Malik  (9/17/04)

I'm completely addicted to Fable...I admit it.  I have a problem.  Anyway, as I cruise around the reviews and message board threads on Fable, a few problems keep being stated about this wonderful and innovative game.  So, in my Fable obsessed mind, I've decided what better subjects to tackle this week than those that don't exist in Fable.  I'm Malik, and here comes my Fable...I mean my Bitchings.

Why Is Inappropriate Touching Of A Game Not A Crime? 

As I said in the news earlier this week, a new Wild Arms game is slated for release in Japan in the next 6 or so months. However, another part of this story was how many conventions of the previous Wild Arms games are going to be tinkered with, thrown out, or horribly redone to the point of a reinvention of the Wild Arms series. Am I the only one who sees this problem, once again? If you are making a sequel to a somewhat long lasting series, and therefore it's a series with fan recognition and it's held true to some constant rules throughout it's existence, what would be the purpose of corrupting all that has been constantly enjoyable? 

In fact, this is not just an occasional event's almost a requirement of making a new game in a series. It seems like there is some unspoken law of the geek universe that say that a good franchise is not allowed to do what it has done best...instead it must change and evolve into a horrible monstrosity. 

While the developers of WA4 are promising to turn the series of it's head with their new "innovations", this wouldn't be the first time. The first time was found in WA2, when they introduced the concept of playing with a party of 3 players, but having 6 total party members. This resulted in a horrible unbalance as the worst characters were always ignored in favor of the three main characters (in fact, only 3 of the characters were considered main characters)...why even have 6 characters if only 3 matter to the overall plot (one was even a hidden/bonus character). Plus, getting all of them properly equipped, leveled, etc, was such a chore that you could only stick to three characters if you wanted to keep your sanity. Plus, in number 2, they introduced having to look for towns. In real life, a town is a pretty obvious thing (ohhhh, a cluster of houses and shops in the middle of a plain! This must be a freakin' town!), but in WA2 (and 3, and probably 4...), as you traveled the world map, you could not see the obvious clustering of buildings in a barren wasteland. Instead you had to rely on your sonar-like you walked, you keep hitting a certain button and a sonar-like ring of sound leaves your characters. If it hits a town, then the two will be on your world map. Unfortunately, in both WA2 and 3, this ring of sound was pretty glitchy and also required you to stop moving as you used it. So, in the end, you would walk over the same damned stretch of land, over and over, until you're about really to throw the game out the window, all to find a town that you know where it should be but it just wont show up. As if I couldn't point out a castle in big open plain just by walking within a mile of it (or even further away). 

This isn't even restricted to our fiends (ummm...I mean friends) at Sony with Wild Arms. Square Enix has been doing this since the days of Square EA. Square would always require some "innovative" measure to be found in each new RPG of an old franchise. The most memorable would definitely be everyone's' least favorite Square game; FF8. In FF8, you could, literally, get to the final boss without being above level 10 (I know...the first time I played the game, I did this...the first time? The only time). This is all possible due to the damned junction system. As you gained magic (which you had to "draw" out of an, you have to waste about an hour at the start of the game just drawing cure spells so you can have a healer with 99 of the cure ability), you could tie it into a character's stat; like HP, strength, etc. If you have 99 (the maximum) of a spell, then it will give the best boost. Sadly, as you cast spells, this ability boost will go down, since you will have used some of your precious drawn magic. Each spell did best boosting a certain stat (HP was best junctioned with curing spells). Because of this, if you never gained exp, then you could still become stronger and get to the end of the game at level 10. This also required a geek to waste so much time to just have enough healing to boost everyone's' HP and still have a healer in the party. 

Then, there is always Star Ocean 3. In SO2, the battles required a good blend of strategy and button mashing while SO3 is more like a rhythm game. In order to pull of a combo, you just need to learn the timing of every special attack and both normal attacks for each character. Then you just hit the buttons at the right timing, and you're all good. Simple, boring, and frustrating. Also, the method of creating new items and leveling got corrupted. In SO2, you gained stat points at each level, and these could be used in skills that would go towards item creation. If you learn better use of recipes, kitchen knife, and one other skill that I cannot recall the name of, you will not just boost your offense (kitchen knife use makes you a better combatant), but you will be better at cooking. Now, in SO3, you have a set stat for each type of item creation, and you simply have to go to a lab, select who will do what type of inventing, and then watch as your money drains as you make some nifty new inventions. Boring and way too time consuming. In SO2, not only could you control who was best at what creation skills, but you could do it on the map screen (not just in a workshop...I need a workshop in SO3 to cook food!?), and it would only take about 2 seconds per attempt...not the 30-45 seconds per attempt on SO3. 

I, for one, when I buy a sequel to one of my favorite games, want to play something like the original, but expanded and updated. I don't want my new game to play like something foreign to me, and to only have a hint of the original game in the background plot. I think, before the plot, the game play is what matters most in making a sequel. I mean a FF game is only as much as the engine used, not the never connected plot. The same should be said of Wild Arms games, which have connected plots. Even if the plot is similar and continuous in a franchise, it is still the game play system that truly makes a sequel different from a spin-off (which is what WA4 will be if the game play is changed any more than WA2 and 3 were). A spin-off is something that deals with the same background story, but a sequel is something that is a true continuation of a series in all applicable aspects (just like how Sonic Spinball could never be called a sequel to Sonic, even though it used the same characters and similar moves). In fact, if it was not for them being RPGs, I think a change as big as those seen in WA2 and 3 when compared to WA1 would make them more suitable as being dubbed spin-offs. 


The best way to fix these over sights in what is really a sequel would be one of two damned things. Firstly, they could do the simple thing and keep the game play similar enough to keep WA4, SO3, FF8, etc as true sequels and not just half-asses exercises in the futility of uncalled for "innovation". Innovation and changes do not make something that is familiar enough to earn a chance to be sequel-ized worthy of a sequel. In other words, if a fan base exists for something, and this in turns makes a developer think a sequel is in demand, then do what would guarantee the best sales; listen to customer feedback ("Game X has too many random battles" = Tone down the number of battles in the sequel, etc), and then keep all the changes simple and similar enough to please both ling-standing fans and new-comers alike. 

The second solution would be for these retarded developers who are bitten by the "innovation" bug to just start calling their games spin-offs and leave room for a real sequel down the road for the true fans to enjoy. 

A guess a third and final solution would be to allow a company that has it's act together, like NIS, to be allowed to make all RPG sequels, since they wont mess with a good concept (as seen with Disgaea and Phantom Brave).

To Continue a Thought... 

To show that I'm not just full of rage and anger...even if I am mostly filled with it...I have to ask why other developers can't take a clue from the smarter companies. For example, Fable almost seems to define innovation. 

While people at Square Enix are struggling to come up with new ways to ruin any their long standing series, Lionhead seemed to think the opposite. I mean Square will take something that has never been tried, which could be called at least brave and daring (see, that was me actually being kind, in a way, for once to the master of disaster), it doesn't guarantee results. When Square innovates a new concept and places it as the major theme of a game, it is daring and risky, but this is also their flaw. If a concept has not been examined previously, it is not the right time to use it as the main theme of a game. 

In FF8, Square took the unheard of idea of drawing magic and junctioning them to your stats (as I mentioned above) and tried to make it into something. The main reason, as far as anyone can see, that they did this was just to introduce something new into a long running series that didn't need anything unheard of to make it a successful sequel. Not only that, but Square will take these ideas that even sound poor before being put into practice (who actually thought this sounded like a good concept to dominate the game play?) and applies them as key factors in a new game. 

This is a great example of what too many people try to force on the public; change for the sake of change. It's also, when done over and over, as Square has done so many times in the past, of not learning from one's own mistakes (not to mention the mistakes of others). This is the same type of crap that ruins concepts for sequels in every sector of the entertainment industry. In Alien Vs. Predator, the movie version, the entire concept behind both of these long running epic series was tarnished in order to just force another sequel on the populace. This cross-over movie could have survived and done quite well if the concept behind these two series was not horribly corrupted (I mean is there any better sign that something went wrong with this example than how both of the original series were always R rated and when they crossed-over it came down to a PG13?) was another case of change for the sake of change (and cramming out another sequel). 

The best way to handle a good and long-running series is to either let it fade away with dignity (let it die while it's still cool), or to keep things solid and continuous...not to corrupt and change blindly. What part of Square (yup...random subject changes are fun) thought that changing the concepts behind the original FF games (if you look back, the basic game play of FF1-6 was solid and never failed to meet expectations) in a strong and obvious way would win over those who previously didn't care about FF and still keep their long-standing fans? That is what a true sequel should be about, however; keeping the hardcore fans happy. If a given title does well and attracts a good following, then the first goal should always be keeping them happy. If you succeed with something, then just keeping those original fans will at least keep the sequel successful. However, to implement gigantic changes, while they may attrct new followers (which is a risk at best), have as much chance of scaring away the die-hard fans as it does of keeping them...especially with games like FF that have no common factor from one title to the next beyond the game play (it's not like we'll buy the next game to see where the plot continues to from the previous titles). 


After playing Fable and a few other games that cannot be thought of in my Fable obsessed mind, I can see what the real solution for sequels and innovation is. It is not a forced change, or change for the sake of change. It is not to attract new followers and keep the old by trying untested measures. It is definitely not implementing systems that don't even sound good on paper. It is not to take gigantic risks that have never been tried. It is not to overly complicate a good idea by making a geek have to take extra long to do something that was streamlined in the previous titles (like how drawing magic in FF8 only slowed the entire process of getting new spells). 

In fact, these big risk ideas do belong in sequels of successful games. However, they should not be a major factor in the game play. The place that innovative and risky ideas belong is as a minor system, that if it actually can succeed in they could then be used in a bigger role in the next title. In fact, that is what it all should come down and public opinion. If you implement, in a small way, a new game play mechanism, which would be innovation in all the right ways, and then the public loves it, and popular opinion asks for more of it, then you can be innovative in the next game by taking a minor part of the previous game and making it a bigger factor in the sequel (while implementing a few more tiny innovations). This is the ideal cycle of development for a series. It will not, too badly, scare away customers if it goes wrong...and if it works, then you can have the research to know that a major theme in the next game could be such a measure. 

So, if you look at Fable, they had the research done by many other companies in the past...or that's how it looks to me. They took the game play style of a Zelda title to start with. Nintendo has tried this (as well as Sony with Dark Cloud), and it worked many times in the past, so it's ripe for Lionhead to use. Then, they took some themes of games like KOTOR, which allowed for a blending of playing both as an evil and a good character (and everything in between). This was also loved by the public, so Lionhead had the research saying that it could be advanced in Fable. Then, there are the elements of The Sims and Harvest Moon games in the way you interact with other people by using simple commands and building up respect and love from the NPCs. Since Fable uses a large amount of personal development of the game (the player makes what they want from the game more than the developer used any structure to plan out), this fits in perfectly as an optional system (you don't have to get married or whatever in Fable, but you can if you want). Almost everything in Fable, in the end, is something that has been tried before, but never in this large of a scope...and definitely never in such a combination like this. So, while Lionhead took the risk of putting this all together (which makes it innovative), they still had the research at their fingertips about what the public thought of each of the mechanisms in other unrelated games. That is the perfect solution to the puzzle of how to implement change and to be innovative, but not pissing off all of the potential customers with a giant leap into stupidity. Plus, I'm not even mentioning the smaller features of Fable that are innovative and unique to this specific game. 

So, the solution to this problem, just like the solution to my boredom with Star Ocean 3 can be found in one perfect example; Fable. 

Time and a Half 

To continue on my recent obsession with Fable, I have to go over this subject again...I've talked about this a few times before, but now I have a slightly altered perspective, thanks to good old (or new) Fable. 

Basically, the two biggest complaints out there about Fable fall into either the game not meeting expectations (Mr. Molyneux said that Fable would have a whole bunch of features not found in the game when he discussed it...many, many months to years ago) or promises and how short the game is. 

Well, I'll start with a quick off subject note; the issue with the first problem people have with this almost perfect game. Mr. Molyneux made a lot of promises in the past about what would be in the game. However, many of these promises were made while the game was still in the planning phase. Some more were made when the game was still in it's developmental infancy. So, when some features got cut, it shouldn't had been a surprise. Fable, on it's own, with it's current included features, is pushing the envelope for gaming beyond what has been seen before. Plus, with this game being the first to implement so many unique systems into one simple package, it has to be expected that not everything would make it to the final release. In theory, Mr. Molyneux could've spent an additional 2 or 3 years on Fable, pissed off all of these people who are complaining about the lack of promised features, who would start to bitch about the delays (once again), and gotten these features in. Or, if we're lucky, which we are already to have this game, Lionhead can work on a future sequel (considering how well Fable is doing so far, I don't think this is asking too much) and get some more of these features into play now that they have a first game to expand upon. Anyway, Fable has more features than seen in a console RPG (as far as I can recall) ever before, so any complaints on a lack of features are a appropriate to make as someone saying that this game sucks just for not being a Square, the solution to this mini-issue that isn't the main issue of this Bitching is this; SHUT THE HELL UP! 

Ok, that aside, the main complaint seen by many people right now is the shortness of Fable. This is both a very valid and very invalid point. On one hand, the overall story of the game is pretty short. It can take a gamer as little at 10-15 hours to tackle the main quest. I don't understand the people who complained about KOTOR, with it's 30-40 hours play time, being too short, since 30 is a great amount of hours for an see, if a game is too long, it will only become a hassle or struggle to finish. If a game is short, but not too short, then it will leave the gamer (if the game is good) wanting more. Hence we will have KOTOR2 in a few months. While I cannot stand the modern trend of making games that are 120 hours or so to finish (I usually want to beat my brains out as I finish such a long game that should've known when to quit...about 60 or 70 hours sooner), I do fully appreciate that 10-15 hours is short for an RPG. So, if you are the type of person to blindly finish an RPG without thought of side-quests and background plot information, then I just have to say; WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING PLAYING AN RPG IF YOU...I mean...try to enjoy the full scope of a game before you call it too short or say the plot is too thin or whatever baseless bitching you want to shout out. Considering how many side quests and hidden bits of plot can be found in the background, one can only get the full effect of the plot by looking beyond the main quest. 

Plus, Fable, much like many other games that allow for an increased level of character development, has a lot to do that can only be found by jumping off from the main quest and trying to just enjoy the game engine itself. Fable serves as a box of tools. The user of these tools is responsible for how much fun they will get from the game. To continue the analogy, either you can use these tools and accomplish stuff that will consume a bit of your time, but you might enjoy doing, or you can be a tool and get someone else to do all the work (like getting Lionhead to make a great game) and then you can just blindly toss it aside without appreciating what you have in front of you. In other words, explore in the game and enjoy. This is not just true with Fable, but with almost any good RPG. In FF7, you could finish the game in about 50-60 hours, or you could finish it in twice that time as you seek to defeat all the Weapons, find all the hidden limit breaks, make a champion out of your chocobo, become a snow-boarding master, plan who you date in the Golden Saucer with a detailed plan of attack, etc. Strangely, I've seen many people on message boards talking shit about how short Fable is but then complimenting FF7 (in particular) for the cool side quests of the Weapons, etc. It would be ironic if it wasn't so stupid. 

Also, considering many of the elements of Fable are based in open-ended titles, like The Sims, Harvest Moon (which is pseudo-open-ended), and GTA:VC (buying buildings and that sort of thing), you cannot just look at the close-ended quest. You need to appreciate the open-ended details and mechanisms to even fully play the game. If you skip out on buying a house, and in taking up countless challenges with Whisper (your former roommate and main rival), wooing the women, parading about with your trophy, fishing, opening demon doors (special doors that will only open if you solve a challenge or a riddle or meet a special requirement), finding hidden tomes and books that explain the back story (who is Elvira Grey?), or just exploring the limits of your control, then it is the same as skipping the main quest. There are two sides to this game; the main quest is one side, but the other is the back story, and unless you solve both parts, then it's the same as not beating the game at all. 

This all applies to almost any good RPG. While the ending of a game is set in stone, the path is not always as structured. That is why, with a game that allows such freedom as Fable, one must look for the value of the game themselves. After all, people seem to love games like FFTA that have no solid structure to the game, but Fable is just pointless and short? On top of all that, games like Zelda:WW or Zelda:OoT can be beaten even quicker than Fable, have the same general engine, a less involved story, and they are called great!?! I'm not dissing Zelda games (I love them all...some not as much as others, but they are all great games...except some of the GB titles), I'm just trying to show that there is a good deal of double standards...and Fable even has a longer main quest and more free-roaming things you can accomplish. WTF? 


The double standards have to end. While a game that is only 10-15 hours and falls in the RPG zone is quite lame, one cannot make this call if the game is in fact far longer. The main quest in a highly interactive game is only the beginning. The real depth to RPGs, as they advance and become deeper experiences with each new release, is the entire experience. One needs to look beyond the structured realms of the past (when games like FF1 or Dragon Warrior gave a too-defined path to accomplishing each goal) and appreciate the depth and range that the current generation (and, no doubt, the future generations) of RPGs and adventure games are now they say, you can't judge a book by it's cover...well, if Fable is a book, the main quest is just the fact, just try reading all the books you can pick up in Fable and you'll add an additional 5 hours of game time and a far deeper understanding of Albion...and this is not just true for Fable


Yup, I'm obsessed.  But with such a great game, can you blame me...well, if you're one of the dumbasses who became obsessed with what you can't do in Fable (there are plenty of things, but there are plenty of things you can't do in your precious FFX...ever think of that?  Of course not!) or how short the game is if you rush through it (hell, The Sims is pretty damned short...I mean the plot ends as soon as you install the game) you could blame me.  Anyway, if you're dumb enough to have bought Star Ocean 3, but in denail about how crappy it is, and therefore you are pissed at me dissing it or your pathetic other Square titles, you know what you can do...write me you little opinion or put it on the forums