Let us cling together as we discuss Yasumi Matsuno in Episode 16

Retronauts backer Hugh Franck requested we record an episode focused on director Yasumi Matsuno. Coincidentally, this episode (which we scheduled ages ago) turned out to be quite timely, as Matsuno’s Kickstarter project — Unsung Story — just ended successfully a few days ago. And I couldn’t help but think of Final Fantasy XII (codirected by Matsuno) as I recently reviewed Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, which presents a much smaller and frankly less compelling take on FFXII‘s open-world concept. And so, here we go, fresh from our brains to your ears:

Retronauts 16 cover

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This episode turned out to be a less-than-daunting task, as all three of us are pretty keen on at least some of Matsuno’s games — as is guest host Kat Bailey. In fact, the real challenge here was keeping the discussion short enough that our guest didn’t have to bail on us midway through to make a prior engagement.

We cover Matsuno’s career from his days at Quest (and in fact discuss the origins of Quest) through Unsung Story. But since he’s had a pretty small output, it’s easy to enumerate the games at hand: Conquest of the Crystal Palace, Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy XII, MadWorld, and Crimson Shroud. See? That wasn’t so hard. Musical selections come from Final Fantasy Tactics by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, though I believe I only spliced in Sakimoto compositions (sorry, Mr. Iwata. Please understand).

As a small caveat about this episode’s recording process: Not only was this episode unfortunately hosted by me, this is also the first episode I’ve hosted remotely. The rest of the crew was back in San Francisco in the studio while I recorded from home on the East Coast. Despite this, I think it all turned out more or less seamless thanks to my snipping out all the awkward pauses and stumbling cross-talk. Thankfully, remote hosting won’t happen too often. When we ran our Kickstarter campaign, we couldn’t have predicted the need to fly me cross-country every few weeks, so it wasn’t budgeted… but we’re contemplating workarounds. In the meantime, please nerd out on this discussion, because good lord is it nerdy.

20 thoughts on “Let us cling together as we discuss Yasumi Matsuno in Episode 16

  1. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Wow, so…one week after hitting one of my very favourite, unsung, virtually unknown games of all time, you guys hit another of my personal high points in gaming history, that of the Tactics Ogre/Ogre Battle series and, of course, the glory of FF Tactics.

    You want to know how much I love Final Fantasy Tactics? In one particular playthrough, during the course of grinding away in the Lenalia Plains (you know the drill; kill all the enemies except one chocobo, then throw rocks at allies, use the shout power to raise your brave, potions, healing magic, etc.), I unlocked the ninja job class — approximately four cities before it was possible to purchase or acquire any equipment for ninjas. I am a sad, sad man.

    While FFT is easily the most widely recognised and celebrated of Matsuno’s career output, I have to say that Tactics Ogre may actually be my very favourite of what he’s done. The story was less byzantine and, let’s face it, schizophrenic, the final run of battles at the end wasn’t the gaming equivalent of a half-melted McFlurry as the dessert of a five-course meal at a four-star Michelin restaurant (seriously, how could the rest of FFT be so good, and the final bosses miss the mark so badly?), and while the class system wasn’t quite as much fun to muck around with as the jobs class on FFT, the combinations of troops you could bring to bear in Tactics Ogre were endless, not to mention endlessly entertaining.

    Given that Tactics Ogre is a personal top five game for me all time, I think, I also have to say the one I’ve spent the most time with is, honestly, the original Ogre Battle. It’s a game that functions as a time sink unlike virtually any other game I think I’ve ever encountered — or, at least, until I started running into multi-hundred hour modern open-worlders like Skyrim — and I still remember renting it for the first time from the little video shop a mile away from my house when I was, what, about twelve? — based on the box art alone. I was instantly hooked, falling in love primarily with some of the most innovative, fascinating character designs I had ever encountered, not to mention a story that honestly FELT as epic as it was supposed to and a troop-management system I just couldn’t get enough of.

    I think part of the appeal, for me, of the character designs came from my time a few years earlier doing the whole tabletop lead-figure collecting game thing, when my best friend Mike and I would spend all our allowances on lead or plastic figures from the Book Shelf hobby shop a couple towns over, then spend all night painting them up with tiny brushes borrowed from my mother, creating our own legions of personally-coloured troops, my own favourite colour combination being yellow, red, and black for most of my armies at the time. I remember something of that feeling, the feeling of building something as much as playing something, and the same feeling I so adored with things like Legos (which I also owned a ton of; I was a lonely child, often placated with toys or video games to simply go away), coming to me whilst creating and managing my army in Ogre Battle. The hard fantasy setting especially appealed to me as a twelve year old, as it was exactly what I was super into at the time.

    It’s funny; my friend Mike fell way down the rabbit hole of things like Dungeons and Dragons and, later, playing Ultima Online in its very early days, not to mention all the tabletop miniature games I just spent so many words discussing, but I went a little different route. I owned tons of D&D books myself (the Spelljammer campaign setting being my eventual favourite, which should tell you there really is something wrong with me), and huge amounts of those little figurines, but I derived far more enjoyment out of just reading the game module books and painting the figures than I did actually playing the games themselves. I loved building my Lego habitations, painting my army, and mentally inhabiting those worlds contained within the pages of those books; the actual game aspect of the games seemed very secondary to me. Strange, I know, but there it is.

    And that, in very, very many words, is much of what I love so much about all these Matsuno games being discussed here today. There’s that feeling of world-building and management as much as playing a game that I just adore, whether it’s the huge number of various units from Ogre Battle to recruit and deploy and arrange into troops, or the job tree of FF Tactics to learn and plan out. There’s something about that feeling of building your own thing from whole cloth that has always enthralled me.

    I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of Ogre Battle only later, with the Playstation One rerelease (which is an excellent version, by the way, with several really nice enhancements to the game play, though as with so many other PS1 ports of SNES games, loading times are a constant nuisance), and I still break it out at times to this day. My friend Luke and I will occasionally play it long into the night, coming home from an evening of drinking very fancy, very overpriced beer and flirting with the very cute and much too young girl tending bar (well, I flirt; he has dignity), and then settle in for several hours of a 20-year old nerdfest of a game I fell in love with as a child. Somehow, it’s the very best a video game can bring, I think.

    The one game on this list I’ve missed out on, and one I always meant to hit but just never quite got the chance, is Vagrant Story. It looked amazing when it came out, I planned on getting it, and then…just didn’t. One of those things where I just had other games to play, and other life stuff to keep me busy, probably, and I never got around to playing it. I probably bought something crappy like Legend of Legaia instead, sad as that is to say. I really need to track down a copy of VS and finally play it.

    Actually, I shouldn’t say Vagrant Story is the only game on this list I’ve missed playing; it’s the only one I really MEANT to play and didn’t. The others here never instantly reached out to me and said, “Play me!”, the way the Ogre series game or whatever did. Are there any I’m specifically missing out on?

    So, to wrap up: fantastic topic, probably my personal favourite you guys have covered to date (just because the games themselves happen to be so very dear to me), and an amazing job covering so much territory by all of you. And cool to hear Ms. Bailey on again; the Wario episode from the beginning of this run was my first introduction to her, and she’s a really nice addition to the crew here.

    Love this episode, and love these games. And, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day just passed, I love the Retronauts, too. Great job, guys. And gals.

  2. Oh, one other thing I started to mention but then whirled away in a different direction: the comically broken combat system of Final Fantasy Tactics, which brought the ridiculous mechanic of directed self-mutilation from Final Fantasy 2 (which sucks, no matter what anybody tries to say), to its glorious, logical conclusion of a group of soldiers rabbling about, beating the living hell out of each other for hours on end while an enemy cowers away in the corner of the map so they can improve their abilities. Good times.

    Oh, and speaking of job-system related goodness, I have to recommend to any Retronauts listeners again Bravely Default. It seems to be very much the spiritual successor to this line of job-heavy titles that runs through FF3, FF5, was so magically addicting in FF Tactics, and was so embarrassing but still kind of fun to mess around with in Final Fantasy X-2 (if you could have just removed the part of that game where I felt like I was watching the skeevy fan-service parts of most anime the whole time I was playing it, there was a surprisingly enjoyable game waiting to happen). I’m mainlining Default right now, and it’s really fantastic. Old school RPG fans of the world, unite!

    Sorry for the off-topic comment, not to mention letting the present into our own little Fallout-style caught in the past bunker, but Bravely Default has enough in common with FF Tactics it sort of is relevant, right? (Please don’t ban me from your wonderful podcast!)

  3. “Hey, that’s not anime art!” – says 12 year old me about Conquest of the Crystal Palace. I can totally agree with your box art logic towards picking up games. After actually seeing it in action, I feel really bad I missed out on it. Odd that I actually was okay with renting Clash at Demonhead, because its metal t-shirt style art was probably just as bad.

    Anyway, this was a very good episode, and I feel the editing was fine. Although, I admit to laughing when I expected to hear a Queen song and got–nothing.

    • That was my mistake. I should have added the song as soon as I got there in the editing, but I don’t own any Queen and decided to hunt it down later. When I went back to edit it in, I’d made so many cuts and splices to make the remote audio tracks work together it would have been a ridiculous amount of work to get it to work.

  4. Heh, weird. I’ve always assumed that Bothtec was a continuous existence throughout the 90s, but apparently not, the later Bothtec was established in 1997: https://web.archive.org/web/20070524115342/http://www.bothtec.co.jp/profile/index.htm
    Still used the same comapny logo as the old Bothtec of the home computer days, though. I wonder what’s the connection. Yet another Japanese company mystery…

    As for Matsuno’s games, I can say that he may be the only writer who can make me hold on to games I find horrible to play. Vagrant Story I thought was a mess, not necessarily for the actual mechanics (though I’m not and probably never will be a fan of item crafting systems either), but just because you spend what felt like 90% of playing time in the menus switching gear and stuff, and then 9% doing box puzzles. Then I fought the final (I think) boss, and he did that attack whose animation takes like two minutes with some random split second opportunity to parry in between, and it killed me instantly and I was like “I’m done with this.”

    Final Fantasy XII was alright as a game, but I’ve rarely played a game where the executive meddling and inconsistent artistic vision was more visible in the final work (maybe Ultima IX).

    The only “Matsuno game” I despise was FF Tactics Advance. Never was I more disappointed in a game, after the stunning PlayStation original. I was so bored and annoyed by it, I quit after a few missions and sold it. I think it may have been the very first video game I didn’t play through after buying with my own money (aside from neverending stuff like puzzle games, obviously). Worst of all, I found the writing to be absolutely terrible. (Matsuno didn’t write the game, neither did he direct it. His only credit on there is as a producer.)

    Crimson Shroud I think is by far the best of his games, that one baffingly stupid flaw notwithstanding. Like me some Ogre Battle, too. Tactics Ogre I never really got around to dive into for some reason.

    Anyway, I’m really looking forward to Unsung Story, cause I share Jeremy’s assessment that Matsuno is best as an idea man. However, I do hope there will be also some kind of follow-up to Crimsons Shroud. Bite size is the best size for RPGs, but I want some more bites of that.

  5. I’d like to personally thank Hugh Franck for backing you guys to finally get this episode made. Man, I don’t know you, but you did us all a big favor

  6. Great episode guys, possibly the best yet. Everyone had something to share, and with passion behind all of your words. It was a perfect dichotomy between the whole group on this topic and I think one of only two real times that everyone participated pretty much equally. Seriously, loved it.

    Funny that it was this episode with some of the more noticeable technical issues, but for having edited it abroad I think you did a good job Jeremy, and can only imagine it will be that much more polished next time you host.

  7. Great episode, guys (and Kat)! Well worth the donation.

    Also kudos for both spelling and pronouncing my name correctly – I was impressed.

  8. Another excellent episode. I just played FF XII for the first time a couple years ago, and it’s one of my favourite titles in the whole series. I can’t wait until next weeks episode.

  9. Great episode guys — I immediately went and downloaded Crimson Shroud and started it up. It almost felt like a text adventure at first, then it opened up a bit.

    I own Vagrant Story and Let us Cling Together but haven’t played those yet.

  10. Good episode. what kind of mic’s did you guys use for this episode? I’m so used to hearing Kat with a scratchy voice that I thought it was someone else. Also? this episode makes me want to play ffxii…and I never could get into that game!

  11. So, while listening to the episode, for some reason I thought that you’d forgotten Ogre Battle 64, only to discover when I researched it after getting home that Matsuno wasn’t involved in Ogre Battle 64.

    As far as adjusting to the job system goes. While I hadn’t played any strategy RPGs that used a similar system on computers or consoles before playing Final Fantasy Tactics, I managed to adjust to it fairly well because of my experiences playing tabletop RPGs – not just Dungeons & Dragons, but also games like Shadowrun and GURPS, which gave you lots of opportunities to customize your characters based on the abilities you spent your character points on. It didn’t take much for me to sort of re-interpret the Job system as a hybrid of a character point system like GURPS’ and Shadowrun’s systems, and a class based system like AD&D’s (D&D 3e hadn’t come out at the time).

    As it is, when D&D 3e and 4e came out later, their appeal to me was somewhat heightened to similarities I saw with strategy RPGs, but crossover between tabletop RPGs and video games is something for another time and another podcast (and if there ever is a second Kickstarter and I have money at the time, I might fund at a level to get that episode).

    Anyway, this was a really great episode and I learned a lot from it.

  12. Stellar episode, Retronauts! My only experience with Matsuno’s body of work is awkwardly stumbling through War of the Lions (which he technically wasn’t involved in but you know what I mean) when I was a bit too young to really grasp it (at all). However, after listening to this episode I feel incredibly compelled to really dive into the guy’s oeuvre. Thanks a bunch for really energizing me to explore some awesome games that I might not have ever gotten around to otherwise!

  13. I’m echoing other people’s sentiment here, but this was a great episode!

    I actually don’t know much about Matsuno or his games, but your enthusiasm really comes through when you discuss things that you clearly love and are passionate about. This was a really fascinating and informative episode, and it was a lot of fun to listen to! I’m looking forward to your discussion on the Ivalice games!

    Thank you!

  14. Damn you, Retronauts. Damn you right to the Zeteginan Empire. I now have to try and play Ogre Battle again, after giving up in helpless frustration almost 20 years ago. I thought I was a seasoned RPG player–both on consoles and on PC. Console RPGs? Your final fantasies, your dragon quests, your dungeon magic(s)? No problem. PC versions? I’d beaten every Wizardry through 7 at that point (yes, even 4). Ultimas? Child’s play. Gold Box games? I ate them for breakfast.

    Then I got Ogre Battle. I loved, LOVED the main interface of the game. I loved the incentive to explore every map for hidden items and even cool characters. I liked building my parties–this one for speed, this for liberating cities, this for ocean combat, etc. But I could not for the life of me figure out why all of my characters’ alignments were on a perpetual downward path and why I could never, EVER get any of the good aligned class upgrades (I realize now it was because I didn’t pay enough attention to enemy strength, and I occasionally killed leaders first). Suffice it to say, the Retronauts’ invidious nostalgia weapon has done its work, and I now feel the need to return to that inscrutable, Queen-inspired realm.

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