The Continuing Frustration that is SaGa Frontier 2

Last time I posted about this game, I said I need to work around the horrid growing pains of SaGa Frontier 2. Well, I think I’m past that point, but I am having a difficult time getting into it. I’ve tried playing other games and coming back to it, but I am hard-pressed to maintain my enthusiasm for it. Which seems odd: I mean, the story’s interesting. Still, something’s not clicking. Maybe it’s all just a little too prosaic. Or maybe the frustration of learning the system just sucked all the fun out of it for me. Or maybe it’s just that the combat is still painfully not fun. I am trying to get myself to stick with this game, but I am really struggling to maintain interest.


The Frustration that is SaGa Frontier 2

SaGa Frontier 2 is one of those games that this blog was designed for. For those who don’t know, I started blogging about a decade ago on GameFAQs itself, before I knew about blogs (and possibly before blogs were a big thing, but I digress). At the time, I had about five dozen video games that I owned, but had never beaten (or, sometimes, never played). I would easily get distracted and go onto a new game.

That changed when I set down my blog and started to post about the games that I was playing, looking for community help when I got stuck, and just enjoying talking about the game as I was going through it. I started with Lufia III, which is a mediocre game, and I’ve played a variety of games since then.

So, SaGa Frontier 2. You know, I played its prequel some years ago, and that was a bitch without the community. The problem is that effectiveness in combat relies upon learning new attacks during combat, by using other attacks, and finding combinations that make two or more attacks go off simultaneously. If you don’t know which attack will “spark” which attack, or which techniques will combo, you could quickly find yourself behind the game’s power curve, and at least one quest is practically impossible to beat without knowing four- or five-person combos.

SF 2 takes that issue and amplifies it, and tosses in a bunch of others. Now, I’m not one to complain about combat complexity; in fact, I think it’s sorely lacking in a lot of RPGs. However, I will complain about clarity. SF2 dumps a lot of information and options on the player from the get-go with no explanation, and it is overwhelming. It is easy to give your party a bad setup, choose bad tactics, and even set yourself up for long-term frustrations. Because of that, I spent an inordinate amount of time pausing the game to ask the forums to explain to me every little detail about how the game works. And it’s brilliant – just, really, they didn’t need to hide the ball.

So I got frustrated. But I must continue. It’s a great game. I just need to work through these horrid growing pains.

Still Playing Games Chronologically

As you might recall, some time ago I mentioned that I am playing through video game RPGs chronologically. I’m still at it. I had a rough go of it over the past few months, as I was preparing for the bar exam, but now I can get back into the swing of things. I’m currently sitting around the year 2000, and switching between SaGa Frontier 2 and System Shock 2. I have some games on the backburner from earlier years that I still need to get to, such as Parasite Eve. Some games I’m holding off on, in hopes that another version will be released before I cannot stand to hold out any longer: Tales of Phantasia, for example. I’m upset that the latest PSP version never got released in America. Tsk.

I’ve tried a lot of video games, many of which were terrible. I’m thinking of someday making a post that gives a quickie review of several dozen games.

At Long Last, I have Beaten Arc the Lad 2

Yea~rs ago, I bought Arc the Lad Collection, partially because it was an RPG and I will try out almost anything with those three letters appended to the game’s description (although my tastes are more, m ay I say, refined nowadays). But also because it was released by Working Designs, who I felt could do no wrong (and then I played Vay… but to be fair, I’m not sure anything but a complete remake could save that game).

Anyway, I started playing AtL before I did these blogs. It’s the archetypical example of why I began blogging in the first place. I could not bring myself to beat this game. This was back in the day when I had over 60 incomplete games sitting on my shelf, because I would get half way through a game, then buy a new game and put down the old one.

As anyone whose played AtL can tell you, it’s a long game. … If you count AtL 1 and 2 as the same game, which you should. If you count AtL 1, 2 and 3 as the same game (which you shouldn’t; 3 is definitely a sequel, and a damn good one at that), then it’s insanely long. What’s funny is how hard it is to explain just how long AtL 2 really is. You see, AtL 1 is not a long game in itself. You can easily beat it in 12 hours; significantly less if you skip all side quests – maybe 20 if you do everything, but that sounds like a stretch unless you count the 1,000 arena battles (in retrospect, I really didn’t need those items).

AtL1 is really just an introduction for AtL2, which picks up the story with a different cast of characters, whom unite with the cast from AtL 1 about a third of the way through the game. From there, they go on to finish what was started in the first game, and it all leads up to one of my favorite game ending quotes since the final boss of Valkyrie Profile‘s insane death scream. I wish I could repeat it here, but it’s a major spoiler.

Anyway, before I started my blog, I tried playing through AtL twice. Yes, twice. And both times, I got up to the point where my party was reunited in AtL2, and then I stopped.

After that, I avoided the game for years, even when I started blogging. Just, I really was not looking forward to playing through the games a third time, and doing the 1,000 arena battles (optional) in AtL 1 again (I repeat, in retrospect, not worth it). So I just sort of puttered around the issue for a while. I played other games, whatever I felt like. Yet still it sat there, in its thick box (the package for AtL is standard Working Design’s fare: as many disks and random omake as they can fit in as large a box as they can convince the producers to make; oh, if only WD had been around for Kickstarter…). I would occasionally glance up at my shelf, and that the AtL bible, a 500+ page full color strategy guide for the first two games. And still I said to myself, “No, this game is insanely long; I’ve played it twice; some day, but not today”.

Then I started playing through games chronologically. I went to Wikipedia, found the oldest RPGs I could, and started playing through them in order. Honestly, many of them suck by today’s standards. I hate to tell this to my fellow long-time gamers, but for every Chrono Trigger, there are five Dual Orb IIs (a game with all the artistic quality of someone’s first RPG Maker project; the one they’re kind of proud of, kind of embarrassed by). But I’m getting off-track.

I get up to the ’90’s, and AtL shows up on the list. And Im saying to myself, “damn, I can’t keep avoiding this”. So I stall. I start playing every other game around the same year, every game at the same year, and every game that’s in the same year category. Until there’s really nothing left to play. And so I sit down for the great project: finally beating Arc the Lad.

Thanks to a poster on GameFAQs, MadJak91 who solely composes the entire expert community on AtL 1 & 2 (he shares the honor with another poster, decoy51, for AtL 3), I was able to gird myself for some of the more draining parts of the game: for you see, this game is long. There are over a hundred jobs to do and wanted monsters to fight; practically all of which are optional. There’s a secret character, Choko, who is perhaps the greatest secret character of all time: not only is she amazing – she gets her own major side quest, including a massive 74 floor dungeon, loaded with goodies; and her back story is interesting too. Then there’s the other optional character (whose not so secret); Diekbeck! Who has a bunch of optional monster romp dungeons for himself, including a special quest for him at the very end of the game. There’s just so much to do in this game, and that’s not even minding the main quest, which is long by RPG standards, not even including AtL1. And then there’s the grinding at the very end. You see, the game is unbalanced. In the last act, monsters’ levels begin scaling ludicrously quickly. Even with doing all the game’s optional quests, I was in my 70s when monsters were in their 90s. The last boss has over 14,000 HP divided between two forms (for reference, the penultimate boss has 2500 HP). He is insanely powerful, and will annihilate your party through sheer attrition unless you either have a good team (Choko or Gruga or cry yourself to tears), an impressive set-up (you didn’t bring the Romancing Stone? Oh, you poor dear…), or high levels (at least level 120… how high do levels go? I have no idea – over 150); also, it helps if you ported your data from AtL1 and did everything you could in that game, or else you will not be quite so prepared. Yes, yes, this is exactly the kind of thing I expect from a game ported over by Working Designs.

The game is awesome in just how long it is; and not just how long – but how important every bit of the plot feels. I remember games like Lufia II, which, despite being awesome, has quests like, “The bridge is out! Well, why don’t you go down into the Ruby Cave and fetch me a ruby while we wait for the plot to work itself out? Thanks. Hey! Now the bridge is back. Huzzah!” There really aren’t any mandatory fetch quests in AtL. I mean, sure, sometimes the game meanders a bit, but it’s hard to think of a quest which didn’t reveal something interesting about the world or involve character development.

So, after many hours of playing, I finally beat it. It’s done. Arc the Lad II was the last great game on my list of games I always wanted to go back and finally beat. And I am happy.

Playing Games Chronologically

Recently, I’ve been on a kick of playing through the history of RPGs chronologically. I’ve culled my list from Basically, I go year by year, checking out every video game’s wikipedia entry. If I like how it sounds, I try out the game. If I don’t love it within the first half hour, I’m done with it.

I’m up to the late ’90’s, and so far… not a whole lot of good games. Mind you, that’s partially because I’ve already played through a lot of good old school games, and so the cream of the crop is already diminished. However, I’ve checked out dozens of games, and honestly? Most just don’t age well. A lot of them trudge along with tired old plots that were old when the game was new, or are so simplistic by today’s standards that they’re snoozers; many don’t add a strong touch of creativity that would breathe some life into the simplicity of the game, and so I’m generally not impressed. The same goes for battle mechanics, which are often sluggish, antiquated, and simplistic. And then there’s the interface: graphics really do matter. They’re how you convey a good part of the game’s atmosphere. Part of it’s due to the limitations of early games; but also part of it is a lack of creativity.

I have found some good games, but my progression through the list is making me more eager for modern games.

Currently playing Arc the Lad. Just beat the first game (and yes, I really did do the Arena… again, all thousand battles. So glad I could do that by rote while doing more important stuff). On to the second one, which is massively better than the first.

Preparing to meet the Council

The ship pulls into the Citadel, which is quite pretty. I could hang that image on a wall.

Ambassador Udina, Captain Anderson, and Shepard meet with the council briefly to give them the heads-up about Saren. A formal meeting concerning the findings will be held soon. However, it’s obvious that the meeting will go poorly. No wonder. We have little evidence and I would not expect a Spectre to be easy to trace. With their ability to break laws whenever they want, they could give some grizzly orders to cover their trails.

I do find that a bit silly, by the way. The Spectres can break any law? Why do they need to be invested with that much power? That seems like it would anger a lot of races, particularly the non-council races. I know the council races are “in charge”, but I would expect the non-council races to band together against the council about this point. I would imagine the council would relent on the matter of total immunity from laws.