Double Agent
Chaos theory - March 29, 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. Screw the middle classes! Don't say we didn't warn you.

Another week draws to an uneventful close, and effectively, so ends my spring break, for I see no way that an Easter weekend with family still qualifies as a "break" of any kind or by any means.

What have I done with this time away from my edifice of higher learning?

I didn't visit Cancun and flash anyone who happened to be making a "Girls Gone Wild" video; in fact I didn't even leave my apartment a whole lot beyond the occasional trip to the store for ramen noodles and Pillsbury cookie dough to eat straight from the tube.

But I did play a bit of Oddworld, so I guess it hasn't been all bad.

It's made me realize, though, how deeply I long for a time when I could devote entire twelve hour blocks to gaming, or -- hell -- anything beyond juggling the various aspects of being a grown-up that suck so very hard. Spring break meant something at thirteen. It meant that second playthrough of FFVI where you didn't miss your chance at teaching Mog Water Rondo; it meant hyperactively tapping your feet through the grueling whole of an Orthodox Catholic Easter mass, bursting to go home and start Secret of Mana anew -- it meant being a gamer, as only kids and the independently wealthy know how.

And damned if this directionless melodrama isn't making me feel like moving back into my parents' basement.

Let's go....

A timeless battle

Hey--I read your column all the time, and with so many people speaking so strongly against FF VIII, I decided I'd take painful advantage of your free topic day and say this, to all the people who thought FFIX and X were salves to heal the horrible wounds of VIII:

I, like most people loved FF VII. I, like most people after seeing pictures of FF VIII, also very much disliked the direction the Final Fantasy series was taking. So high was my nose in the air that the original Playstation release barely registered a raised eyebrow, much less an open wallet. The reviews were most often mediocre scores with scathing, bitter commentary.

Why? Officially, "It was not a good game." But we all knew the reason was because there was too much sci-fi metal, not enough mini-games, and--Yes, admit it--We all cringed at the realistically proportioned characters. Basically, many of us decided to hate it in advance because it wasn't like FFVII, or more specifically, because it was just too different from the Final Fantasy games we knew before. And I couldn't blame us--I wanted magic shops, dungeons, and every other RPG cliche at the time too.

Much later I saw the game, discounted to almost nothing in Best Buy, and I thought I'd give it a shot. It began and...I don't know how to describe it. For the first time since I played Final Fantasy I, I got *that feeling* again. This was real, this was original, this was something new, and it was something *good*. And from the scene where Irvine has to decide whether to shoot Edea, to a super-challenging-but-doable battle with the Ultima Weapon inside Ultimecia's castle, to a junction system that actually made me love the draw ability, the game was just balanced perfectly.

Naturally, very few people who profess to hate the game even got that far, but instead ignored it and were happy once IX came along, simply because it *looked* like the Final Fantasy they wanted. They ignored the hideously linear story, frequent, 20+-second-loading-time battles with about one creature group variety per area--battles you could do little to avoid, since even by the fourth disc running was incredibly inconsistent for me. They ignored an incredibly shallow magic and customization system. They loved the nonsensical card game in IX even though VIII's actually both made sense and was fun. They ignored all of the faults that make IX *the worst FF ever*, because it looked like the game they wanted.

However--I'm not trying to characterize all IX-lovers/VIII-haters as shallow, or to say its a wrong opinion to like FFIX and hate VIII-- just saying alot of us, me included, were affected by the 'hardcore' gaming press (I'm looking at you, Dave Halverson >=[ ) who told us VIII was the heart attack and IX was the defibrillator. For those people who have been avoiding the game because of this stigma inertia: Go find a copy of VIII for your PC while you can, check your opinions at the door about what a Final Fantasy should be, and play it all the way through. Its so very worth it.

I know I've abused your free topic day more than should be allowed, but this had to be said-- and I promise I won't do it again.


If someone felt inclined to write a classic DA rant defending FFVIII, then obviously I have too long played the devil's advocate and not done my part to stand up for a personal favorite. But you gotta understand ... I generally hesitate to offer my opinion for the same reason I eventually became hesitant to grab hold of uninsulated steel wire after two many years around electrified fences.

My opinion usually earns me a week's persecution, but if you're asking me directly....

Weird ... but in a good way!


Believe it or not, I think Kingdom Hearts is shaping up to be one kickass game. One of the most bizarre, incoherent, and completely fucked up design ideas I've seen in, well, years, but it is still looking really good so far. Games like Kingdom Hearts are pretty much the whole reason I still have faith in this genre so full of mediocrity.

So, what do you think?

-Red Raven

Having raptly listened to accounts of KH's hallocinogenic glory from staffers privileged enough to be presently playing the game, I can honestly say that I am looking forward to Kingdom Hearts more than any other title on the horizon.

My God, but that's an awkward sentence.

Suffice it to say, in some strange way I've always viewed KH as the spiritual sequel to Mario RPG -- its unlikely collision of worlds promised to be in equal parts bizarre, entertaining, and unexpectedly deep, and from what I'm told, it doesn't disappoint. Fall cannot come fast enough.

The evil corporation shrinking from the cold
Dear Agent Erin,

Haven't written in a bit, but some of the letters yesterday made me want to get something off my chest. Why, in God's good name, do so many people seem to think of Square as the evil empire or something? Are some of these people so crazy as to believe (falsely) that RPG's are the only gaming genre or that Square does not have any competition? If anything, thanks to the FF:TSW debacle, Square is in a weaker position financially than it has been in years.

To recap:
1. Square lost over 100 million of them American greenbacks thanks to its movie
2. Square needed Sony to bail it out, ceding 19% of its equity to a company which is far more deserving of the title "evil corporate empire" or some such nonsense, what with its dominance in the console market and its significant software properties
3. With Enix alone, Square has more RPG competition than it can handle sometimes. And what with Nintendo (Pokemon), Capcom (BoF), Konami (Suikoden), Contrail/Sony (WildArms), Atlus, Game Arts, Namco, Sega, etc., I think the free market system seems alive and well in the Kingdom of RPGs.
4. In the overall gaming world, Square can't even begin to compare with behemoths like EA, Sega, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Infogrames, etc. It's not even a contest. Folks, these companies sell BILLIONS of dollars worth of software EVERY year. Each. Square can't touch that, no matter how many copies of FF it sells one year.
5. As you noted, SquareEA is a cross publishing joint venture. Nothing more. If anything EA would own Square.

Remember, just because the only things you play are RPGs and FF games seem to sell better than any other in the States, and just because you don't like the way the series is going, doesn't make Square the evil empire. They are no better or worse than any of their numerous competitors. They're out to make a buck. It just so happens that they (in my humble OPINION) tend to make better games that appeal to more gamers. So dislike them if you must. But don't go around trying to convince people that they're somehow evil as opposed to money-smart.

-JC, who can't stand ignorant, opinionated rants parading around as factual arguments

Your more thorough advocation of the stance I took yesterday is much appreciated. Square, especially in light of recent developments, is by no means in the position of absolute power they've been accused of occupying as of late. They took some heavy financial blows with FFIX's mediocre sales and the disastrous FF:TSW, and even if we ignore the losses they've incurred, there are far too many entrants in the console software market to ever start labeling companies "monopolistic." Monopoly, by economic definition, is explicitly defined as "a market structure in which only one producer or seller exists for a product with no close substitutes."

Any Japanese salaryman will tell you DQ's a perfectly acceptable substitute for FF.

Not quite evil enough

What do you think of the disappointing sales of the RE1 (Biohazard) sales in Japan? I thought this was supposed to be the end all be all of remakes. I wonder if a lot of the RE fans are PS2 owners and not GC owners. Do you think the results will be the same in the U.S.? From not being a huge fan of the series I'm not sure whether it's more popular in Japan or the U.S. or about equal.

Pendy the DQ/DW guy

P.S. I agree with the guy from yesterday that Blade 2 is much better than the original.

The only explanation we can come up with is that Biohazard's B-movie approach to horror's been somewhat eclipsed by the honest-to-goodness creepiness of series like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame. Hopefully, hunger for more GCN titles, coupled with RE's purrrdy graphics, will sell American audiences on the remake.

Incidentally, Blade 2 kicks prodigious amounts of ass, yes.

Young at heart

Hey Erin

You said: "I just can't help but wonder if this neverending string of GBA ports is appealing too heavily to the "old school" set and turning off would-be newcomers."

Personally, I don't think so. I work at Toys R Us, and I spent half of this wednesday telling parents and children that I'm sorry, but we're out of Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World. Kids still want brands that they know are good, like Mario etc. If a port looks fun and is visually attractive (like Mario World) the kids will want it just as much as a new game. The fact that they're ports doesn't turn off kids who aren't old enough to have owned the originals, and there are enough titles that either stand the test of time or have been prettied up for rerelease that it doesn't look like there's a flood of old games on GBA. And there's really enough new titles coming out for it that there's something for everyone.

-Paul Segal

So, you see ... everyone wins!

Ever wonder?

My Favorite Square Whore,

Have you ever wondered why we give thanks to Jesus, our savior, king of the Jews, and son of God for getting nailed to a plank of wood and bleeding to a slow, painful death by looking for painted eggs?


Egg hunts have nothing to do with Christ. The egg and the hare (which later evolved into a rabbit for the sake of dissociation with pagan custom) are actually symbols of Norse fertility goddess Ostara, and the spring renewal she presides over. Dyed eggs were also big in Egpyt and in Babylon, as well -- where some argue another fertility goddes (Ishtar) originated just about every custom associated with Easter, including hot cross buns, ham, and even the holiday's very name. A few people have taken this line of thought to interesting but absurd extremes.

Wonder no more.

Still bitching

Hail to thee, Erin,

Why do I always have to be the bad guy? I hate the feeling that I'm always complaining about this place--honestly I say these things because I care--but has the GIA been understaffed lately or what?

It seems to me like a lot of games that fall under your umbrella have been ignored recently. For instance many of the Game Boy Advance titles that I would assume would have been reviewed, like the Breath of Fire games, have hardly even been acknowledged as existing. Information on the new Zone of Enders game stopped appearing months ago--if I hadn't seen it in the store last week, I wouldn't have even known it was out, let alone known whether or not it's any good. It's not just the GBA either, but since I don't have any of the current consoles yet, their absence is less glaring to me. However I have noted that several new seemingly RPGesque PS2 titles have found their place on the gaming store shelves. I expect that most of them aren't all that noteworthy, but all the more reason to do a review and let us poor sops know about it before we "vote with our wallets."

A lot of people rely on this site (in my case almost solely) for RPG game information. With such a specialized topic, I don't understand why so much stuff has been mysteriously absent from the news. Either you guys are overworked, and maybe should consider taking on more people, or you're making a conscious decision to leave out such stories and reviews. If that's the case, I'm a little curious as to why.

Still "El Cactuar," and bitching as usual

No secrets here -- the GIA has overlooked timely coverage of a few titles as of late, and while you miss your mark with your implications that we've made some conspiratorial "conscious decision" to exclude them, you pretty much nail the reality of the situation with "overworked."

We pride ourselves on covering our area of specialty well enough that many readers feel we're a one-stop shop for news and reviews, but remember; we presently do this on a more or less voluntary basis, and every hour spent reviewing stomach-churning tripe like Azurik is an hour shaved off one of us "poor sops' " personal lives.

We honestly do regret recent holes in our coverage, but each and every one of us is employed, attends school, and/or has a significant other whom requires at least minimal attention. The GIA is a true labor of love, but unfortunately, it doesn't pay the utilities.


So, Erin, about your breasts...

~Ian P., who, in case it wasn't obvious, ran out of things to say a long time ago.

USDA choice, 100% American meat.

Why I encourage him like this I have no idea....

Why is this?

The other day I got to play Jet Set Radio Future, and it suddenly dawned on me that I never saw a review for the game on the GIA. Why is this? It's a top-tier game! And the only XBOX game anybody has any business owning, for that matter! You guys will play Azurik through, but not JSRF? What gives?

In other news, it's 2002 already. Where's my T'khasi Orion?! Anyone who gets that reference is invited to telnet to, port 2002 for a pleasant surprise.

Also, please try to say a bit more in response to letters. At least bullshit your way through a reply. Thanks.

- George Moffitt

I apologize if my 1000-word-per-night average isn't up to your rigorous standards, sir, but I've consistently been under the impression that DA is more the readership's forum for expression than my own personal pulpit, and that, moreover, when people read a nightly column that tends to run upwards of 3500 words in length, they aren't looking for a great clods of pompous padding and repetition of things I've already said seven times.

Forgive me, Father, for my oustanding want of further bullshit. In future, I'll do my level best to make Double Agent more closely mirror an introductory collegiate philosophy paper.

As for the actual weight of your letter.... Considering a floor has now been imposed on the wordcount for my individual replies, I'll get to it in a minute. If I'm to acceptably bullshit my way through the column, I need to get whatever mileage I can out of such limited material as I'm capable of making up.

Get your groove on


Sit down, buckle up, and hold on tight, because you're getting a genuine Free Topic Day two for one special, only instead of standard monetary currency, you're going to pay in reading.

First up, I want to address a certain philosophical bent I've seen in most gamers that patrol the Internet, DA included. Namely, most of these creatures tend to equate companies that are involved in making, producing, or marketing games, or hardware that they might come in contact with Satan's more evil twin brother. Sega is now horrible because they release games on the Xbox, which is horrible because, like, Microsoft isn't Linux. Square is wrong for making their games look good, because, well, because Dragon Warrior/Quest games don't look good! Companies have money--money that I don't have--so they are, therefore, in cahoots with The Man, or terrorists, or Martians, or other things my mommy says are bad. Sometimes I think people just woke up one day, saw the word "counterculture" somewhere, and thought that sounded pretty bad-ass. To tagentify for a second, I don't find anything wrong with counterculture, or corporate suspicion, but to imply that its everywhere in the friggin gaming industry, of all places, is crazy. Games are all 3d, and placed on Microsoft machines, man! That must mean I'm being brainwashed into becoming a neo-facist corporate drone! FIGHT THE FUTURE! Please.

Switching gears completely, I think I'll actually talk about games now. The other night, while I was busy informing myself for the 20th time that Moulin Rouge should've won best picture, I began thinking of musicals. Musicals and games. Look, we have rythm games, and we have endless comparisions between gaming and the movie industry, so why don't we have games that are musicals? Sure, we have Rhapsody, but that's really it, and that wasn't interactive at all. What I want to see is games that bust out into song, and quickly turn themsleves into a rythm game. Can you imagine playing an RPG, and then having the cast bust out into song, while the camera swings, extras fly from everywhere, and you're making it go like you're the last Gitaroo on earth? Is there not a market for this somewhere? There's a lot of potential in this, I swear. RPGs aren't the only genre that could do it either. Would anyone not want to play a version of Jet Set Radio in which the crazy characters start jiving to the funky vibes, replete with the ability to tell them how to do it? If grafitti can work, so can music!

-Justin Freeman

PS. Speaking of Jet Set, do we get a JSFR review at some point?

JSRF has actually not escaped GIA scrutiny entirely; it's merely been delayed for reasons stated above. Expect a complete review within the next few days.

As for your letter.... I should think that crazy characters jiving to funky vibes would be ... well ... PaRappa. But I realize you had something more akin to a playable Les Miserables in mind, so rather than sit here and spout predictable things about how Rhapsody was and was not quite what you have in mind, I'll make it tomorrow's topic and leave it to Drew. He seems to have quite a predilection for spouting.

Closing Comments:

Okay guys, there you have it. Why exactly don't we have musical games? Would you even buy one if we did? Why or why not? Tell Cozy, cuz I'm off to celebrate the glories of Babylon.

- Erin Mehlos

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