Double Agent
RanDOm sYNtaX - February 4, 2002 - Erin Mehlos

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. Please be advised that we have not received your new cable contract. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Again, Square, and FF in particular, rules DA, eclipsing my meager personality and any illusions of command I have suffered. I have tried to filter out most FFX2-related letters, simply because two entire days have been so devoted and in fact both titled "FFX2." My thoughts on the matter are exhausted, and the horse is well and truly beaten. However, in the interests of representing a huge corner of submissions, and moreover, padding the col, one has made it in. I don't know why I even try.

Let's just hurry up and go...

Empirical evidence


Sorry to hear Drew left you a free-for-all topic today. I haven't written in for a while, but had something to say after reading all of the speculation about a possible Final Fantasy X Part Deux.

Considering Square's recent financial woes, I would venture that $$$ was more in mind with FFX:International than a sequel. The graphic engine for FFX was still warm--I doubt it was a major endeavor to create an additional 15 minutes. I'd venture to say, regardless of what Square's marketing team has stated, that Another World was slated to run with the first release of FFX.

However, if Square were to ditch their empirical attitude and actually listen to their customers--rather than assuming anything they plunk out will be gladly gobbled up by the masses--they're sitting on a potentially lucrative idea. 4 million units sold--I seriously doubt the majority of those gamers are the type who would consider it a blastphemy to create a sequel to a FF storyline--that is, if they aren't like me--I don't know if I could handle another 60+ hours of Blitzball and Tidus' pre-pubescent squawking voice. God, I hate Blitzball. I couldn't even bring myself to watch the Super Bowl, lest I risk having flashbacks to the horror that is Blitzball.

So--will Square make a good business decision and create a FFX sequel? The FF idealist shudders at the thought--but I'd venture to say about 3 of those 4 million units sold will go to gamers who are thinking, "Cool graphics--and it TALKS dude!" and who would gladly pay another $50+ to see Lulu bend over every time she takes out a monster (especially if Lulu is preggers, 'cause you know what a bun in the oven does to the bustline).

But--I have a feeling that Another World was more of a ploy to get gamers to buy FFX: International, rather than a nice little hint at things to come.

The Casual Gamer (who doesn't mean to be a party pooper--but c'mon--if they really cared about what customers wanted instead of what they think customers want, would they really have made FF: The Movie like that?)

I'll certainly agree with you that FFX:I was a pretty sound way of ensuring quite the assload of additional sales for just a few minor tweaks and a brief additional cutscene.

However, it was pointed out to me that the in-game graphics in which this additional cutscene was so lovingly wrought feature realistic shadow effects, as opposed to the fuzzy blobs of before. While admittedly this is a pretty trifling detail, why would they go to the trouble of tinkering with the graphics engine unless they intended to put a few more miles on it....? Also, if what you're saying is true and Square really is looking to cash in wherever possible, I can think of few easier ways to do so.

The art of the impossible


Hope this finds you well.

Okay, straight from FFX to FFXI.

I thought it might be time for me to state how I have felt about this game, which I know won't come out here in the U.S. for at least six more months.

I was playing PSO when I found out about FFXI being a MMORPG. (That's Massively Multi-player Online RPG, for those of you without a degree in EverQuest.) At that time, I was shocked. It seemed to me to be no more than a case of blatant imitation, not to mention a step that the Final Fantasy series should never, ever take.

In the coming months, I hardened my heart to this game, steeling myself that it would be the first Final Fantasy game I'd ever NOT gotten on the official release date.

With the passing of time, two things became quite obvious to me... it will cost me less than buying a brand new GameCube, the BBA, PSOv2 and the $10 monthly fee, not to mention MORE memory cards. Even though the cost of the HDD may be $200 with the BBA pre-installed or not, that will still save me the cost of one memory card.

The second thing would be that PSO itself isn't that appealing to me anymore, not even the new and improved version. The classes are basically still all the same compared to FFXI's classic FFV/FFT class system, there will only be four people in a party compared to FFXI's six (up to 18 in an Alliance), FFXI's battles seem better to me from what I've heard, and the trading system seems much, much more foolproof than PSO's.

Two other things have made me change my mind completely... the LiveCam (, which I've been avidly watching for four days now, and the fact that it will be harder for anyone to crack (Gameshark) through the security on Square's servers. It is rumored that characters will be saved on the server side, leaving the good ol' memory card with the drivers for the HDD. Also, I've read some of the beta-testing reports, and nasty disconnects (BSOD type) don't seem to alter anything about the character that it happens to.

I find myself wanting this game more than any other that will come out this year.

Hype, true enough, but it got me.


My feelings on FFXI are mixed at this point. I fear the inevitable cost along with my cronies, I fear the inevitable drain on the already scarce resource that is my time, and I fear this game connot possibly deliver on the MMORPG-with-a-plot promises Square has continuously put out.

And yet, I want gamers to give FFXI a chance; I want it to succeed; to be the cash cow that pulls Square out of their present financial toilet. Deep beneath my crusty facade of enduring cynicism, I am excited by the possibilities of their pulling this off....

Holy shit!

Videogames are often made up of those special moments, times when you're alone in the dark, looking at your TV, and you make a sudden expression of a sudden emotion to no one in particular. This is the hallmark of a game that transcends good and becomes great.

The 32-bit generation had many of these. Aeries' death (tears ... at least for me). When Grey Fox attacked Metal Gear ... hell, most of Metal Gear Solid. The famous dance in FFVIII. The pulse pounding battle themes in Tactics. And many many more I'm not quite bored enough to list.

Good games are good. But its the moments like these that seperate games, segregates The Empire Strikes Back from Episode I. Its the moments like these that make games amazing.

"Game" games, like Tony Hawk or Twisted Metal or most PC games like Quake or Civilization, have moments too, but they're not designed. They're more like accidents, personal moments where the player feels things and calls out in the dark (or in a well lit room full of networked computers). These games are great because they create a world that allows the player to experience moments of greatness of his/her own design.

But lets focus on this generation of consoles and linear games, the PS2 (and maybe the XBox and Gamecube, but I'm not made of money). The PS2 has already created some amazing moments that will live forevor in this particular fanboy's brain.

Final Fantasy X - The ending. I won't say it for the sake of you poor bastards that haven't yet conquered it, but damn. So much loving and hating. Tidus ...

Metal Gear Solid 2 - Sorry, I know The GIA has some mixed feelings on this game, but after Otacon's sister dies, and the three amigos walk towards the screen in slow motion ... shivers ... pure shivers ... . So Kojima hates America ... he's still my John Woo.

Silent Hill 2 - So many moments of pure terror. Fuck the pubs that don't get it AND fuck Resident Evil. SH2 was true fear, not capcom zombies that jump out at you.

Ico - That game was ... feeling. All over. I'm not sure how to explain it really. Maybe it was a first for a game. As I was playing it, every time the shadows would get the girl, I would think of someone I really cared about being taked by those things. Melodramatic, I know, but damn. Such a beautiful game.

I'm sure there are many many more, even this early in the PS2 lifespan. Maybe thats why everyone is rallying against FFXI. We want Square to tell us a story full of these moments. How can Everquest contain the personal moments, the "Holy Shit"s, that we love Square for?


I will spin for you, then, from the silvery strands of wishful speculation, my take on exactly how FFXI will (all right -- could) deliver on the "Holy shit!" factor.

THE SOUND OF AN OMINOUS CHOIR begins to whisper a dark and familiar theme, a dirge of a fanfare for the villains who trashed your little hamlet at the fringe of Bastok. There's no sign of them beyond the smoldering remains of this border town, but the morning serenity is nonetheless shattered by this insistence of their presence. You'd known this confrontation was coming, but nevertheless you now feel unprepared, your heart quickening, your eyes skipping suspiciously from barred oak door to looming treetop to windblown leaf. You're not certain whether the disquiet in your stomach is due to hunger or anxiety.

You head with visible apprehension at a slow but determined march for the farmhouse at the outskirts of town, your companions, Lalicia and Jarand, at your heels. Both of them look utterly on edge; fists clenched, breath visibly quick.... Lalicia's no stranger to battle: she's squared off with this foe for months, though you might not know it to look at her. Young and sprightly of Elvaan face and form as she is, you know she's every bit as fearless and devastating in battle as the human bulwark Jarand. Ah, Jarand. Towering, sooty, steam train of a Galka, it always disturbs you to see him so anxious. Though you certainly sympathize -- weak and inexperienced, you're mewling schoolchildren compared with the enemy. You hadn't wanted it to come down to a to-the-death battle like this, in this eerie little nest of razed hovels, reeking of fear and forboding. But onward is the only way to go, now.

Suddenly, the anthem swells, battering your ears, and for all that your twitch impulse is to go for your weapons, five enemy soldiers have leapt from the shadows before you complete the action, and several more have crowded in behind them from their own places of concealment in seconds. Surrounded -- and outnumbered.

Heart thudding with sickening force in your chest cavity, you rush into battle. Your moves are impulsive; you're in a panic -- afraid of your longtime comrades being overwhelmed should they take the brunt of the attack. Slash, parry, counter, Firaga. They're shredding you, but there's no time to heal... One foe falls under your sword, another to a barrage of Thundara.

Then stillness -- of a crushing magnitude. You slew round to meet any oncoming enemy, but there are no more. The blackened earth is littered with bodies, dead and dying ... and among them ... Lalicia and Galka.

Your longtime comrades-in-arms -- your friends -- wiped out. In the blink of an eye; in a matter of seconds.

You slump to the ground with a yelp of despair.

You're on your own, now. Alone.

* * *

Dude ... don't tell me you wouldn't be like ... "Holy shit!"

Tightwad Xtreme


Grandia Xtreme was released in Japan the other day. A friend of mine picked up a copy and reports that the game is a dungeon crawl using the Grandia 2 engine, with no storyline, one town, and one save point throughout the entire game. He also reports that despite horrible pop-up and the worst CG since DW7, the battle system has been much improved (which is a good thing since the game offers nothing else).

My first reaction was a silent scream of horror-- not because I have any particular problem with gameplay-driven dungeon crawls but because I had hoped that Grandia Xtreme would be the sort of sequel I'd hoped for after playing the original Grandia. But then I thought about it and the way I figure it, Grandia Xtreme is simply a game made to capitalize on the success of dungeon crawls in Japan-- nothing more than a stepping stone on the way to glorious Grandia 3 if we're all lucky. ...Or is it?

After all, Grandia II was a disappointment. Back when it came out, I worked for RPGamer and was given the assignment to review the second game; I ended up giving it a seven due to the great battle system, the fantastic graphics, and the wonderful voice acting. But the storyline was boring (especially towards the end), the characters were-- with a few exceptions-- equally disinteresting, and to this day I still hold up Grandia II as a perfect example of a game that's linear to a fault. The first game wasn't buttery-smooth either, but it had a much more interesting storyline, as well as a sense of adventure that its sequel sorely lacked.

So Grandia Xtreme could represent one of two things for this wavering RPG series. One: The Grandia team unanimously voted "To Hell with the Storyline" and decided to focus entirely on the battle system for which the series is noted in all future Grandia games, leaving the storyline and setting issues to that "other" flagship RPG series at GameArts. Two: GameArts needed some quick revenue to fund current projects-- including but not limited to Lunar 3-- so decided to make Grandia Xtreme, which uses existing technology so could be made quickly, and in doing so exploit the one shining quality of the Grandia series that wasn't tarnished by the second edition.

My vote's on the second one. I'm curious as to your opinion on this whole issue.


My life is twenty-four hours a day.

For obvious reasons I haven't yet actually played Grandia Xtreme, so I'm hesitent to pass any kind of judgement. However, suffocated as I am in this whole "Square's just making/just made FFX2/FFX:I to rake in the cash!" quagmire, I'm inclined to say there's something to both the theories you put forth. Grandia fans continually trumpet its battle system as groundbreaking genius, but rarely do you ever hear anyone gushing about what a fantastic protagonist Justin was. If making a game that capitalized on this strength also happened to be the easier route in terms of development, then why the hell not focus on the battle engine? Everybody wins.

Anyway, Japan recognizes random dungeon crawls as viable ways of passing the time, so in its native market, such a game is not necessarily just branded "crap" for being light on story.

The limitations of free will


Well, since this is a free-topic day, here it goes.

I'm getting a little tired of hearing that non-linearity and/or online gaming are going to be the "salvation" of games today. The fact is, at the speed that these things are going, they have the potential of becoming poorly executed devices used to try to sell a few extra games.

While I do understand the revolution that GTA3 was, with the "go anywhere, do anything" design, the simple fact is that there is a linear progression in the game, as you're assigned the missions in an order. While you can use any means possible to accomplish these missions, they do evolve and progress in a logical, linear manner. The result is that, while you have the ability to make your own choices about how to accomplish things, there is a framework for your progress. (Yes, I do know that you can just blow off the missions, but that's a voluntary choice, not forced on you by the game.)

But now, gamers are saying that this framework is even too much - that they want total freedom. The problem with this is that, with the possible exception of the free-form "god games" like SimCity, games NEED goals as a way to motivate the player into playing! I don't know if you remember, but I remember when FFVI was originally released in the U.S., people complained about the lack of focus that was present in the World Of Ruin - that you had really no motivation to go and complete the myriad sidequests present. Think about it - what drove you forward in FFX was the plot - you wanted to see what would happen next to these characters you became involved with - not what new things you could do.

I see the same thing happening in all of these games where there is only a loosely tied plot to guide the player - that the gamer will lose focus, and thusly interest in the game. While features and large worlds can help make up for focus, by providing an outlet for curiosity, the simple fact is that it's hard to want to do something that doesn't emotionally involve you. Eventually, the newness and wonder wears off, and without that emotional involvement, I see gamers hanging up their controllers.

As for online play, I understand that a human opponent is vastly superior to an AI opponent. But the big problem is that games right now cannot truly replicate the social interaction that we have. This is due to the fact that they mainly divide evenly into competitive multiplayer (player-v.-player play) and co-operative multiplayer (player-v.-monster play). However, if one looks at real social interaction, it waggles between these two extremes. In addition, we have societal mechanisms that discourage those people that try to be a nuisance in the real world - mechanisms that have been very difficult to port to online worlds. This really limits the experience to a shallow subset of the diverse interactions in real life. And the fact that the people evolving these worlds aren't exactly the masters of social interaction isn't helping either.

So, what I want to see is developers ignoring what's "hot and new", and just try to make solid, top-notch games. If a game lends itself to these paradigms, then by all means use them, but don't cram games into them just to be hip.


Thanks. In putting together such a cohesive, complete letter, you've let me off the hook as far as having to really say anything.

It'd be like sweet potatoes without the yams!

I suppose I missed the deadline for the .hack commentary due to forgetfulness but I figured I'd say something regardless. The only way I could see a game like .hack working here in the states is if it were more than a little tongue in cheek, and even then it would only really appeal to a rather smallish demographic of game players who are familiar with the typical MMORPG.

Anyway, I'd never want to play it unless the online part offered me a true depiction of such a game and included other characters calling me a "FAG" and a "n00b."

I mean, what's a MMORPG without that?


I'm unsure as to whether or not I made my stand on this clear, but I'm all for the game calling us phatty dykes and luzer n00bes. Such individuals deserve to be so immortalized.

Light my fire

Okay so let me get this clear,

The GIA doesn't update with anything all weekend -- okay, the review of Eternal Eyes popped up as I was writing this (whoopee) -- and Drew doesn't bother to give us a topic. I checked Game Spot, for the hell of it, and GameFAQs to boot. I was a little surprised that I didn't see a Flash presentation of a tumble weed rolling across the screen.

Am I to believe that there's nothing going on? And yet you at the GIA have not provided anything to entertain us in this dry spell? What are we not paying you for anyway?

Go light a fire under your cohorts for us Erin; we're getting restless.
El Cactuar

So basically ... you're saying Drew and I aren't enough for you, is that it? Our grim wit isn't enough to satiate you? You need the whorish news staff prancing 'round in negligées and thigh-high stockings with their hard, fast, up-to-the-minute coverage round the clock for your satisfaction?


Closing Comments:

As El Cactuar's so kindly pointed out, we're in something of a lull as far as earth-shatteringly apparent topics go. Not much is immediately afoot in the RPG realm.

There are, however, a lot of underdogs on the horizon that have largely escaped DA scrutiny: WA3, Legaia, Shining Soul. Which of these little lurkers are you waiting for and why? Think they'll even register on the radar upon their eventual releases or will they be overshadowed, as they so often, are by the big dogs?

- Erin Mehlos

Recent Columns  
Double Agent Archives
Letters: they're not just for breakfast anymore