Now Playing May 2019

Beaten

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax – I think I called this game beaten years ago, but all I really beat was the Persona 4 side of the story mode. I recently decided to go back and finish up the other side of the story mode, the one featuring the Persona 3 characters. It is fine. I never quite connected with the P4: Arena fighting games. They look amazing, and have a kind of Marvel vs Capcom big flashy feel, but somehow I’ve never really found them that engaging. Fighting games are a perpetual dalliance of mine, and games that lend themselves to a little button mashing rather than being super technical are usually closer to my tastes. The P4 games do that, but there is a lot of technique under the surface that if I ever understood it, I don’t now. That said, I don’t necessarily dislike the games. I just find them kind of forgettable.

The story mode is about as good as a Pesona 3 & 4 mash up could be. It does a solid job of bringing back the characters and unlike in Persona Q, it lets the Persona 3 cast age, instead of catching them in some nonexistent moment in that game when the whole gang’s together. Here, the characters have moved on, in some ways. The fact that the game has to keep them focused on shadow hunting means that their futures have been a little stunted. Still, it is fun to see a somewhat more mature Junpei, or to see Yukari put all of her skills to use. And to see Ken all grown up. I am not as eager as I was a half-decade ago to return to these characters. When I was really into Persona 3 and 4, I wanted nothing more than some adventures with those casts (I say despite never finishing Persona 3: The Answer). Now, coming off of enjoying but not especially connecting with Persona 5, they feel a little like something I have outgrown. I do intend to replay Persona 4 someday, maybe I’ll find out if that is the case or not then. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a really good fighting game containing a pretty good Persona story. I’m glad I went back and saw most of the rest of what it had to offer.

Ongoing

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey – I am nearing the end on this. It is one of the best original DS games and it really picks up in intensity near the end. The combat system does feel a lot less refined than that found in later Shin Megami Tensei games, and some previous Shin Megami Tensei games. It is so simple, with it almost forcing the player to keep demons that share alignment with the player in their party and hoping that you get demons that are the right alignment and with acceptable weaknesses for whatever boss is coming up. I am going to take a break from this for Persona Q2, but I’ll get back to it after. Maybe I’ll do both if I can get my regular DS back from my brother after half a decade.

Yakuza 6 – I should have this beaten before too long. I intended to replay Yakuza’s 3-5 before starting this, but with Judgment coming out in June and this just sitting there, looking me in the face unplayed, I felt like I had to fire it up. I am glad I did. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the Yakuza formula. Replays of the three PS3 games are still on the docket.

Upcoming

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth – I may be out of Etrian Odyssey games on the 3DS, and new 3DS games in general, but that is not stopping me from getting on this last 3DS first person dungeon crawling hurrah. I liked the first Persona Q just fine, even if it flattened out all the characters to fit into the format and into the constraints of a story with that many characters. I expect this one to be even worse in that regard, but one last romp with characters I love from Persona 4 and Persona 3, with characters from Persona 5 there as well, is hard to pass up. Especially when it is bundled with the map drawing excellence of Etrian Odyssey.

Horizon: Zero Dawn – This is only on the list because I am writing this blog post so late. There was a PSN sale and I couldn’t resist picking this up. I know I’ve got another PS4 game coming in late June and an increasingly hefty backlog of titles to play, but the price was good and I’ve heard good things about this game. So once I finish Yakuza 6, I am going to try this game out. Dragon Quest 11, I’ll get back to you eventually.

Crash Bandicoot/Spyro the Dragon – I had some interest in the Spyro the Dragon trilogy remaster, but when I checked prices I found it was cheaper to buy it bundled with the Crash Bandicoot remaster. So I am going to relive my teen years but replay both series of platformer classics.

Judgment – It hits too late for me to likely get to spend that much time with it, but I’ve got this preordered and I am really looking forward to it. I’ll likely love it if it has even 75% of Yakuza’s charm.

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Correcting an Error

I guess I made a mistake. When I was making my 10 favorite games list, there were several that just missed the list. I wrote about many of them, but recently I have realized that I messed up. I don’t know if I should have dropped Chrono Cross or Skies of Arcadia or even Super Mario Galaxy, but I should have put Persona 4 on the list. It was one of the last games I left off and doing so was one of the hardest choices I made. However, I recently purchased Persona 4 Arena and it reminded me that I really, really like that game and its cast.

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Persona 4 Arena helped hammer that home. I’ll write more about that game later, but having scenes with that cast of characters showed me just how much love that cast. While Persona 4 only had a few gameplay tweaks from its thoroughly excellent predecessor, its big improvement was in the characters that join your party. Persona 3’s cast wasn’t bad, but they characters never really rose above being anime character tropes. Especially in the second half of the game, the situation was just so unreal that I kind of lost connection with the characters. Sure, Junpei and Yukari were great, as were Akihiko and Mitsuru. But Ken never really grew on me and Korumaru and Aigis were kind of dumb. This sounds like I’m coming down hard on P3, but I’m not. That game is great, but as good as its characters were, I greatly preferred the group from Persona 4.

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The main character doesn’t just show up out of the blue, he (they named him Yu in P4A, which is clever, but I can’t think of him as anything other than Clark, the name I gave him when I played through P4 the first time) is living with his uncle. There is no school organization dedicated to using Personas to fight Shadows, just a group of school friends investigating a mystery. Again the later joining crewmembers are a little more out there, but none as bad as robot girl Aigis. Naoto is a teenage detective, which fits in well with what the rest of the party is doing and Rise being a popstar is not that distracting. The big oddity is Teddie, but he is not a Johnny come lately like Aigis, but one of the central characters of the game. Figuring out what his deal is is a big part of the game. It is the interactions of the core 4 or 5 characters that really makes Persona 4 work.

Other than the player character, there is Yosuke, Chie, Yukiko and Kanji. All of them are very realistic representations of high schoolers. Yosuke is kind of a well-meaning dunce, often saying and doing stupid things but is for the most part an alright guy. Chie is a tomboy, very much one of the guys even though she technically isn’t a guy. Yukiko is the girly girl, Kanji the tough guy delinquent. I expect everybody knew someone like most of these characters when they were in school. But none of the characters is defined by their initial stereotype, over the course of the game they all grow to be well-rounded characters. The way they interact as they begin to learn more about each other is very real. They cease being just game characters and become realistic friends. And that isn’t even mentioning all of the great supporting charact

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ers, most notably Nanako and Dojima. I have never played a game where the cast felt more alive.

When I fired up Persona 4 Arena and saw a scene of the gang getting back together for a week of vacation, I was overjoyed. I played Persona 4 right as it was released in late 2008. That was shockingly more than four years ago. But getting back together with these characters just felt so right, so natural. It was like stepping into a pair of old shoes. I love this game. Despite not having anywhere near the time to sink 80+ hours into this game, I really want to start a new file up r

ight now. I’m actually considering dropping the money on a Vita if only to play Persona 4 Golden. This game should have been in my Top 10. Maybe I should go ahead and shove it in in place of what would have been #5, Ocarina of Time. It is such a great game.

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