Someone slipped a rubber snake into my coffee this morning. Or a small vial of mild poison. Or fish oil. Or something, because I tell you, I feel terrible. Icky, even. So my always-dazzling commentary will be a mite more muted tonight. But fear not: in only two short days, you'll be seeing more of me and my commentary than you could ever want, I assure you.

Oh, and a plea, for those that misinterpreted what I wrote yesterday: neither I, nor Daniel Seltzer hate Ultima VII for the PC. Daniel actually considers them his favourite non-FF games, which I'm assuming is a lavish compliment from him. What sucks, however, is Ultima VII for SNES, which cuts out everything that was cool about the PC version. Pardon the confusion.

Same old, same old

I would like to talk about cliched plots. I don't see this as too bigof a deal. Most writers agree that there are only about five actualplots (man vs. man, man vs. nature, etc) out there, what makes storiesinteresting is their presentation of these themes. If done right,cliched stuff can be quite compelling.

Consider Star Wars (and I'm talking specifically about A New Hoperight now). It is practically an exercise in making a cliched plot,right down to the standard fairy tale "rescue the princess" set up. However, its presentation (particularly considering the state ofmovies when it was released) was fresh and exciting enough to make ita classic movie, loved by audiences and critics.

Now look at Chrono Trigger. While gameplay-wise I don't think it'stoo special, it has a very light-hearted and funny (at times) plot. Most RPGs have a very forbidding and serious tone to them (the FFseries is particularly dark and full of angst), and to me CT was a fundiversion from those. Both the musical score and visual tone of thegame are a lot more upbeat than your average RPG, and the whole timetravel aspect and multiple endings set it apart from other games.

Eh. Oh, and as for females being magic users and weak fighters, myguess would be that this stems from fantasy stereotypes (most RPGs arefantasy based). If they're not Elvish archers of some sort, chancesare the females in a fantasy novel are magic users. Which strikes meas kind of odd, after all most fantasy borrows heavily from Tolkien,and the main female character in the Lord of the Rings was pretty darnhandy with a sword. You know, I'd love to see a female based aroundEowyn...

-Stephen Keller and the evil gnomes that live in his head

Cliches can indeed be fun, if handled with care and a bit of inventiveness. There's a fine line between an all-out cliche fest like Beyond the Beyond, and something that takes all the above and gives them all a fresh coat of paint, like Suikoden. That line needs to be straddled carefully.

What delienates the difference between a sharp, traditional game and a tired retread, I have a lot of trouble differentiating. Anyone out there in reader-land have an answer? What needs to excel, what aspect of the game needs to be out of the ordinary, and in what way, for something to break free of the world of "been there, done that"?

Women and games

Hello Allan.

Women in RPGs do not always suck. Women in Squaresoft RPGs very often do,but let's not tar the whole Genre with the same brush. It seems that SegaRPGs have always featured strong female characters. The entire Phantasy Starseries had strong female leads, and in PS1 Alis was your main character. TheShining Force games likewise have strong female characters, May and Ellenumber but 2 of them. Also, lets not forget Alisia Dragoon. Nei and Rikafrom the PS titles have to be the strongest women in RPGdom... they'd makemincemeat out of today's RPG women (with the possible exception of AyaBrea).

Come to think of it, it's not all that inherent in the Squaresoft titleseither, only in the more recent titles. Celes and Terra were easily two ofthe strongest characters from FF6, and lets not forget Faris and... well,I've forgotten the other one (the irony). I've heard that after you discoverFaris is a woman in FF5 she gets weaker, but I didn't notice personally(she's a man, baby). Ayla was also pretty rock solid... although much to myannoyance when she did her 'Charm' move there were big pink hearts floatingaround the screen.

As for the age comments... well, I didn't find any of the RPGs I've playedthrough to be immature, with the exception of Illusion of Gaia, but that wassort of about growing up anyhow. Oh, and Earthbound. Robotrek too, come tothink of it. I better stop now before I list too many titles...

Terra acts immature in FF6 because she is, emotionally so. When Frankenstiencreated his monster it was immature... just because they are fully growndoesn't mean that they are emotionally developed. Terra had been shelteredall her short life... the same went for Celes. To be honest, Relm acted alot more mature than either of them ;-).

Signing off....

- Hahn's Clone

Mmm. Point conceded - Sega has a long tradition of having strong females in their games, especially RPGs. Square's is less impressive. Other letters have cited some strong female leads in recent Square games, like Tifa and Aya, but I find the trend is that women in RPGs still tend to be weak, magic-powered types. And, just as an aside, what the hell was up with Riese, the Dragoner woman from FF Tactics? Was Square worried that Rafa and Malak just weren't lame enough characters, that they needed a completely useless pile of shit character, so they added her in to balance out the Force or something? Good god, but she was useless.

Word Search, part I


Xeno actually means more like 'outer' especially in context. Takexenoskeleton for example. It is the skeleton of a bug, which is on theoutside instead of the inside, as with humans and animals. It can alsomean stranger, as in xenophobe, which means one who fears aliens. As forXenogears, I think outer gear makes a lot more strength than starangergear. Of course, I bet everyone has told you this by now, but I thoughtI'd write anyways.

- Arpad Korossy

BTW, I will name all my kids Kumama.

There's something about this column that just attracts grammar debates. I still think stranger gear applies more accurately to the Xenogears - it's a stranger, outside of the natural order of things. I suppose that "outer" could apply to both the idea of a Gear (it's an outer shell of battle armor), but that hardly differentiates it from the other Gears. Still, it's debatable.

Your kids are going to grow up to be very resentful of you, I hope you realize.

Word Search, part II

Let's make this quick!

Hyuga does mean something. =)If you go to, you'll find a bunch of illustrations byone of the artists that worked on Xenogears. On the site there's an image of Hyuga as a kid(which is quite cute, bythe way), and we see that his name is spelled with kanji that mean'shining in the sun' („ú‘ü). I suppose it relates to his shiningsword, or his identity as a guardian angel. Or it could just be aname. But it has a meaning, darn it!

- ~Vera

Good call. Didn't know that, thanks for the info. :)

We want Soul Hackers!

Hello. I noticed your column about Soul Hackers, and felt compelled to respond.

Allow me to tell you a tale. It was Christmas time about two years ago... I'd just recieved a gift certificate, and was wondering what game I should spend it on. I'd heard a lot of good things about Suikoden, but it wasn't available yet... However, there ws one other RPG on the shelves. It was one I'd heard very little about. "Revelations: Persona." I decided to get the game, hoping it would tide me over in my time of need. Despite a couple of minor gameplay gripes, I was totally in love. No game had ever been quite that original in terms of gameplay, or storyline.

I did a little internet research, and learned about the Megami Tensei series, and how only Persona had been released in America. A shame, I though. I was very doubtful that I would ever see another game quite like Persona again.

Flash forward to October 28th of 1998. Atlus puts up a webpage petition of its own to gauge interest in Soul Hackers. I immediately signed in support, and spread the word to others who enjoyed Persona, or simply wanted to try something original.

Today, we who signed in favor stand on a teuous thread of hope over a chasm of dissapointment. I think it is imperative for ALL who signed the Atlus webpage petition to contact Sony and let them know that we signed Atlus' petition for a reason. We really want to see this game released in America. I for one, plan to preorder the day I hear it's release confirmed.

I personally, feel that originality is an important thing in RPGs, and no RPG series seem quite as unique as the Megami Tensei series and it's spinoffs. It would be a travesty to simply stand by in silence and let any more of the Megami Tensei games slip quietly by.

--Tony Patino (aka Drexle)

Amen. Everyone, that's your Big Goal for the next two days: send off a letter to Sony, telling them that you want Soul Hackers to come to the US. It may not be for everyone. You may not love it as much as Tony does. It doesn't matter. It's quirky, it's original, it's quality stuff, and it deserves a chance to make or break it over here. Give it your support.

Doin' that Celtic thang I do

Hey Allan, have you noticed how, recently, Square has gone seriousilymulticultural? They've been reflecting influence from a lot of diffrentcultures, including our US 'culture' (if you call making Barret aghetto-style black man and teaching him to speak ebonics 'reflecting theAmerican culture').

For example, take Einh…nder and Ehrgeiz, for starters. Those areblatently german (or at least based upon a German word). Then, there'sXenogears, which reeks of, primarily, the Celtic culture (reeking likethat isn't necessarily a bad thing), especially in the music style. Imean, heck, Creid, the arranged soundtrack version, means "tobelieve" in Celtic, if I'm not mistaken. Then, there's other influencesin Xenogears names, particularly with the gear names: Steir(German-sounding), Seizbehn (German-sounding), Achtzehn(German-sounding), Weltall (sounds vaguely Welsh or English), Fenrir(Nordic, perhaps), Andvari (Nordic-sounding again), and so on. Thenthere's the matter of Parasite Eve, a really really short 'epic' set inthe Big Apple with more than one Japanese character and aninter-cultural based plot. Needst I continue?

For some reason, I find my interest piqued by this. Would you agree withme that Square is on the right track, or am I just halucinating (again)?Could it be that Square has finally decided that inter-culturism is avery good thing in plots? As a freelance/amateur/slightly dementedwriter myself, I find myself agreeing with that (go figure - I agreewith my own theory), but I'm not quite sure.

And so, Allan, this is what I ask of you. What's your take on thisnew-found aspect of multi/inter-culturism? A complex matter, to be sure,but I'd just like to know your take.

- Eric Kolb, a.k.a. Dygel

I disagree that multiculturalism is a new idea in RPGs. There have been multicultural references in games for eons, from Final Fantasy IV: Celtic Moon (and excellent arrangement of selected FFIV themes), to the last boss of Bionic Commando being a thinly-disguised Adolf Hitler. There are long lists of cultural and mythological references in most of the FF games, since they're the best-known series in the US, but Ragnarok shows up in almost every RPG I can think of, be it in the form of a spell, an event, or a monster.

For a more concrete view of multiculturalism in gaming, head over to Japan, and play the Red Company (of Sakura Taisen fame)-developed Tengai Makyou series. The basic gist of the early games in that PC Engine-CD RPG series is that you play as Western observers playing through a mythical, absurd medieval Japan, distorted by Western misconceptions and biases. The last game in the series, TM: Apocalypse for Sega Saturn, had the characters travelling around a truly bizarre version of late 19th century America, from Las Vegas to Tombstone, Arizona. Strange games, classics in their own right, and a clear illustration that multiculturalism in gaming has long since been a concern and conscious topic for at least some developers.

Mind you, there's still a wide variety of cultures and mythology that remain untapped. I'd be especially interested to see a Russian-themed game, perhaps a realtime strategy game a la Starcraft, doing a sort of parallel to the Russian revolution, though more overt and even-sided in the game version. Anyone else have some pet cultures, present or past, that they think would make prime gaming material?

Closing comments

There were also letters pointing out that Adol does indeed talk in Ys III for SNES and Genesis. I had thought all his dialogue was cut, like the rest of the good parts of the TG-16 CD version - oops :).

And, of course, it's only two days until the Big, Scary Event 'o Da Week happens. The hint for the day's in my opening rant. It'll be formally announced in tomorrow's column, so the suspense is almost over. Almost.

Oh, and for those that are going insane from the average letter length here of late, well, I'm gonna see about having shorter ones tomorrow. But in the end, I go with what I get, and the vast bulk of the letters I get are on the long side. I seem to encourage that practice, don't I? Ah well. So long as they're interesting and intelligent, everything's cool by me. Ciao for now.

- The Double Agent

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