Now Playing June 2019

Beaten

Yakuza 6 Read about it here. Goodbye Kazuma Kiryu

Spyro the Dragon – I’ve got the Reignited Remasters. Full post coming soon.

Ongoing

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth – I hate to say this, but I am not really feeling this game. It kind of feels like the worst of both worlds when combining SMT/Persona and Etrian Odyssey. They tried to jazz the map making up with some of Persona 5’s style, but they succeeded only in making the whole process infinitely more tedious. The game starts you with the Persona 5 crew, understandably, minus the characters you’d actually want to play as (meaning no Makoto) and one strange, atonal addition. The game also just inundates the player with pointless text. Everything is over-explained and every character feels the need to pipe up at every opportunity. I don’t see how adding two more games’ worth of cast is going to fix things. I’ve just unlocked the Persona 4 crew and this has not improved. The battles at this point, when I don’t really have a lot of skills to work with, have been slogs.

Crash Bandicoot –

I gave up on this about halfway through and I have a sizable post about it in the pipeline. I was playing the PS4 N-Sane Trilogy remaster. I hope the sequels are better.

Horizon: Zero Dawn – This is very much a modern open world game. Strong shades of Assassin’s Creed. It is also, apparently, a modern WRPG. Experience levels, skill trees, the works. The only thing that differentiates this from Bioware’s stuff is in how it is presented. I am liking it; I just cleared the first chapter and the world has opened up. I could see myself losing a lot of time in this game.

Judgment – I think I’ve made it perfectly clear that I love the Yakuza series. A game in that world, but you instead play a lawyer turned detective who is investigating crimes sounds like the best thing in the world to me. And maybe it is, I haven’t played enough of Judgment to decide one way or the other. I will say that it doesn’t make the best first impression. I just finished playing Yakuza 6, and this game clearly shares a lot of DNA with that one. However, in putting in the new investigation elements, it feels like it has fractured the experience. Things just feel a lot less fluid than they do in Yakuza. The most obvious example is running. In Yakuza you hold a button to run; in Judgment you push a button to essentially toggle run on and I have yet to find a way to stop running outside of stopping moving altogether.

Upcoming

Sword Coast Legends – I enjoyed the time I spent with this last year and I’m tired of it taking up space on my PS4 harddrive, so I think I am going to rush through it before I really get into Judgment.

Wii Game – I had Epic Mickey on here a few months ago and I might make another attempt at that. I’ve also got a solid list of games I have either never played or barely played.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – I was long intrigued by this game, but when I finally bought it I barely got started on it before kind of just giving up it up. I want to get back to it. I have several other PS3 games I’d like to knock off my backlog, so I might try something else out.

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Persona 5

I don’t feel like I’m being fair to Persona 5.  It is a great game.  In terms of mechanics and aesthetics there is nothing it doesn’t do better than its predecessors, which should be expected with nearly a decade between releases.  But my thought immediately after finishing it was that it was no Persona 4. What I’ve been forced to realize over the two months it took me to play this game is that that realization is as much about me as it is about the game itself.

Persona 5 is much like the previous two entries in the series.  It follows the same structure with mostly the same battle system.  It isn’t identical, P5 adds demon negotiation and some different damage types, but the bones are the same.  You still try to hit weaknesses to get extra turns.  The best new addition to the battle system is the baton pass, which allows you to pass the turn to another party member after you down an enemy.  That lets the player spread attacks around, adding another layer of strategy on an already robust battle system.  The Shin Megami Tensei super-series got that battle system mostly right as far back as 2004’s SMT: Nocturne.  The tweaks we got with Persona 5 are a small evolution, not a great shaking of the foundations. But when the system is as good as this one is there is no real problem with sticking with what works. Final Fantasy has got a lot of good miles out of that ATB.

The game also keeps the calendar based structure.  You play a year in the life of a Japanese high schooler, making friends and solving a supernatural mystery.  Each day has a rhythm and a purpose.  There are confidants, the new name for S. Link where the protagonist builds his relationships with the other party members, as well as a handful of classmates and acquaintances. While the main story goes on, that is how you get each character’s individual story.  It is all mostly like the previous two games in the series.

Though I still liked it this time, Persona 5 did not grab me like 3 and especially 4 did.  I don’t think that is on the game.  The battle system is definitely improved.  There are just generally a lot of little fixes that makes it a smoother experience.  While I don’t think the localization was quite as impressive this time as Atlus’s work has been in the past, otherwise it was a better game, at least mechanically.  I think it flails a little story wise, but only because its ambition is so much greater than Persona 4’s.  In that game, the party was solving a local murder mystery.  The body count rose, but it was very limited in scope. Persona 5 has the cast trying to reform all of society.  Their goals and scope are so much greater that it is hardly a surprise that it starts to break down a little at its edges.

I just didn’t connect with the cast, at least not until past the midway point, and in a game that is as much about the story as this one, not connecting with the cast makes it hard to connect with the game Was that because they are not as strong of characters as the gang from Persona 4? I would say they are not, but I think the reason I didn’t connect with them is that when Persona 4 game out, I was in my early 20s and just a few years removed from high school and still in college.  The tribulations of these high school students were relatable and felt real to me.  Now I am in my early 30s and I just don’t find these high schoolers relatable.  I was less inclined to like them, and the game had to work that much harder to get me on board.

There is one thing that I think Persona 4 absolutely did better, which was to make the characters really seem like friends.  Even without the supernatural goings on, most of that cast would have been friends anyway.  Maybe not hiding pop star Rise or famous detective Naoto, but the rest seem likely.  Throughout the game I got the impression that these characters liked each other and would hang out as friends anyway.  Other than Ryuji and the protagonist, I didn’t get the feeling that Persona 5’s cast particularly cared for each other.  They seemed pretty disconnected from each other.

Still, I really enjoyed the game, it just isn’t a game that will come to mind when I think of my favorites like Persona 4 does.  Realizing that it never could is the hardest part to swallow.  I still want experiences like Persona 4 or Lunar 2 or the like, but I fear that even were I to find them I wouldn’t be able to appreciate them. Maybe that is a good thing, why should I like the same things at 20 that I like at 30. Or maybe I’m overreacting. Persona 5 was a lot of fun and I liked it.  Maybe the previous game in the series was just exceptional and this one was merely really good.

Persona Q

I love Persona 3 and Persona 4. They are some of my favorite games on the PS2, well-realized on both the gameplay and story sides of things. I also have greatly enjoyed the Etrian Odyssey series on the DS and 3DS. Though the two series are plenty different, such as Persona’s incredibly well written characters and Etrian Odyssey’s player created blank slates, they also have significant overlap. Both are fairly difficult dungeon crawlers, imbued with an old school sensibility that forces players to fend for themselves at times. The announcement that Atlus was making a game that combined the gameplay of Etrian Odyssey with the characters from those two Persona games was about the best thing I could imagine. While the end result was an excellent game, it didn’t quite live up to my exaggerated expectations. Everything combined nicely, except for the cast. There are just too many characters there for any of them to get their due. Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth expertly turns the various systems of both Persona and Etrian Odyssey into an engaging gameplay experience, but can’t quite make room for all the characters in the story.

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The battle system is an odd mix of the two series. It has the Shin Megami Tensei series’ elements and focus on hitting weakness, but also Etrian’s binds. It uses Personas, but not in the same way that rest of the series does. Each character has their set Persona, but each character is allowed a secondary Persona. They don’t alter stats or anything like that; they are simply receptacles for extra skills and a slight HP/TP boost. The boost is the biggest quirk of the battle system. The bonus HP/TP regenerates at the end of every battle. It incentivizes using some skills in every battle, but not going all out. It is best to use one strong skill, which is essentially free, and finish battles quickly rather than get drawn into a long battle. The boss battles turn things on their head, though. Instead of quickly know outs, they are going to be long drawn out fights. They tend to be more frustrating than fun, since you have to change your strategy around completely to make it work.

It is a battle system prone to wide swings in momentum. Critical hits or hitting a weakness gives that character a free use of a skill. If you can consistently hit weakness the battle turns in your favor, if not you drain your resources very quickly. It can be frustrating, when only a few battles sends you back to heal up, but when things are going right it is quite satisfying. Also, instant death magic in this game is stupidly overpowered. To make the majority of a breeze, just jam Naoto, who has both flavors of instant death magic, into your party and obliterate everything in your path. Combine it with the skill impure reach, easily available at low levels, and she destroys the game by herself. It makes it hard to look at anything else when one strategy is so overwhelmingly effective.

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The dungeon crawling is the best in any of the Etrian games, better than those in Strange Journey, the DS attempt at a similar style game. Each floor brings a new and tougher puzzle. In terms of complexity, Persona Q’s floors start out near the middle of an Etrian game and work up from there. They tend to be very windy with specific puzzles rooms. The difficulty of the puzzles depends on the player’s fear of the FOEs. The game conditions players to fear them, but often if you treat them like a boss battle the FOEs can usually be defeated. They tend to hand out both drops for good equipment and a healthy chunk of experience, making it worth the player’s time.

The story is the big disappointment with game is the story. I came in wanting to enjoy it, expecting to enjoy it. And to a certain extent it is. The central storyline, that of Rei and Zen and why the two teams are stuck in the dungeon is solid. Nothing too unexpected or groundbreaking, but it is a solid enough foundation to build this story on. The problem is with the characters. All of the returning characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, in their own games, great characters. Combined, however, there are just too many of them, so none of them can get enough focus to feel real. It doesn’t help that none of them can actually change, since they have to go back into their own games from right where they disappeared.

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Really, there are just too many characters around. Only 5 can go in the party at once, but all 17 them talk as though you brought them along in the dungeon. So the whole cast gets reduced to one drop in characteristic. Teddy is after the girls, that is his only motivation. Chie likes meat, Akihiko protein and Rise the P4 MC. Some of them do come off better than others, though. Little Ken from P3 strikes up an unlikely friendship with P4’s Kanji. Occasionally Mitsuru gets through an uncharacteristic fun. Aigis was never my favorite character, but here her robot act, as overplayed as it is, is a fun counterpoint to the rest of the game. For the most part, the one-note cliché’s the characters are reduced to drop in far too often to to interrupt the player’s progress through the dungeons. A few times is okay, but it is constant and unceasing, making what should be a delight something that is more than a little frustrating.

The last problem with the game is that it hangs around just a little too long. Persona Q took me about sixty hours to beat, but I stopped enjoying it after about forty five. I trudged through the last dungeon, which is fine on its own merits, continuing with the game out of a stubborn desire to not let the game beat me. I should have just let it go; I would likely have remembered it better. Now that I’ve beaten it, I like it again, but I don’t love it. If I were to redo my Top 10 list from last year, it would either move from where I put it at to slot 10 or just off the list at 11, or maybe just stay where it was. Persona Q: Shadow if the Labyrinth is as good as anyone should have expected it to be, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get my hopes up way too high and set myself up for some slight disappointment.

I’ll Face Myself

p4a

Last summer, for about two months I developed an intense infatuation with fighting games. They were all I played. I wrote a couple of blog posts about them, but apparently never managed to get them posted. Maybe I still have them somewhere, outlining my thoughts on about a half dozen different games, from my ineffectual struggles to become competent at King of Fighters XIII to my drunken mastery of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 to my surprising indifference to Street Fighter 4. Also, my thoughts on the surprisingly single player focused Persona 4 Arena.

I like fighting games, but I am no damn good at them. In fact, with a few exceptions I am downright terrible at them. I was quite good at Soul Calibur 2 at one point and with great effort I’ve managed to attain a level of skill at King of Fighters XI and XIII that I’d call “not embarrassing.” Otherwise, though, I am generally very bad. Still, I love the genre. The simple concept mixed with deep mechanics is interesting to me, even if I am unable to master those mechanics. Plus, they tend have some the most colorful characters and absurdly nonsensical stories around. Persona 4 Arena has a colorful story but not a nonsensical one. For a fighting game fan who is inept enough to unable to really play other people, P4A is just about perfect.

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Persona 4 Arena is an extremely accessible fighting game. With its auto-combos and mobile characters, it is very easy to play. It verges on being as much as a button masher as Smash Brothers, but its simplistic surface hides a fighting system with significant depth. Again, I am no expert at exploiting those systems, but I can see them. What is amazing to me is how this game was constructed. Nearly all mechanics in this system are adapted from the Persona RPGs battle system. The Persona’s become some sort of Strikers, popping in to deliver special attacks. Status effects abound, with mute sealing off all attacks that use a persona and poison slowly draining a player’s life bar. On top of that, it does a great job of letting each character’s personality show through their attacks, from Teddy’s goofiness to Kanji’s formless brutality. The game is easy to pick up and play, but there is enough depth for fans of the genre to sink their teeth into.

The big draw, at least for fans of the Persona series, is the story. The story in P4A is a fine, if inessential, addition and an effective bridge between P3 and P4. It plays out largely like a dungeon in Persona 4. Someone is trapped in the TV world, and the investigation team is drawn in to find them. At the same time, part of the crew from Persona 3 ventures in to the TV, chasing a disturbance, which is obviously the same person that the other crew is after. That person turns out to be a prototype of the same kind of robot as Aigis. With help from the other characters, this new robot, Labrys, manages to face her shadow and overcome her problems. Still, the group doesn’t find out who put Labrys in the TV in the first place, leaving a hook for the sequel that I didn’t expect to ever come, though I have been proved wrong.

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I was surprised that I didn’t hate Labrys. One of the things I liked about Persona 4 in comparison to Persona 3 was that it didn’t have any ridiculous stuff like persona using dogs or shadow fighting robots. Not that I didn’t like Koromaru and Aigis, but their presence kept P3 from having the verisimilitude that P4 had. When I saw that the first thing P4A did was add a robot to the P4 cast I was a little annoyed. After playing it, though, I found it worked well to bridge the two games. The P4 cast would show up when anybody appeared in the TV, finding a stolen, supposedly failed, prototype gives the P3 cast a reason to come running and join the other cast. Plus, Labrys’ story makes for a fine justification for the fighting nature of the story.

Honestly, it was just good to see the P4 cast again. I was much more attached to them than the P3 cast, plus they were fresher in my mind. I actually bought the friendships between characters like Chie, Yosuke and Yukiko. Other than their relationships with the protagonist, I don’t remember that camaraderie between the P3 characters. Did Aigis ever have a conversation with Akihiko? I don’t remember. While this game’s story is not perfect, I was happy for any excuse to see these characters together again.

As fanservice, P4A is basically perfect. It is a fun, accessible fighting game that exists mostly to provide an excuse to revisit the one of the most enthralling worlds to have ever existed in a JRPG. Shockingly, it also succeeds at being a solid fighting game too. It’s story mode it absurdly wordy, but it gives the fans what they want. I am eager to play the sequel, though I am unlikely to drop sixty bones on it.

A Strange Journey

I had what I thought was a great idea to play through Persona 3 or 4 over the course of a year, beginning on the date when the game begins and playing a week at a time.  I was going to have a weekly update on the blog here of what I accomplished that week and my general impressions of the game.  Not the most original idea, I know, but I thought it sounded like a fun way to replay one of favorite PS2 games.

That plan fell through.  One reason why was because I didn’t get started in time; I missed the date that either game starts on.  That was not an insurmountable problem; I still could have played a couple of weeks to get caught up and went on from there.  But I also couldn’t decide which of the two games to replay.  I like Persona 4 more, but I’d kind of like a second go at Persona 3 now that I am more familiar with how the Shin Megami Tensei series works.  Again, a problem I could have easily solved.  Another reason I held off was that I wanted to have a way to get some screencaps of the game while I played.  I wasn’t planning to do a full on let’s play or anything, but a couple of shots a week to demonstrate things would have been nice.  I do want to get some kind of capture device on the near future, but I have no definite plans.  Or money for that matter.  That was the big one.  If I am going to devote a year to a project like that, I’d like to do it well.

There is another reason that greatly trumps those three reason for me giving up, or at least delaying, this Persona project.  That reason can be summed up with one picture:

That is my pile of unbeaten Shin Megami Tensei games; there are 9 of them if you add in my PSN copy of Persona 2 Eternal Punishment.  Some of them I’ve not played, like Digital Devil Saga 2 and Soul Hackers.  Others I’ve played quite a bit but haven’t quite beaten, Persona 4 Arena and Devil Survivor 2.  Going off of Howlongtobeat.com, I’ve got about 300 hours of video games in that stack.  I find it hard to justify playing through either of the Persona games again when I haven’t yet played Nocturne.

So now my plan is to try to beat all of those games over the next year, in time to start a Persona replay at the correct date.  I’ve made plans to beat a series of games over the course of a year before (see my still ongoing replay of the Zelda series), but this time it is less of a concrete project and more just making these games a priority.  I’ve enjoyed every SMT game I’ve played so far, but they take so long that I kind of have to set aside time to play them.  First up, I am going to finish the single player of P4A.  I’ve already cleared it as several characters, but I want to try to do with all of them.  It shouldn’t take all that long, but it isn’t exactly fast.  Also, I am going to put a little more time into Devil Survivor 2.  I’ve been playing it some recently, but not putting any serious effort into it.  And these games generally require some effort.  That is part of what makes them great.

While I’ve become a big fan of this series, and all its various sub-series, I haven’t been aware of it for all that long.  The first Shin Megami Tensei game I played was Persona 3.  I bought the FES re-release after hearing the internet gush about the game forever.  I loved it, despite some niggling complaints, mostly about having to rely on AI party members for healing.  There was a notable flaw in the AI that if you were poisoned, they wouldn’t heal it unless you were at full HP.  So every turn they heal your HP, but leave you poisoned so they would have to do the same thing in the next round.  Still, once you learned the idiosyncrasies of the system it was particularly fulfilling.  Persona 3 was not exactly punishingly difficult, but it did keep players on their toes.  The player had to be wary or it would be game over.  After years of Square’s fun but generally toothless RPGS, Persona 3 was a big change and a refreshing one.  I was hooked.

So I looked into the series and tracked down a couple of other SMT games, Digital Devil Saga and Devil Summoner for the PS2, figuring they would keep me busy while I waited for Persona 4.  Neither of them really grabbed me like Persona.  I loved their settings, especially Devil Summoner, but they each had their faults.  I wasn’t a big fan of DDS’s character building system or how it really felt like only half of a game.  It was half of a game that took me fifty hours, but it definitely feels incomplete.  Still, the battle system, which was largely similar to Persona 3’s, with an emphasis on hitting enemy weaknesses for more turns, was largely great.  Devil Summoner’s battle system, though, was limited.  It was an action RPG, but none of the fights were significantly different than any other.  It was all dodge and slash and having the right element.  Fun initially, but repetitive.  Despite not really loving either of those games, I was hooked on the series at this point.

From Persona 4 on a new SMT game was something I greatly looked forward to.  Which is strange, since I’ve only finished two games in the series since then.  I’ve pre-ordered most of them, aside from the PSP games since I didn’t have the system until recently, and spent a lot of time tracking down Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga 2.  But I’ve only managed to finish the first Devil Survivor and Shin Megami Tensei 4.  Though I enjoyed it, Devil Survivor frequently paralyzed me by giving me many choices and no clear idea of their consequences.  It also ended up taking me a long time to beat, which meant that I didn’t end up getting to Strange Journey or even Devil Survivor 2 when they came out.  I have played those two games, getting probably halfway through each of them. SMT 4 was one of my favorite and most anticipated games of last year.  I wasn’t letting anything put me off of playing it.

Shin Megami Tensei games are a constant struggle; that is part of their charm.  They are generally fair in their challenge, but also unrelenting.  Much like Etrian Odyssey, they require players to learn their systems and to exploit those systems.  The enemies will do the same. You have to learn and take advantage of enemies’ weaknesses while covering your own.  The general idea of hitting a weak point for a turn advantage is carried across the series.

The other big draw is how the series makes use of a wide variety of myths and legends to fill out its roster of enemies and allies. They are called Demons general, but they run the gamut from Japanese demons to Celtic heroes to Christian Angels.  But it also uses them as characters in the stories. They aren’t embarrassingly re-imagined like Final Fantasy’s summons (I’m looking at you Shiva) but they are sometimes re-contextualized in a modern setting.  Still, having knowledge of the myth that each creature springs from helps to understand where characters are coming from.  In Persona, a characters persona tells you about their character.  For instance, Persona 3’s protagonist starts with the persona Orpheus, who in the myth went to Hades to save his dead lover, and eventually becomes Thanatos, who is death incarnate.  The game doesn’t just assume you know this stuff, though it doesn’t go out of to inform you either.  Most games have a compendium, a list of all the demons you’ve encountered, that will give you information about them.  That will tell you most of what you need to know.  Having a basis in real myth gives the stories of these games another level that most RPGs lack.  Sure, many of them end up being little more than the typical anime nonsense, but at least there is something going on rather than just blindly hitting all the otaku pleasing tropes.

So I am going to try to get back to Persona 4 Arena soon.  I’m not doing much else with my PS3 right now, though I don’t get a lot of time for games on the TV.  I am also going to try to power through the rest of Devil Survivor 2 soon as well.  That would be a good start, but I doubt I’ll ever be actually caught up on this series.  I expect to see Persona Q here a few months after its Japanese release in June, and Persona 5 is looking to be the big send off for the PS3 some time next year.  Staying on top of this series is a never ending battle, but a worthy one.