I solve the issue of the storm sonata and manage to continue on in Grasshopper Manufacture’s Contact. But for a price.
Summary of the Session
In tonight’s session with Contact, I got through what I hope is the game’s last obscure moment.
After trying to go to Akumojo Castle for the first time, you’re shown that there’s a storm swirling around it that makes getting to the castle impossible. The Professor’s able to figure out that the CosmoNOTs have the pop idol Nadia working for them, and apparently she’s playing a song that holds the storms in place. He also tracks the source of Nadia’s playing to Riko Island. On the island you definitely do find Nadia. But when you try to take the sheet music when she’s not looking you just wind up with an icon of a piece of sheet music and a red check mark at the top of your screen. And really, I’m not sure if this is supposed to be helpful or if it’s some kind of glitch since the icon and the check stay at the top of your lower screen until you reset the game.
Anyway, luckily I’d remembered vaguely that someone in Habara mentioned something about sheet music. So I went forth.
And I found it out – I happened to be exactly right. On the floor before the one that’s dead silent (third, if memory serves), there’s a clerk selling the Blue Sky March for 10,000 gold.
At first I thought that I could probably kill him and he might drop it, but deciding against that, I instead sold what I could and got up to 5000 gold. About 40 minutes of grinding, and a few more sales, later, I had enough for the music, paid for it and warped back to the Professor’s ship. Then I went to Riko Island where I swapped the Storm Sonata Nadia had been playing for the Blue Sky March I just picked up. As you might’ve guessed this cleared up the storms around Akumojo Castle and now I can start the game’s final area.
Feeling satisfied, albeit a little unready because of all the potions I used during my gold farming, I saved and I quit.
Misuse of Mechanics
I remember reading that part of what Suda51 was going for with Contact was the feel of old 16-bit RPGs. In particular, he wanted to make a game that was as obscure as some of those older gems are, almost to the point where playing without some sort of walkthrough was nearly impossible. Thankfully Contact doesn’t go to that extreme often, but you really do have to talk to every NPC and keep tabs on just about everything they say to keep away from GameFAQs while playing this one. This business with the sheet music is definitely an example of where paying so much attention helps, but it could’ve been carried off better.
As it is, you’ve got to just farm gold or take a chance on the clerk’s dropping the sheet music when you kill him. Admittedly, at this part of the game, I don’t think you’d need to worry too much about your karma score (unless it ties into the game’s ending), so killing him until he drops the sheet music isn’t a terrible idea. But, if, like me, you don’t want to shed innocent blood even in a video game, then your only option is to get farming.
The thing is, I see this as Suda51 having picked the more boring of two evils.
There’s no denying that this sort of thing – the super expensive or rare item that just so happens to be needed to move the story forward – is a common way to extend a game a bit at worst and to generate a sense of value at best. But, because this is an RPG, and one of the things that makes RPGs special is that they’ve got a lot of world and character to explore, just having to farm gold until you can afford the Blue Sky March is missing the point of these game extending sections. Instead of farming gold, you should’ve had to trade for the sheet music.
Now, I’m assuming that Akumojo Castle is the last area of the game here, and I could be wrong. But if it is, the run up to it should involve revisiting everything you’ve done before so you get a sense of what’s brought you to this point in the story and in your understanding of the game’s world. Trading quests can be tedious, but since Contact already trains you to pay attention to the details, running around to all the major islands again before facing the game’s last dungeon would’ve been a great way to tie the experience together.
Though, that Suda51 went with the gold farming route instead makes sense to me, since I’ve never really had a strong sense of what’s going on in Contact.
Terry, the player character, basically ends up caught between the Professor, a lone wolf whom we can only assume has the universes’ best interests in mind, and the CosmoNOTs, a group of people who are opposed to the Professor for…reasons. It’s very much established that these two parties are rivals, enemies even, but we’re never really told why.
More importantly, we’re never really told why these two groups’ motivations have them at loggerheads. Is it simply because the CosmoNOTs want to destroy the universe or planets or something with the crystals’ power while the Professor needs to crystals to preserve life in some sort of new experiment? Or is it the other way around and is the Professor really the bad guy? This sort of misdirection is, admittedly, played out in a lot of these fish out of water adventure stories, but it’d still be neat for there to be more going on than “Oh no! Those guys are about to get the next crystal! Go get it first!”
So, I’m not sure which comes first when Suda51’s designing games – the mechanics or the story, but I get the sense that his choosing to make the final key item something exorbitantly priced rather than an item tied to characters and settings reflects a certain lack of faith in the game’s story and characters. Which is weird, since so much attention has to be paid to play this game without a walkthrough.
How much attention do you think should be paid to things like NPCs in video games? Should game designers put important story progression-related information in NPC dialogue boxes? Or should NPC chatter be limited to things like sidequests?