peter the bird, with his useless array of comments).

Shining Force also has that highly elusive quality shared by only a very select few games in history: it has the capacity to become highly frustrating, yet makes you want to try again immediately if you fail. The moment this proved true is one of my most memorable in gaming. I was just about to wrap up a fierce 40 minute battle, when the only enemy that remained was the "boss." I whittled him down to a few HP, losing a few troops in the process. Feeling confident and especially hateful towards that particular boss, I brought in my commander (forgive me for not remembering his name--something weird like Joaquin or Souraquat) to deliver the final devastating blow. I knew he had the attack power to do it, plus he had his full HP, so I swung my sword and... MISSED! That most rare of freak occurrences happened, and I could not believe it! I immediatly had plans of getting that guy the heck out of there after the enemy's next turn. The "boss" had other plans, immediately unleashing his most powerful attack and killing me on the spot. As any SF vet knows, nothing is more painful than having to relive a nearly hour-long marathon battle simply because of wildly unnecessary cockiness. It was very much like a football team going for a touchdown late in the game, when all they need is a field goal for the win.

This event compelled me to smash my forehead into my desk about 16 times, leaving a large red welt right in its center. Despite this, I hungered for revenge and engaged in the battle again, emerging victorious. Such is the wonder of Shining Force, the Genesis' best RPG.

--Brad "never quite took to Phantasy Star" G.

Never played Shining Force, and that may be the biggest hole in my RPG experience as things currently stand. (Played a bit of Phantasy Star, tho.) From what I've gathered the game has many of the same points as FFT (although it doesn't play that similarly) but came out many years in advance of FFT and Tactics Ogre. If I'm ever stuck on a desert island with nothing to do but catch up on my unfinished projects, Shining Force goes on the list, right after finishing Gravity's Rainbow, and getting 100% in Vagrant Story, and watching all of Kurosawa's films, and...

Mojo's minions react, part two
As "Vice President, or Something" of the Lucky Dan/Mojo Fan Club, I feel the need to write to you to defend our beloved straw hero. It has long been known that Dan has a speech impediment, and I believe that most people would agree with me that your "twisted speech patterns" comment was cruel and uncalled for. Dan has gone through enough misery in his life time, from having a nail jammed through his chest to his journey from the east to become a sad fisherman's inspiration. He surely doesn't need your insults.

To stay in good shape, Dan goes through a rigorous exersize routine, which is why he always has a "gyrating pelvis". Years ago, Dan had a severe weight problem. After a tearful meeting with Richard Simons, Dan adopted the "Dancing to the Oldies" workout program, and has been on it ever since.

And Dan isn't "weird and evil", it's just an act for the game. In reality, Dan has a lovely home in Ohio, where his wife and three children live a nice, simple life.

Please refrain from making any more slanderous remarks about Dan, or we will be forced to club you like a baby seal. That is all.


From physical threats, Mojo's tactics have (mostly) changed to spin control. Mr. Zanderman does a fine job of attempting to rehabilitate Mojo's public image, but it's ultimately in vain. All one needs to do is look at Mojo's demonic visage to see the truth. Behold the pose he strikes, that of the disco dancer. Anyone who would consciously emulate the horror of the 1970's pre-Pulp Fiction John Travolta belies the wholesome image set forth above, and is deserving of naught but fiery destruction.

It's also worth nothing that at the end of his letter, Mr. Zanderman resorts back to mere physical threats, rather than the threat of litigation such spin control is usually associated with. Why, you might ask? Because some things are too foul for even lawyers to deal with.

Hey! Don't make us come up there and kick your butts!
I've been reading various articles about DeCSS and the MPAA and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act with great interest. It made me think of a conversation I had online. See, I live in Canada and one of my online pals lives in the states. She tried to tell me that the US is more "free" than Canada is.

Is it really? I never thought so. We don't have an MPAA equivalent. We don't comply with the DMCA. In general, things don't get censored.

As my father, a former American, points out: in the states one is very free. Free to die because you can't afford to go to the hospital. Free to be shot in broad daylight. Harsh words.

And me... I'm free to ride my dogsled from igloo to igloo searching for beer and backbacon through the snow that we all know falls year-round.


Apparently it's not enough that I'm involved in a battle to the death with the evil Mojo, but this column must also be the flash point for the inevitable US/Canada war we all knew was coming. Very well, gaspump, I shall take my numerous firearms (the flip side of being shot in the street) and go out and purchase many useful military supplies (the flip side of not wasting money on anything as frivolous as "universal health care") and begin my invasion of your Northern lands.

Soon, you shall know true fear.

Rumblings from Famitsu

This is to all those people who were wondering what Japanese "hardcore gamers" were wondering about Dragon Quest VII, and if it would suck or not. Well, the premier gaming mag in Japan has spoken: Famitsu just gave it a platinum rating, which equals "MUST GET UNLESS YOU ARE BRAINDEAD." So, the likelyhood of it being even a mediocre game, is SLIM. Then again, Vagrant Story got perfect, and some people dislike that game too. Ah well, it's fairly assured that Enix would be seriously killing themselves if they tried to sell it in the US, so only the most hardcore will be enjoying it anyway.


PS: love you guys, nice to see the perspective on the other side of the pacific every now and then.

I'm not sure what to make of this letter - apparently he hasn't been reading the column that long to make such a statement about "perspective" from me.

But an unbiased judgement is what I promised, and an unbiased judgement you shall get. According to Video Senki DQ7 does indeed look to be receiving a Platinum rating from Famitsu, the same ranking FF9 recently reached. Now, Famitsu isn't the end all be all of reviews, and I want to see the actual scores, as well as other reviews, both Japanese and American, before I bow in an abject apology. But I suspect an abject apology is what I'll be giving DQ lovers sooner or later, because I do seem to have been mistaken on one very important point: as a whole, the Japanese really do seem to like DQ7.

See, I would have sworn blind that DQ7 wouldn't have gone over very well after numerous delays and touch-ups. I'm very well aware of the honor the series has traditionally had across the Pacific, but similar respect didn't stick around for the equally venerable Star Wars when Episode One came out. Sure it made millions, but most Americans seem to have felt it didn't quite live up to the hype. In Japan, DQ7 apparently has. On that point, at least, I was wrong, and I'll be doing a column specifically to that point sooner or later, I think. I'm not saying that I'll like the game, or that most US gamers will like the game, or even that the game is really all that good when all's said and done, but it doesn't seem to be blowing up in Enix's face the way I had forseen.

On the road with Sony
I was very disappointed with Sony's decision to not release the Pocketstation in the U.S., even after Squaresoft released FFVIII with the Pocketstation components intact (even the instructions mention it).

Dreamcast has it's Visual Memory Unit, and Nintendo 64 has it's GameBoy Transfer Pak, both easily available wherever their consoles are sold. And it seems the GameCube will be even more closely connected to the GameBoy Advance.

But Sony, for some strange reason, has apparently not only given up on the Pocketstation, but also the possibility of having any type of portable gaming device that works directly with the Playstation. Instead, we hear there's a possibility that the Bandai Wonderswan is coming to America. Well, whoop-de-doo. I seriously doubt a special Final Fantasy Edition Wonderswan will put a dent in GameBoy Advance sales.

Maybe Sony is convinced that it can't compete against GBA, so it's letting Bandai take the fall. Or, perhaps Sony has gotten a big head (they'll buy a PS2, and pay for the games...who needs extras like a portable gaming device?). Or, maybe Sony is just stupid about what seems to be a trend in console gaming...or maybe I'm the stupid one?!?

I'd love to have a PS compatible portable gaming's nice having my GB in my briefcase for those days when no one is on time for a meeting, and it's even nicer to transfer my Pokemon into Pokemon Stadium after leveling them up while I'm on the road (you're only as old as you feel...don't'll know what I mean when you get your first wrinkle!).

Any thoughts? (Not on my gaming habits, but on Sony's lack of portable gaming.)

The Casual Gamer (Who is thinking of getting "Hey You, Pikachu," because maybe Pikachu will listen to me better than my dog.)

My experiences with the Dreamcast VMU have not been spectacular, despite the very cool idea (it's too small for my hands and eyes, and people generally want to see the plays they're picking on the TV rather than select titles on the controller), so I'm not all that heartbroken about the Pocketstation. From what I've seen, it's not really in the Game Boy league as far as portable entertainment.

Still, Sony not adapting a portable companion for the PS2 is interesting, because it yet again underscores how different the PS2 and Dolphin are in design philosophy. (Set top box vs. dedicated game station, universal media vs. proprietary, and console-only vs. console/portable hybrid.) I definitely prefer consoles to portables, myself, but Nintendo could easily surprise me. And I'd definitely like to hear from the readers on this issue.

I'd call Sonic more manly than Mario, if anything
Im so stoked someone remembers the Genesis. There were some great games on that system, even though I just had a flash back of Altered Beast and Michael Jacksons Game, whatever it was called. Still, even with the sketchy graphics, there were some really fun titles for Genesis. Vectorman was a game that came out on Genesis and was one of the funnest games I ever played. Just basic jump around and shoot em up, but that game was great. And what about Beyond Oasis? That was a really fun pseudo-rpg all about swash buckeling and defeating gold armlet, or was it silver? And who can forget Sonic the Hedgehog 2. And all the Shining Forces as well. These games were probably not the best looking in the way graphics or extremeley intricate(even though Oasis had an ingenious and truly realistic way to summon familiar spirits) but they were like the dictionary definition of fun. These were when games werent so extremely complicated and didnt take too long to learn. Dont get me wrong, I love my Vagrant Story and FF8, but sometimes its fun to just pick up something and play, rather than spending hours on the different menus and subscreens switching to my dragon weapon with a water affinity or junctioning magic. I think Im starting to get old.

PS:I never even got to play a Phantasy Star game.

PPS: Does liking Sonic the Hedgehog make me any less of a man?

Not feeling very secure in my manhood.

Like I said, people just seem to like the Genesis without getting fanatical about it, and I think that's an admirable thing to say about a system this long gone. Definitely gonna have to get a Genesis again, one of these days.

Mojo's minions react, part three
"I don't blame his supporters for their ardent devotion to this scarecrow from the abyss, I believe that Mojo has somehow hypnotized them with his twisted speech patterns and gyrating pelvis."

Chris, I think you should take a few days off. Your growing insanity worries me.

-SideShow Jeff

And lastly, Mojo's resorted to taking cheap shots at my sanity, attempting to paint me as a paranoid psychotic. But it is clear to me, and to all right-thinking persons everywhere, that Lucky Dan is evil! Our cause is righteous, my brothers: I tell you now that we shall prevail, even as we currently hunker in our desert survivalist militia strongholds, hiding from the black Mojo helicopters. We shall emerge triumphant, one day.


Closing Comments:

Fortunately I still get the Internet out here in the Utah badlands, so send me some email about Nintendo's new gaming paradigm. What do you expect from the marriage of the Cube and the GBA? Will it change the way you play games, or will it just be glorified save file storage? Will you have to color coordinate between your blue GBA and your bronze Game Cube, and what will this do to the rest of your wardrobe? Let me know, or I won't give you a cookie.

-Chris Jones, "It's not paranoia when they're really out to get me."

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