Studakris 's blog
Been playing games since I was a kid. Mainly portables until recently. Have a PS3, Wii, DS, Mac and own games for all formats. Into all genres, but mainly JRPGs, fighting, and party games. Don't get to play as much as I'd like, but I can throw down with the best of them. Grad school is a huge time sink.

Currently playing:

PS3- Mass Effect 2
Wii- Waiting for Skyward Sword
DS- Dragon Quest IX
Mac- Papers for class
iPhone- Angry Birds
Following (3)  

So I finally beat Portal.

Not the second one, mind you, but the first. The one that came out over 3 years ago. The one I’d been putting off finishing for over a year now. Even though I owned a copy of the Orange Box, I just never gave it that high of a priority. Did I enjoy the game? Sure. Was it one of the better games I’ve ever played? Of course. But what was it about Portal that got it on my “I’ll finish it later” list along with Okami, Final Fantasy XIII, and a host of others?

And this all got me thinking, have I ever been a “true” gamer?

As I’ve said before in my blogs, I grew up sans a TV in the house. Additionally, my father was an ardent Apple supporter, so I did not have the slate of PC gaming available to other kid. Any gaming I did was either on my Game Boy, on which I got maybe 2 games a year, and my cousin’s house twice a year on their Super Nintendo. However, despite my lack of gaming opportunities, I did my best to keep abreast of the newest games in order to converse with my peers. Akin to my reading the TV Guide just to know what shows were popular, I religiously read Nintendo Power and other gaming magazines in order to be able to fake my way through a discussion on the subject. While I had never played Sonic the Hedgehog or Street Fighter, I could bluff my way through the subject with the best of them. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy gaming, I truly did, but my actual experience was severely limited to 3 days of playing “Donkey Kong Country” at Christmas followed by a year of replaying “Link’s Awakening.” (Which is an incredibly awesome game, I discovered. I could have done a LOT worse for “primary game of my childhood”)

As I grew older into my teens, I started to get the chance to play more games. I discovered I liked JRPGs, but not to the fervor of some of my peers. By the time I got around to playing Final Fantasy VII, for instance, I already knew Aries would die and her death didn’t affect me one iota. Besides, Tifa was a much more appealing match for Cloud. I took my time playing FFVII. An hour here, an hour there. It probably took me most of my junior year of high school to finish the game. But it didn’t bother me, I was having fun. Even Final Fantasy VI, my favorite RPG of all time, took me an entire summer of playing sporadically to complete. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy playing games, I did. It’s just that I liked other things as well. Regardless, I did my best to be knowledgeable of gaming developments, just so I could be in the know.

The closest I ever got to true “gamerdom” was with “World of Warcraft” in college. I’d never played an MMORPG before, and didn’t particularly see its appeal. However, one of my fraternity brothers got a beta key and the whole frat got into it like crazy. So of course, I played. It was fun. I liked the social aspect of it. We would have like 15+ people all in one room with cords all over the place doing Scarlet Monastery or whatever for the billionth time. It’s remarkable that during this time, I was able to keep a 4.0, a girlfriend happy, regular workouts at the gym, and a social life despite playing around 7 hours a day. Sure, I was the guy who went out on Friday nights instead of raiding Lower Black Rock Spire, but I prefer human girls to orcs. However, once summer came and we weren’t all in the same place, I lost interest. This isn’t to say I didn’t have fun by myself on WoW, but it lacked a certain esprit de corps sans the immediate proximity of other players.

As things stand now, I’m lucky to get an hour or two a week to play a game. Getting a Ph D can be busy, let alone work and the other realities of “adult” life. But gaming is still a welcome pastime in my life. Although I’ve never been on Xbox Live or PSN, and don’t really have any plans to do so, I appreciate what they’ve done for gaming. Likewise, I’ve never bought anything on Steam, but I appreciate what it’s done for digital downloads. And unless Square Enix ever gets around to making a sequel to “The World Ends With You,” I can’t see myself ever buying another game on its release date.

I suppose my thoughts on the matter can be best summarized as follows. Gaming has never been my life. It’s a hobby. Granted, it’s a hobby I greatly enjoy and like to be in the loop about, but it’s not a major element of my being. While I play games casually, I don’t consider myself a “casual gamer” and am not comfortable with the connotations of that term. I'm not a gaming novice. I know how to use a controller. I'm not afraid of "deeper" gaming concepts. While I’ll keep playing games for all of my life, I don’t think it will ever become my life. Is anyone else out there like this? You’re a fan of gaming but not a fanatic?

Personal Background:

I vaguely remember hearing of this game when it was first released. It made the cover of Nintendo Power and had a very interesting write up which gave hints and gameplay advice in the first person voice of the male protagonist. I also remember being quite struck by the artwork which accompanied that article. The iconic shot of the three main characters standing next to the Mana Tree was green, lush, and gorgeous and provided a since of epic scale which tantalized my 9 year old self. However, despite being intrigued by the artwork and the article’s unique writing style, I never had a chance to play the game.

Historical Context-

It is commonly known that the game known as “Secret of Mana” in the United States was actually the second game in the series. Indeed, the original game was actually released on Western shores as “Final Fantasy Adventure” for the Game Boy. It is interesting Square did not choose to keep the already established Final Fantasy franchise name for this new release, but differences in gameplay and tone definitely denote “Secret of Mana” apart from the Final Fantasy juggernaut.

“Secret of Mana” was released in the year 1993, right around when the Super Nintendo had reached the mid-point of its console life. “Project Reality” and the promise of the N-64 were still years away and existed only as teasing hints of the future for console gaming. But regardless of this development, “Secret of Mana” was a technological achievement within the limits of existing technology. Indeed, the game was initially developed as a launch title for the SNES-CD add on, which failed to materialize.

A further remarkable fact about “Secret of Mana” was that it was the last game to be programmed by Nasir Gebelli, who gained notoriety for programming the first Final Fantasy game. Although Hironobu Sakaguchi has been hailed as the creator and godfather of the Final Fantasy series, it can be argued Gebelli played an equal role in the series’ success and popularity. Additionally, Gebelli has become somewhat of a pariah in recent years, having not worked on a game since “Secret of Mana”, unlike Sakaguchi, who stayed on as producer for numerous Final Fantasy games before leaving Square to open Mistwalker studios.


To begin with, the game is gorgeous. The sprites are large and colorful, and entire game has a palate that is rather bright and pastel. Although the game’s plot can be bleak, it still maintains a chipper tone. This principle also applies to the music, which is especially impressive considering the game was initially designed for a CD platform. The songs in “Secret of Mana” are catchy and rather upbeat, with occasional forays into more melancholy melodies. From the richly detailed grass to the bouncing rabites, “Secret of Mana” is filled to the brim with charm and personality.

Once I got past my initial reaction of “this game is pretty”, I was struck by another: “this game is hard.” In what can best be described as a love child between Final Fantasy and Zelda, the battle system is a brutal and rather unforgiving affair that provides a great challenge. Most centrally, it is based upon a principle which must have been entirely counter-intuitive to the 1993 game playing audience: waiting. “Secret of Mana” punishes the player for blitzing into a fray and instead rewards a more patient and cautious approach.

This level of difficulty also applies to the manner by which inventory and the game as a whole is managed. While the ring system works well as an organizational device, the game makes no effort for hand holding when it comes to optimizing your party’s equipment, or even letting you know if you already own a particular piece of armor and you’d be better off saving your gold. Likewise, the weapon system can be overwhelming in its choices, but inventive in the way it rewards continued use of a particular weapon.

But as the game went on, I was dismayed by ever increasing glitches and a decided lack of polish when it comes to relative minor manners. For instance, the AI for the allies never was satisfactory for my play style, despite the tweaks I made on the AI menu. This resulted in my allies dying quite a bit, particularly the Sprite. Likewise, the limits on inventory made backtracking to grab more candy and chocolate bars while exploring a dungeon a common occurrence. Additionally, the boss battles against amazingly detailed large sprites don’t seem to climax or finish, they simply end with little to no explanation. The hit detection also seemed to be glitchy, particularly on the charged weapon attacks, which I never had much consistency and eventually abandoned altogether in favor of a 100% attack. These might be nit-picky complaints, but it’s this level of polish which prevents me from becoming a sold out fan of the series.

Would I Have Liked It When It First Came Out:

Probably not. I found RPGs boring at this age and I would have been too infuriated by the “wait for strongest attack” principle.

Do I Like It Now:

As a matter of fact, I do, but not to the level I enjoy the Final Fantasy or Zelda series, of which “Secret of Mana” appears to be a hybrid. I’d probably be interested in playing the third game in the series to see if any gameplay glitches were fixed, but I don’t foresee replaying “Secret of Mana” again and again with the same fervor I do Final Fantasy VI.

Do I Get The Nostalgia:

I think I do. It’s a gorgeous and colorful game, and its unique battle system was probably an “Ah ha!” moment in the lives of many young gamers who learned the value of patience by waiting the extra 2 seconds before unleashing a ferocious attack on an unsuspecting rabite. But how they managed to organize their party without them dying every 30 seconds is beyond me.
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Okay Destructoid Community, help me out here.

As I mentioned in my intro blog, I didn't have a television or non-portable gaming console during my childhood. As such, there are fairly large gaps in my gaming background. Although I religiously read issues of "Nintendo Power" during my elementary school days, I never played the SNES games so prominently featured. I'd like to correct this problem and I'd like your help in doing so.

What I'd like from you is suggestions of Super Nintendo games of which you have fairly strong pangs of nostalgia. In return, I'm starting a series in which I play through these classic games with a fresh set of eyes, research a little bit into their history, and provide commentary as to how they currently stand up. I think it would be an interesting juxtaposition and something which would be fun to write.

A few caveats:

1. Super Nintendo games only
2. If it's Mario, Zelda, or Final Fantasy, I've probably already played it
3. Preferably in English, but I'd be willing to play a Japanese-only game if it isn't too text heavy (i.e. I won't be slogging my way through some untranslated JRPG, but I'd be down with something Mario-esque that's not in English)

Thanks in advance for your suggestions,
Stu da Kris

I don’t hide that my favorite Final Fantasy game of all time is VI for the SNES. There’s a whole lot that’s done right with it, from the music, to the storyline, to the memorable ensemble. I find it remarkable that Square was able to craft 14 unique playable characters with touching stories and unique game play mechanics. It is this system I will focus upon, and also touch on how it has been misused and over looked in later games.

In addition to the standard, “Attack”, “Item”, and later, “Magic”, each playable character in FFVI had an action command special to it. In addition to providing a variety of different attacks, each command had a unique method by which it was implemented, which subtlety alluded and affirmed aspects of the character’s personality. Before the introduction of the Espers system, each potential party plays incredibly different depending on the characters included.

In order to best demonstrate the link between game mechanics and a PCs characterization, I will list each party member and their unique action command, and how it links to their overall presentation in the game:

Terra- “Morph”
This power unlocks only after Terra discovers her Esper heritage. Selecting “Morph” will temporarily turn Terra into an Esper, as well as doubling her stats. However, the effects of morph are not permanent, and the player has no real control over its duration. This ties into the game’s characterization of Terra; although she recognizes the undeniable power of her Esper side, it is portrayed as uncontrollable and sporadic. Additionally, the cool down period of “Morph” in-battle mimics the exhaustion Terra suffers following her Esper transformation.

Celes- “Runic”
Celes joins the party with “Runic” already available, and it shows its potential in the battle with Tunnelarmr. Selecting “Runic” absorbs the next magic spell cast and changes it into MP for Celes. Additionally, the spell cast can be from either an enemy or ally. While this ability is useful in the fight with Tunnelarmr, since Locke does not have magic attacks at this point, it becomes a double-edged sword (pardon the pun) later in the game. Strong magic attacks meant to strike down a foe can be co-opted by Celes “Runic”. However, the ability plays into an element of Celes’ characterization, her capacity for magic suppression. The game does not hide Celes’ willing (albeit increasingly disillusioned and ultimately forced) involvement with the Empire, and her role in the experiments upon Terra. She has the ability to negate magic, regardless of its source. By not being selective in the magic she absorbs, she iterates her initial outsider status within the group. Additionally, as the game goes on, “Runic” becomes much less useful, which mirrors Celes’ growth as both a magic user, and her bonds of camaraderie with the other group members.

Locke- “Steal”
Locke is a thief…er…I mean treasure hunter, and is unapologetic for his choice in vocation. His battle command “Steal” allows Locke to eschew dealing damage for a chance to steal items from an enemy. Additionally, Locke has very high evade stats. These elements mirror the storyline’s presentation of Locke as a rather individualistic fellow, who is quite willing to avoid fights and gain plunder.

Edgar- “Tools”
Edgar is the king of Figaro, and ultimately devoted to his people’s survival. The technological advances of Figaro castle are made under the banner of self-preservation, all under the supervision of King Edgar. “Tools” are an offset of this technological development. These weapons attack without magic, and are highly effective against most enemies. Additionally, a great many tools are purchased from Figaro castle, which reiterates Edgar’s devotion to his people and unwillingness to accept their free gifts.

Sabin- “Blitz”
To be honest, this is the command which made be start formulating this article and the meta-game of the unique commands altogether. Sabin joins the party as a capable, but still learning martial arts aspect. His “Blitz” command, although based upon magic stats, are selected by unique button combinations inputted by the player. Most of these start out simple, with “Pummel” being a simple back and forth motion, and the most advanced, “Aurabolt”, being a fireball motion very recognizable to anyone familiar with fighting games. However, as Sabin grows in his capacity as a fighter, the Blitzes become more complex. No longer are they simple button presses, but force the player to remember the movements. This culminates in his final “Blitz” the “Bum Rush”. Although undeniably powerful, the command is initially a challenge to input correctly in the time allowed. However, as the player keeps practicing the motion, the attack becomes more familiar, and more likely to succeed. I will admit it took me several tries to successfully input the “Bum Rush”, and had a surge of excitement upon finally correctly getting the move off. This “training” of the player mimics Sabin’s training as a fighter, and truly demonstrates the development of Sabin throughout the game.

Shadow- “Throw”
Shadow joins the party under the promise of payment. He has no initial loyalty to the team and comes and goes rather sporadically. However, he has great physical prowess and is more than capable of holding his own in a fight. His “Throw” skill tosses a weapon at the enemy at high damage. Additionally, items thrown are permanently lost from the inventory. This mirrors Shadow’s demand for payment from the party with the player’s cost of using Shadow. In order for Shadow to be used to his maximum potential shurikens, scrolls, and other items must be purchased by the player for Shadow to throw. Since using Shadow effectly costs the player gil, there’s a correlation between the player’s and the party’s treatment of Shadow.

Gau- “Rage”
Gau is a wild boy, raised on the Veldt amongst some of the fiercest monsters in the world. Although uneducated and not used to the social mores of human interaction, he has immense potential to be force to be reckoned. His “Rage” ability places Gau outside the player’s control, mimicking Gau’s wild and unpredictable nature.

Setzer- “Slots”
A gambler and rapscallion with a flair for the dramatic; he joins the party after his initial attempt to capture the opera star Maria was foiled. However, always the wild card, he takes the failure in good humor, and decides to take a risk with the Returners. Setzer’s “Slots” skill reflects his gambler persona. It has the potential to either very powerful, or possibly kill the entire party. The risk in choosing “Slots” mirrors Setzer’s general demeanor.

Strago- “Lore”
Strago falls into the classic Final Fantasy Archetype of the Blue Mage, common in many games. Strago has spent his life studying monsters and learning their skills. His “Lore” skill straight-forwardly demonstrates his knowledge of monster spells. Additionally, the spells can only be learned once Strago “sees” them being used in battle by a monster, which verifies his skills as a monster scholar.

Relm- “Sketch”
Another rather straight-forward correlation, “Sketch” allows Relm, an aspiring artist, to draw a replica of an attacking enemy. Additionally, Relm’s young age is alluded to with some enemies being “too hard to draw” with her young skill set.

Mog- “Dance”
Mog is a moogle, an element well familiar in the Final Fantasy series. Like most moogles, he is fond of saying “Kupo!” and serving as light comic relief. He remains irreverent throughout the game, never fully acknowledging the gravity of the situation. His “Dance” technique is similar. Although the dances have great potential, they can be fickle, and the individual actions are not under the player’s control. Regardless, Mog remains a useful companion, taking to account the player’s and party’s inability to fully have him under their control.

Cyan- “Swordtech”
Cyan is an aging warrior, one who has served his kingdom for many years and has acquired great skill with his sword. His demeanor is polite to a fault, considerate, and respectful. Although not as young as the other party members, his years of experience make him a significant fighter. Selecting the “Swordtech” action brings up a timed bar. As more time passes, Cyan’s attack becomes stronger. Although enemies can hurt the party while waiting for Cyan’s bar to charge up, the patience demonstrated in holding off will ultimately serve the player and the party. The waiting until the meter rises mirror’s Cyan’s personality. He is a man who is willing to bide his time until making the ideal strike.

Additionally, as magic and the Espers system are introduced for all party members, a second level of customization comes into play. By assigning different Espers to each party member, the player controls the party member’s development. Over time, due to a player’s preference of certain characters and their mechanics over others, not only will a particular character be stronger, but it will invariably have Espers magic assigned to it by the player. In short, although two different players might like the same character, the individual character will come out unique to the player by game’s end. By coupling the Esper magic system and these unique action commands, a playing of Final Fantasy VI ultimately results in a party which is shaped not only by the character’s abilities, but also the player’s preferences and choices; in short, an ideal system.

I will now look at later games and their shortcomings in utilizing or ignoring this system:

Final Fantasy VII-
While there were some differences between the individual characters, mainly through limit breaks; their standard attacks were virtually identical. Furthermore, the limit break mechanics didn’t necessarily fit into the character. While slots made since for Cait Sith, was there any aspect of Tifa’s mastery of martial arts which would lend itself to also using a fickle slot system? Additionally, the materia magic system gave the player extra control over their parties composition, at the cost of eliminating character individuality.

Final Fantasy VIII-
There were elements of character individuality used, particularly in the limit breaks. However, the limit breaks were too rare to constitute major differences in game play. Likewise, the “Duel” command for Zell suffered in comparison to Sabin’s “Blitz” since “Duel” did not reward character and player development. Although later “Duel” uses gave both more time and complex attack commands, the system was broken by constant use of the basic “booya” and “punch rush” for the most damaging battle plan. Additionally, the draw/junction mechanics put character stat composition entirely within the player’s control, giving the character’s almost negligible individuality.

Final Fantasy IX-
It returned closest to the system put into place by VI. Parties made up of different characters do indeed play differently, and special commands are indeed prevalent. Additionally, the ability system personalized the characters to player’s usage. The only major set back with this game was the horribly broken “Trance” system. But still, the advances made in IX made it seem a return to form was possible in future installments.

Final Fantasy X-
It’s going to be hard to strongly criticize this game, since it’s my second favorite in the series. Indeed, the character swap system made the group feel like an actual “party” and not “three characters chosen to fight enemies while everyone else hangs back on the airship”. Additionally, by letting characters have marked advantages over certain enemies, it was ensured all characters would be placed in heavy rotation. The system weakens a tad when it comes to the “Overdrive” commands. Like the limit breaks of VII, a great many of the “Overdrive” inputs in X don’t feel true to the character. For instance, although Wakka is of a sunny disposition and takes things rather likely, it doesn’t necessarily translate into using slots for his most powerful attack. Likewise, would a veteran such as Auron struggle with memorizing button pressing to unleash a tornado of fire? (Which remains one of the coolest specials I’ve ever seen in any game ever) I know it sounds nitpicky, but the advantages of the characters in X don’t ring as true to their characterizations as those in VI.

Final Fantasy XII-
Pretty much a rehash of VIII’s preference of player control over character individuality. Additionally, the “Quickening” attacks of XII truly have no difference between the characters except for visuals. Although the characters of XII were characterized outside of battle rather admirably, this isn’t reflected in the battle system.

Final Fantasy XIII-
I actually liked this game, and elements of the “paradigm” mode ring true to the example set in VI. However, the differences between the characters are subtle at best. For instance, Sazh has “Haste” available much earlier in the game than other synergists and his “Blitz” attack hits for multiple times as a commando. Other than that, it’s fairly similar. Additionally, the Crystarium System was quite linear and didn’t give players much control over the character’s development.

Mass Effect 2-
I’m actually going a bit out of the JRPG genre to show how the Final Fantasy VI model of character actions reflecting their characterization can apply in other types of games. In Mass Effect 2, each member of Shepard’s crew has a distinct personality and this is reflected in the abilities available for the player’s use. Additionally, as certain characters are favored over others, and the player completes their loyalty mission, more abilities are given for their use, as well as an alternative costume. The changes in appearance and combat actions reflect both their development as a character, and the player’s preference party members. This system mirrors Final Fantasy VI’s method of coupling character individuality and player’s choice.

In all, the system implemented by Final Fantasy VI represents a template still useful for creating a game mechanic system which compliments both player preference and character individuality. One can only hope Square Enix, and other game developers will utilize this system in creating further wonderful gaming experiences.
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So I noticed it's been months since I posted anything. Sadly, nothing too much has changed with my life. I'm nearing the end of the class portion of my Ph. D and will be starting on writing my dissertation in earnest. Additionally, I'll be diving head first into attempting to find employment in Academia. Other than that, I'm doing my best to consider myself a game despite playing maybe 6 hours a month, if I'm lucky.

However, there is one game which could possibly cause my gaming time to increase considerably.

It's become a nearly annual ritual for me. Firing up my emulator and starting yet another play through of this genuine classic. The game never ceases to surprise me, from interesting new party combinations to little bits of artwork. Plus, the highs of its story are still there.

Love this music

However, despite my deep and abiding love for Final Fantasy 6, I have a sad confession.

I've never purchased the game.

Don't get me wrong, I don't make it a habit to steal games, especially those I love. The company put the man-hours in making this masterpiece, and they deserve to be compensated. However, the game does not exist on a format that allows me to repay Square for creating this game. Considering all the enjoyment I've gotten out of this game, I would be happy to purchase it on nearly any platform. And speaking of platforms...

Release it for the iPhone.
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I know this might not be the most traditional place to ask for advice, but hey, we're all gamers here and this relates.

I'm in the market for an HDTV. I like LEDs, but wouldn't be opposed to another type if the picture was good. I'm looking to spend about $1500 for the TV. I've heard nothing but good stuff about Samsung, with LG's being a close second. The room I'll be putting it in isn't incredibly huge, but decent sized; the chairs are probably 7-9 feet away from the screen. It's also got large windows behind the chairs, so glare might be an issue.

Anywho, here's where I'd like your input.

1. Is buying from Newegg a viable option? Is there a return policy to speak of?
2. Are the high priced HDMI cables worth it? It seems silly to pay upwards of $80 for a cable.
3. Is there any special heed that needs to be taken for hooking up my PS3, Wii and other systems? I'm sure there's none, but would using a Sony or something result in better preformance from the PS3?

Thanks y'all.