Double Agent
The Summer Wind... - September 21, 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. ...came blowin' in, from across the sea... Don't say we didn't warn you.


Lots to talk about there, but a system that combines Capcom, Konami, Bungie, and Valve is just... damn cool. Now if they can just get Blizzard and/or Square, Microsoft will destroy all those other puny companies as easily as Elvis inhaled a fried banana sandwich.


You've been freebasing gaming goodness all summer, now it's off to rehab...
I must say that I bought into the Summer of adventure. I went out and bought CC, which I thought was wonderful, and a whole slew of other titles. Intent upon parking my posterior in front of the BoobTube for a few months, I even got myself a new chair. While I must say this summer saw a huge share of titles, it also marked a huge line-up for years to come with the introduction of a few new consoles. And just as I was happily thinking I'd never peel my eyes from my TV again, I decided to do something I haven't done in years. I went outside for a breath of fresh air. It was so nice, I spent the next 5 weeks outside. Not a TV, not a handheld, not an electronically operated entertainment device for miles. Now that fall is here and I'm back to work, I can hardly describe in words how wonderful it is to have shut my brain off to gaming for a few weeks.

is this a period that you're gonna mark as a gaming high point for years to come?

My answer is yes absolutely. This is the year I returned to gaming. With a fresh perspective about what is, what has been, and what is coming. It pains me to see the gaming public so tightly wound around having the best graphics, the most perfect battle systems, the perfect elements to the perfect story, all perfectly balanced with an epic soundtrack, and characters so unforgettable we'll want to name our children after them.

I think if it's one thing this summer has taught me, it's that the gaming public has overdosed-- heavily. We're saturated with so many new products that our judgment about the quality of those products is failing us. The gaming public is in such a rush to cram down their games, vomit out discussions with little relevance, and grab blindly at whatever title developers are hocking next, that we almost forget to breathe. Readers, don't worry so much about discussing CC, it's not going anywhere, enjoy it while you still remember what fun is. Take break. Drop your controllers I say....get the hell out of your house and get dirty. Follow the GIA's lead and take a damned vacation already.

~EidosWetsuit--Going to go play in the yard...anyone wanna join me?

I like where you're going with this, but let me take the opposite tack... what if this is just the beginning? Not from Square, because I don't think any company could possibly push more content then they just did, but from the gaming industry as a whole? Between the Dreamcast, X-Box, Game Cube and PS2, companies are going to be going at it tooth and nail, which means there's almost certainly going to be an increase in great games. What if every single season is like this from here on out, with more games than you can possibly deal with?

Actually, there's little doubt that games have been dramatically increasing in both quality and quantity recently. I'm sure I'll get the standard rants about how nothing's been worth playing since the SNES, but that reaction may itself be a function of how many games are out. When there was only an RPG every month or two, as a fan you were much more likely to learn to love something, regardless of the actual quality, because that was all you had. Now in comparison, not only are there enough games out to force a reexamination of what's actually good, but even really good games don't get as much time to be appreciated as they probably deserve.

And maybe this isn't a bad thing. It can't hurt the industry as a whole for quality and quantity to increase, and maybe it's a good thing for people to expect more from their games. Maybe what was acceptable as a game in 1996 shouldn't be now. (Not that I'm looking at anyone in particular... certainly not at LoD...) I appreciate where you're coming from, EW, but I think we should be embracing the deluge, not hiding from it.

Please read my crappy, worthless column if you can possibly spare the time

Judging from the last column, it looks like a lot of people believe that the accents in Chrono Cross were stuck in there just to help differentiate characters. This is completely untrue - in Japanese, varied speech patterns like in CC are nothing unusual - it's just that this is the first time that anyone has attempted to try to rewrite the dialogue to provide an English equivalent to the characters' different manners of speech in Japanese. Heck, if Star Ocean 2 or the Suikoden games had been translated by the same person/people, they would have been exactly the same way. In Japanese, there are so many age- or gender-specific words, levels of politeness and formality in speech, and dialects with unique vocabulary that reflecting in English the very subtle differences in how people speak is difficult. (There are, for example, over a dozen equivalents to the word "I" in Japanese!) Although game companies can get away with having all the characters speak in standard English 95% of the time, this can lead to slightly confusing situations and misunderstandings - sometimes characters will come across completely differently in the English version of a game because the clues to their personalities and temperaments found in their speech patterns are missing. (This doesn't happen *too* often, though. The only character that I can think of off the top of my head that severely suffered from this problem is Breath of Fire III's Momo.)

Shifting gears a bit, has anyone else out there actually played Radical Dreamers? Does anyone have any idea how to activate the alternate scenarios? (I especially wanna read the one where the heroes and Yamaneko/Lynx duke it out with mechas. ^^)


It's absolutely true that relative social position plays a big part in Japanese as a language, but I think, for the most part, it's completely appropriate that such things are removed when the games are brought over here. It's fundamental to both our language and our culture that I say "Hello" the same way to both the President and the guy at the Kwik-E-Mart. If a character needs to sound imperious or meek, then it's the job of the translator to change the speech to get that impression across - that's why a good translation is closer to an art that a skill.

Accents, on the other hand, are completely legitimate when they're genuine. I wouldn't expect a 78 year old man from Mississippi to sound the same as a teenage Vietnamese immigrant from LA, and it also made sense that a lot of the characters in CC sounded different from each other, although maybe not to the extent that they did. Dunno about the Radical Dreamer endings, but if anybody has any info, send it this way.

Here, take my +1 Mace!

"...because the lack of any verbalized emotion or thought on the part of the main character forces the player to come up with their own, thereby pulling them further into the game."

You're kidding, right? The fact that the entire plot of a game revolves around strictly outside forces, makes for a more immersive experience? We must be playing two totally different kind of games here. The modern console RPG evolved from the classic Role-playing games that involved dice and a Game/Dungeon Master, the key word here is evolved. The modern RPG focuses more on the plot itself, provoking intelligent thought and a good ole fashioned great story. I think less people would complain about CC's admittedly shaky plot if Serge would have actually said something and contributed to it. Or if they had realized that this game isn't to be played like a modern console RPG.

Serge has absolutely no reason to be having this adventure, save for the fact that he got sucked into a dimensional warp. In fact, since he doesn't speak, the plot itself is only advanced as a response to a different character's problems. This combines into an adventure in which you, the main character, are dragged around doing innumerable side quests all for the purpose of...what? What does Serge get out of all this?

In short, this game plays out exactly like a game of Dungeons and Dragons. We have the player (Serge), and then we have a Game/Dungeon Master (Kid for the most part) who then tells the story to the protagonist, telling him/her where they need to go next. Don't get me wrong, I liked how CC turned out, but plot was definitely not the highlight of the game. I never once felt compelled to input my personality into Serge during his mute phases. Because, quite frankly, that's what D&D, dice, and Mountain Dew are for.

-Red Raven, who obviously loves Xenogears very much

That's exactly my point. In a sense, CC is very much like a game of D&D, because it does have such a cipher for a main character. You might notice that I didn't say that it was preferable to the more plot-based style of RPGs - I also would rather have a main character provide their own emotional response rather than having to transfer my own into the game. But a lot of people would rather it be the other way, and I think that's a big part of CT's popularity.

I might be the minority here, but for me:

Summer of Adventure = To much damn money.

I bought Vagrant Story and CC, and their respective OST's. As for wasting to much time, I think the job I had to get enable to purchase those (along with a few other items) sucked enough of that away.

-XZeLlDx, who is still in debt to his parents.

Wait... you bought two games, imported two OSTs, had a summer job, and you're still in debt to your parents?

You do realize that jobs are supposed to actually pay you money? Like more than once every few months?

Point by point, game by game
Hey Chris,

Long-time reader, first-time writer. Or something like that.

I've got to say, when I first heard about Square's "Summer of Adventure", I got excited. The only reason I even have a PSX is to play RPGs. I've been playing PC RPGs since Bard's Tale on my C64 (Zork doesn't count, right), but the tech curve wiped me out a couple of years ago. So when I had the chance to borrow my buddy's PSX to check out FF7, I got hooked. Now it's mine, and the games are rolling in.

Anyway, back to the "Summer". Vagrant Story rocked. I loved this game. I still love this game. Hell, I fired it up last night just to lay some smack on the undead with my 2-handed sword. Mmmm. Big weapons. Anyway, I haven't had that much fun killing stuff since Diablo. Actually, I had more - I love turn-based combat. And the story was extremely well-written and gripping (unlike the game I just compared it to).

Threads of Fate - oops. Missed it. I'm an articling lawyer, so I only have so much time I can devote to game-playing.

Legend of Mana - hmm. Very different. It definitely rewarded the effort you were willing to put into it, but the lack of an overall plot to keep things moving made it difficult (for me, at least) to put the effort in. I gave it a shot, but, well ... I traded it in when I got Chrono Cross (what can I say, EB was offering a great trade-in deal here in Canada).

And I don't regret it one bit. Chrono Cross has to mark the pinnacle of PSX RPGs to date. That's doesn't mean it's perfect (more on that below). The graphics and music are superior to everything that's come before it. The plot is well thought out and linear enough to follow with being forced (also, if you *really* don't know where to go next, you can always save and the check your savegame when you go to load it back up). The combat system was different without being gimmicky. And it was turn-based.

Not only that, but VS and CC are worth playing through again, and not just for the extras. I still find them enjoyable the second and third time through (unlike, say, FF8, I was ready to run the CDs through a blender after I finished that).

So overall, I think Square's "Summer of Adventure" was a success in terms of providing quality games in the last summer of the PSX.

One thing though. Is it me, or are RPGs getting easier? At least, in terms of combat. It seems like in FF8, LoM, and CC I never got wiped out in the course of the main plot. There might have been a hard side-quest or two, but after FFA and Lunar:SSS, there just seemed to be no risks in combat.

That's my two bits. Hmm. Looks more like four. Oh well.

Orin (yeah, that's my real name)

No argument here. Good call, except I still like FF8's more cinematic take on the genre and think FF9'll provide a good contrast to what's been put out this Summer.

Minty fresh
I think I had more adventures outside on my bike than in front of my TV, save for the ten hours on one game.

Never got Legend of Mana, but it really didn't have much appeal for me... Vagrant Story gave me a headache -- that's a WINTER game man, you play it instead of doing your homework and staying up till one in the morning trying to get through the moody stuff while wind howls outside... so I'll save that for later, around January or February. Chrono Cross, when that came out, summer was over up here... so I ended up playing that only on the weekends and occassionaly after school, managed to beat it in a week. But I did have fun connecting Cross to Trigger... loved the game, all in all... made me wanna replay Trigger.

But Threads of Fate.

Oh MAN, there's a game. XD I breezed through it, yes, but that's because I played it almost constantly straight two days in a row... phooooo! Fun fun fun! Perhaps one of my favourite games ever, although my taste in games can be a bit odd. ^_^ Easy enough to be beaten in a renting period, but... I really wanna replay it... and I have been... mmph, am loving it too. ^-^ Again. *hypergiggle* Mint is my hero. Screw Kid. Fuwah!

All in all, the summer of adventure wasn't anything too special... just a buncha games released one after another before the PS2 comes out... bambambambam, okay... but now I haven't enough money for Valkerie Profile or Wild Arms II... dammit Square! ;_;

~nezu, who is listening to her pocket monsters cd for the first time in months. musashi! kojiro! *bonk*

I like your take on seasonal games - looking back, FFT probably played better in late January then it would have in August, when the Japanese got it.

Also agree with you about ToF. Still haven't finished it (which I'll probably do before I get PE2 or Valkyrie Profile) but it was one of the big surprises of the season for me, and the game that I actually enjoyed playing the most. Even the demo felt good, and the graphics fit well with the PSX - they felt much cleaner than I would have thought possible.

And Mint rocked, no question.

Nah, 3D0's at the bottom of the console food chain...
Mr. Jones,

That guy from Microsoft was right. But he doesn't keep in mind that most people don't read the Iliad for fun. When I want something fun I'll go play my console games that's the whole point of games, to have fun (like comic books). When I want the Iliad, I'll go read the Iliad, not go play some brain freeze inducing game, to me games are to have fun, the Iliad while enlightening is admittedly not very fun just like most PC games (without the enlightening part, which just leaves not very fun).

As I've said before, and I'll say again, most console gamers own PCs and yet most of them don't play PC games. A majority of the gaming market don't play PC games cause while deeper, and more innovative, they simply take too much to play and hence to most becomes not fun. A good game system should be able to be understood in 5-10 minutes and yet be deep enough to keep the player thinking for hours. This can be said of many console games, how may PC games (other than FPS clones) can be played without a long tutorial?

Microsoft is taking the wrong approach to this entire XBox thing. They think to create a console that will based on PC games, but they don't see that console gamers and most of the videogame market CAN play PC games, but choose not to. There is a reason why the console gaming market is 10 times bigger than the PC gaming market. Sure PC games are much more innovative, but I believe that's because of the openness of the PC System. As we see more and more powerful consoles with more possiblities you'll notice console games getting innovative as well, perhaps not as fast as PC games, but it'll happen.

When Microsoft stops looking down at console games, they might realize that, instead they are at the bottom of the console gaming food chain.

Mr. Cruz

Exactly. The thing to remember is that both great works of art and PC games aren't necessarily enjoyable or even that good by today's standards (although they often are) but that they were the first to offer up some very important tricks and techniques. The Illiad's a prime example of this.

Not all console games are limited to a 5-10 minute learning curve - both FFT and Vagrant Story are excellent games with a fairly steep curve. But your point is pretty valid as a whole. And I'm very encouraged about the developer lineup from Microsoft, because it shows a good blending of console and PC sensibilities. The X-Box could be one of the most important platforms in years, if Microsoft doesn't blow it with their usual ham-handedness.

Proactive, not just active.
I would disagree with Serge and Crono being basically the same character. I know there's nostalgia involved with me liking Crono better, but I'll still try and rationalize it, ya?

Crono happened to things, while things happened to Serge. This should be about as un-spoilerish as an example will get: After Marle disappeared through a big mysterious hole (should I work on my wording?), Crono CHOSE to go through. A whipped Serge was sitting on the beach listening to his girlfriend when he was sucked away without a choice (again, maybe I should work on my wording).

Or maybe it's since all of Chrono Trigger's other main characters had so much more to them than most of Chrono Cross' too numerous characters, the way I perceive each mute hero is a reflection of that.

Joshua Slone

I can't get too much into it until Monday, but it could also be argued that both characters had equally major (but substantially different) events happen to them later in the game, and took (or had taken on their behalf) very differing degrees of action to correct things. When all is said and done, I think both characters did about equal amounts of acting and reacting.

And tech support couldn't help? <--(said with a straight face)
You mentioned that "PC games tend to be totally unplayable". You were referring to the quality of the games (I think), but in my case the remark was literally true. The of the last 6 games I got for my family's computer, I could never get 5 of them to work at all, and the sixth caused another program to glitch. The computer was only about 18 months old, but had several things upgraded on it and was loaded with a bunch of programs we needed for the family/work that were more "important" than games. So my wife bought me a Playstation (new at the time) and I have never even tried to play another computer game. Insert disk, press power button, and it works every time - no "fatal error" messages from Bill Gates. Hell, I've also saved a fortune on the computer - only one upgrade (a new, cheap machine 2 years ago), and all non-game programs run fine.

Of course, gaming on the big TV (whether I am on the couch or the treadmill) is much better than sitting at a desk, and the Xbox will do that also - but I frankly don't trust Microsoft to make a bug free, easy to use device (if they do, it will be the first time). It is that instant-on, bug free gameplay that makes consoles enjoyable to play.

Oh, the big summer of whatever by square? If I didn't read this column I never would have heard of it. The games got good reviews, so I'll probably get them when they drop to $20.

The District Attorney

There's some occasional complaining about PSX hardware problems, especially with older models, but there's no question that PCs tend to crash a lot, take a lot of maintenance, or both. For me plug and play's not such a big issue, but it's definitely nice.

Something that's both a strength and a weakness for Microsoft is their reliance on marketing for product decisions - to paraphrase Tom Clancy, "Son, a Microserf don't take a dump in the woods without a marketing study." If the system isn't easy to set up and use, it won't sell, and MS knows that, and they'll work to ensure that.

You have done well, grasshopper...
"Creid almost feels like CC OST-lite, in retrospect. And if I say it, it must be true. End of discussion."

Chris, you've made an incontinent, hated old man proud. I'd stand up and hug you if my arms had the muscle strength required to bear their own weight and my pants weren't filled with an overburdening amount of my own fecal matter.


*sniff*... I can die a happy man, now that Drew has given me his approval... dammit, I love you, you crotchety old geezer!

Closing Comments:

Probably shouldn't have tried to shoehorn in another topic after yesterday - I got enough good CC follow up letters to do a column on that alone, and some people got shafted because of it. Sorry about that, but you'll get your chance again on Monday.

Free topic day tomorrow, and spoiler discussion of CC Monday. Adios for now.

-Chris Jones, enjoyed playing Vagrant Mana Threads of Cross Triggers

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