TSM Episode 292: The Beginner RPG

Not only is Final Fantasy IX one of the best RPGs for beginners; it also has one of the best beginnings in an RPG.
Final Fantasy IX. For your beginnings.

Download: Produced 2014.10.05

Ethos and SiliconNooB discuss changes to PlayStation Network content and prices, Mel buys Smash Bros. fN3DS whilst Bup muses on Nintendo’s decision to release it just a month before the Wii U version, and Caspius searches for the best ‘beginner RPG’.


  1. My thoughts in no organized order:

    -Ethose: Your story makes me more interested in Shadow of Mordor. I like the notion that you can effectively break an NPC’s mindset turning them into an obsessive stalker/berserker. It really does seem like the evolution of Assassin’s Creed (and Julian is absolutely right in regards to AC2 being the last one to receive any gameplay advancement) though like Lusi and Mel said, I can’t -not- look at it and see Batman. And this is from someone who has never even played the Arkham games.

    -Still holding out hope that FFXV defies our very low expectations. Until we see it in action, it’s speculation. Lusi’s ‘We want it to be whatever you want it to be so you’ll buy it’ translation of recent interviews does seem to nail the vibe surrounding the game though.

    -Re: Dark Souls. It was my game of the generation and I compared it to Symphony of the Night in terms of atmosphere and level design (it all links cleverly together) several times, and passed it along to my friend who also really loves the older ‘Vania titles. He felt it was very similar, but demanded a lot of patience that he didn’t have. I’d also like to add that Dark Souls 2 was a shadow of the first, and showed a lot of us who loved it that without Miyazaki directing, the formula doesn’t work quite so well.

    I felt the music was better incorporated into this episode as they felt like separate segments.

  2. I’d also like to add that Dark Souls 2 was a shadow of the first, and showed a lot of us who loved it that without Miyazaki directing, the formula doesn’t work quite so well.

    I don’t know that it was Miyazaki alone who made that much of a difference, as I imagine that he took a lot of senior Dark Souls staff with him when he began production on Bloodborne.

  3. Hardly anyone who worked on Dark Souls 2, of any importance, also worked on the first two games. It was a B Team effort put out by people From Software has do most of their other franchises, like Armored Core. The Leads and other head programmers, excepting a couple, very probably were busy making something that wasn’t a fan-pander mash up.

  4. I love FFIX. It’s probably my favorite RPG ever and one of my favorite games of all time. I hope anyone who hasn’t played it tries it on PSN.

  5. @Wolfe – That stuff is definitely the best part of the game, but after the second area opens up, the game loses a bit of steam. It’s still good, but it doesn’t really evolve. It just opens up a new area. It’s pretty, and it adds mind control which is great, but it’s not enough. But, as you point out, it is the first evolution of Assassin’s Creed gameplay since II, and it’s not even Ubisoft doing it. The only way I find it to be like Batman is the combat, which I try to avoid anyway.

    @KisakiProject – It goes without saying that I agree with you.

  6. @Julian and Mel: You’re both entirely correct and I certainly hope Bloodborne turns out to be the game I wanted DS2 to be. Ironically, I think the setting brings it even closer to Castlevania atmosphere.

    @Ethos: Would you recommend a play when and if the GotY lands? When I see a title like that, I tend to play the long game when it comes to acquiring it.

    Also, I’ve never played Final Fantasy IX. When it came out I was in transition from one coast to the next and gaming was a luxury I couldn’t afford. I’ve never cared for the Pixar-like character designs, but the world itself looks very charming.

  7. @Wolfe: They’re so much better than Pixar.

    At $6 on PSN, it’s something that every PlayStation 3/Vita/PSP owner should own. I cannot recommend enough buying and playing through Final Fantasy IX. It was our first-ever site playthrough for a reason.

  8. @Wolfe – Yeah, definitely wait for a price drop. There’s no immediate reason to play it, but it is worth an eventual play. The long game sounds like a good idea. And I’m mostly with Caspius, except that I love Pixar designs. I just think the comparison doesn’t really fit.

  9. Info Blast Reneges Without Remorse

    This week’s panel
    Silicon Noob
    Also featuring:

    Podcast Feature? Is that the name we’re using?
    Final Fantasy IX

    Fall Playthrough
    Vagrant Story
    Begins Late October

    Hype and Go Seek
    Removed from podcast apparently

    See Above


    More FFXV Battle Details
    “It does sound bad, but we don’t know yet” – Words of wisdom from Ethos.

    Classic Blizzard games coming to Battle .Net?

    PS+ Price Increase
    I probably would have subscribed to this except that you lose your games when you unsubscribe.


    Mighty Number 9

    Axiom Verge
    This looks neat, but I’ve always preferred the Castlevania side of the Metroidvania genre.

    Ocarina of Time 2D remake
    I think naming this something else would totally defeat the intent of the project. They probably won’t be able to continue for very long as-is, but I doubt they’d continue without the name and iconography.

    Wii U Update

    Smash Bros for 3DS

    Imitanis Literature Corner
    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
    I enjoyed how he outwitted The Mathmagician. Quality stuff. I’ll be sad when this is over. The setup implies that the Phantom Tollbooth could be used multiple times. Are there more adventures after this one?

    Bup Talk
    Smash Bros

    Imitanis Gaming Moment
    This week I played “Lets Drive 10 hours in one day because the only available showing of the play is 5 hours away and at 8pm on a Sunday”. That was not so much fun. I would not recommend it.
    I was starving for something new to play last week and did get Smash fn 3DS. I’m not sorry I did except that I’ll have to unlock all of the characters twice. I had to customize the controls because they had the shield and grab shoulder buttons reversed from what I like, but otherwise I’m pretty happy. There are a LOT of characters in this game and making a custom Mii fighter is pretty cool. Of the new characters that I’ve tried I probably like Robin the best, though the attack durability system is hard to get used to. It’s nice to have a Fire Emblem representative who isn’t just carrying a massive sword as many of my favorite FE characters have been mages. I haven’t tried online yet, but I hope I’ll have better luck that Mel. Maybe we should have a Caspius.com Friend Code sharing? I bring a pretty mean Pikachu to the table if anyone is up for the challenge.
    I’ll be playing Borderlands 1.5 and Civ Beyond Earth later this month, so expect to hear about those soon. I also expect to be returning to D&D soon.

    Cumulative total record holder: Imitanis
    Single Donation record holder: Imitanis

    Donators eligible for drawing:
    Greg H.
    John V.
    Matthew D.
    John M.
    Brett W.
    Aram Z.
    Peter V.
    Billy B.
    Les E.
    Martin B.
    Jeremy V.
    Simon H.

  10. @Ethos: The long game it is then, thank you.

    @Lusi: I’m finishing up my play of Xillia 2 here soon, maybe it’s time I gave the ol’ boy a try.

  11. @DiceAdmiral: I approve of the picture you have selected for me this week.

    More later, once I am done decompressing from teaching and meetings.

  12. I almost wrote it that way, but it looked a little too close to just being a misspelling.

  13. Oh, and I didn’t mention it on the show, but my first RPG was the very fun Super Mario RPG. I played that game before I even had a concept of what turn-based combat meant. And it did a fine job of teaching me.

  14. I will make a case in the defense of Dark Souls because I don’t think Mel did a very good job explaining why Dark Souls doesn’t cheap shot you. Three different mechanics have been placed in the game to inform the player of an upcoming ambush.

    First, there are almost always environmental clues suggesting an ambush. Bloody corpses suggest ambushes, charred corpses suggest something related to fire, broken walls at the bottom of a stair cases suggest boulder traps, mimic chests are actually different then regular chests under examination, crystallized corpses suggest curse frogs etc.

    Second there is the messaging system. Every single death trap is marked by player messages, its almost impossible to get ambushed if you read the messages.

    Third there is the player bloodstain/ghost system. Other players who have died, leave their bloodstains, and you can touch the blood stain to watch that player’s death via their ghost.

  15. A general disclaimer: Let me aver that I know that the Souls games have legions of fans who will not brook any suggestion that the games suffer from elements of design which are not particularly fair or enjoyable. They may froth at the contention that their beloved series isn’t perfect in every aspect of design, but that doesn’t make the contention untrue. I’m not really interested in getting into an unprofitable interchange with people who have that sort of mentality. If that is you, look away now.

    So, now that I’ve got the disclaimer out of the way:

    As I understand it, the messaging and bloodstain system require online connectivity to experience–a connectivity which, we’ve seen already, can be discontinued, or which is simply unavailable to some players. As such, I don’t know that they constitute much of a defence of the game design. Indeed, when I played Demon’s Souls (offline on my old PS3, shortly before it died) those things simply were not there as helpers. At the present, I understand the servers for that game are offline entirely, so people would have a similar experience. This will certainly be the case in the future for the other games in the series as well.

    With regard to environmental clues: there were some, and I appreciated those and considered them useful. But they were not always present, or they were so unclear that they provided no substantial warning that “you are about to be killed by X”. Something which the player does not understand or is unlikely to understand cannot provide the systemic defence that is being sought here.

    I understand that part of this has to do with the game’s overall engine and design: after all, it’s much easier to see an enemy, and to react/plan accordingly in a 2D platformer, than it is to do the same thing in a 3D platformer with a fairly close-in camera. But, for example, playing through Castlevania: Lament of Innocence in the past week reminded me that there are games which have done better, and using less sophisticated technology, no less.

    Does this mean that all Castlevania games are perfect? No. They absolutely have their faults, but because of the 2D game design, these faults are mitigated substantially in favour of the player. The 3D design of the Souls games denies them the same sort of leeway; there’s much less margin for the player to operate within, with the result that unfair deaths are simply more common.

    That said, I still own all three ‘Souls’ titles (or rather, my wife does), so I can play through them again if I wish. But when I’d want to play a game like that, I’m far more likely (as was the case this week) to fire up one of the 3D Castlevania games, instead. They certainly are not graphically as powerful, but the design (and the music) are better, with the result of a more enjoyable experience for someone, like me, who doesn’t really care too much about how flash the graphics are.

  16. “…it’s much easier to see an enemy, and to react/plan accordingly in a 2D platformer, than it is to do the same thing in a 3D platformer with a fairly close-in camera.”

    A very fair point. Dark Souls (and Demon’s Souls) are not perfect games. I’ve contended in the past, as you have with Castlevania, that they’re not even very difficult. I think where some of the heaping praise comes from is the throngs of challenge-starved bandwagoners who want to sound cool that they’re playing a “hardcore” game. I am very open to criticisms of the Souls series and its director, if that were in question.

    @Rabid Kitten: I would also caution against relying on those hint systems as the self same can be used in error. People can and WILL put stuff down like “try jumping” in front of a bottomless pit. Then again, the game does not ask of the player any “leaps of faith” like this by and large. Also, Lusi’s point about it requiring an online connection is fair game, I think.

    All that said, I do not generally agree that the Souls games ask the player to learn by simple trial and error and that once a trap or enemy is recognized or spotted it is then easily avoided or dealt with. An element of skill is required, of that I do not budge on.

  17. @Mel writes: “All that said, I do not generally agree that the Souls games ask the player to learn by simple trial and error and that once a trap or enemy is recognized or spotted it is then easily avoided or dealt with. An element of skill is required, of that I do not budge on.”

    I hope that people are not under the impression that I think the Souls games are pure exercises in rote memorisation and nothing else. This is not the case. Once aware of the forthcoming challenge, the player must still possess skill in order to cope with it.

    That said, I think I am with Mel in stating that I do not think those challenges are particularly difficult to cope with, at least in general.

    My complaint is that much of what is popularly touted as the ‘difficulty’ or the ‘hardcore-ness’ of the series comes not from overcoming the actual challenges themselves, but from being killed through a lack of awareness about them in the first place. And this, in my opinion, isn’t a measure of difficulty at all, because it’s a false challenge.

    I’m not saying they are not good games (they are), or that they don’t require skill to complete (they do), but rather that what is perceived as the overall difficulty of playing them comes less from the innate difficulty of the challenges faced and more from the degree to which they are uncompromising about players who are initially unaware of those challenges.

    And, I reiterate, I am aware that a function of this has to do with the medium itself. It’s a lot easier to spend a few seconds watching a boss in a 2D platformer, and to stand on the other side of the room, jumping over projectiles and so on, until one learns the boss’ patterns, than it is to try and do the same thing in a 3D game with a camera that cannot see everything at once. This is why it’s much easier to learn how to kill a Mega Man boss than it is to learn how to kill, say, a God of War boss.

    There’s also a different priority for the skills, too: 2D platformers generally prioritise accuracy of reflexes, whereas 3D games tend to be more focused on some sort of strategic/tactical movement element. Both are used in both styles, but the priorities tend to be different. This is linked directly to the medium. Tactical movement is broadened on a 3D plane, and the capacity for reflexive accuracy is diminished by a moving 3D camera, a shifting point of reference, and an obscuring of things beyond the point of view.

    Note: I suppose another possibility is that, after playing video games for three decades, I have become pretty ‘good’ at them in general. Consequently, I may not think that something is particularly challenging, although it may be challenging for someone who has less familiarity with games. However, this is so subjective that I try to discount it, and I also wonder to what degree it is influenced by an attitude towards game development which increasingly avoids challenging the player, leading to younger gamers being less competent at overcoming challenges-in-general.

  18. In order to clarify my stance on Souls and the difficulty cult, as I don’t want to be associated with that, let me add thus.

    I didn’t buy Dark Souls out of some need for challenge. I don’t like overly difficult games, and indeed parted ways with Ninja Gaiden during the Xbox era as a result of being frustrated with one of the hardest bosses I’ve ever encountered (Alma, for those wondering).
    When Demon’s Souls came out to great praise, but constant mention of it’s difficulty I stayed away -because- of that fact. I don’t like games that tout their difficulty, because I am a middle aged man who prefers a reasonable balance to his challenges. I have a job and responsibilities, I don’t want to dedicate my entire free time to overcoming a challenge in order to win some accolades amongst people (competitive gamers) who I probably don’t like in the first place.

    I got Dark Souls out of sincere curiosity when I stumbled upon a youtube video of a guy from Gamefront playing it. It was entertaining listening to him wail at every challenge, and when I saw the cathedral area, with the sunlight breaking through the clouds, I decided it might be up my alley. As I’ve made mention of before, there’s two things I like. Fantasy settings and beautiful scenery, and there they were.

    The ‘challenge’ of Dark Souls is little more than figuring out how it’s mechanics work. That deflection and retaliation, as well as knowing the animation speed of each weapon-based attack are the key components. The rest is your reflexes and determination to continue.

    What’s often overlooked by people who love the series however, is the way the lore and story are presented. You dig for it. You read the descriptions on items as clues, couple them with what you learn by following the paths of NPCs who you encounter, and meeting the ‘Gods’ of Anor Londo. There is an absolutely fascinating mythological-like storytelling going on in Souls, and it marries narrative to gameplay in way that addresses so many complaints about modern narrative roles in games, but bloody no one ever mentions it because when they hear Souls, the first thing they go to is ‘difficulty’. And that’s a damn disservice to it, and to it’s fans.

    Dark Souls 2, as I mentioned earlier, is a shadow of DS1. And that’s largely because, as Mel and Julian pointed out, that the men in charge of the series were already off making Bloodborne. What it proved is that the formula that worked for DS1 is a difficult balance and one that can’t simply be imitated (as Lords of the Fallen will soon learn). It’s the product of a design team that built off King’s Field and had their own vision of what a dark fantasy action title should be, and without them, you have only the name, not the soul (intentional).

    I like to try and tie up my ramblings with some closing line that presents it in a neat little bundle, but I’ve got nothing here. I hope the rambling above at least shows that not everyone who got into Souls was looking to prove himself against a series known mostly for being ‘hard’.

  19. @Wolfe: I recommend you give Demon’s Souls a go, if you have a PS3. Any skills you’ve cultivated in Dark Souls should parlay rather well into its predecessor. Give it a go.

  20. @Lusi: Thank you!

    @Mel: I keep meaning to yet somehow it never seems to happen! I think the lack of a ‘vania style world has been putting me off. But I will get to it sooner or later for sure.

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