Yakuza Kiwami

Immediately after I finished Yakuza 0, I popped Yakuza Kiwami into my PS4. I had played the original Yakuza back in the day on my PS2, but other than the basics of the story and vague recollections of greatly enjoying it, I didn’t remember much. Going off those memories, Yakuza Kiwami is something of an ideal remake. It keeps the core of the experience intact while updating and fleshing it out and embellishing things.

The story of Yakuza benefits greatly from the context added both by the remake and by Yakuza 0. The story here is probably the simplest that the series has ever been, but it also felt a little lacking. Kiryu takes the blame after his sworn brother Nishiki kills their boss when he tried to rape Kiryu’s, and Nishiki’s, love interest Yumi. Kiryu is released from a ten year prison sentence, excommunicated from his Yakuza clan and finds out that Nishiki has risen far in the organization and become corrupt. So Kiryu tries to get re-acclimated to life outside of prison, he gets caught in plots and counterplots that threaten to tear the Tojo Clan apart. What didn’t really work before was the connection between Nishiki and Kiryu. The original told you how close Kiryu and Nishiki were, but it never really showed that. That problem is exacerbated by the game keeping Nishiki off the screen for almost the entire game. Yakuza Kiwami adds more the start (I think; I don’t remember the first few scenes) and interstitials scenes showing Nishiki’s development while Kiryu was away. Those, combined with the added context from Yakuza 0, work to make the connection between Nishiki and Kiryu believable. It makes more sense that Kiryu wants to reconnect with him despite all he sees and hears. It is still disappointing that two of the most important characters in the game, Nishiki and Yumi, get very little time on screen.

This game is clearly built on the same engine as Yakuza 0. It keeps the same array of fighting styles as that game, with Kiryu having three general fighting styles and one special one that is all but unusable until the end game. It all feels the same as the previous game, which is not a complaint. Both games are a lot of fun.

One of the biggest new change is the addition of the Majima everywhere system. Majima was a relatively small player in the first Yakuza, a memorable character, but not one that has a whole lot of plot significance. Since then, he’s evolved into one of the more loved characters in the series, up to his costarring role in Yakuza 0. To give him more to do here, Kiwami added Majima everywhere. With Majima everywhere, Majima takes it on himself to get Kiryu back into fighting shape after his prison stint by randomly fighting him all over town. With each encounter, or a set number of encounters, Kiryu traditional Dragon style is powered up. It is less annoying than it seems, at least initially. Majima uses all four of his fighting styles from Yakuza 0, so it isn’t the same fight over and over. He also trots out a series of costumes and hiding places to keep things interesting. And it works, at least until near the end of the game, when you’ve seen just about everything he has to offer and are trying to trigger specific encounters to finish upgrading the Dragon style. I don’t think the reward system for it was a good idea, since major parts of Majima Everywhere are locked behind story stuff, meaning Kiryu’s main style can’t effectively be used for most of the game.

Yakuza Kiwami is mostly just more of that Yakuza goodness. The game somehow manages the melodrama of the main plot with tons of inconsequential and downright goofy substories. Kiryu is a gangster with a remarkable aversion to actually do crimes, other than assault. Something new I noticed is how much this game draws from Battles Without Honor or Humanity, an excellent series of movies about the yakuza. The title is even referenced in a chapter title. The first movie starts with the forming of a yakuza clan in the aftermath of WWII as the rise and splinter and fall. A big part of that is one of the characters going to jail for a few years, only to get out and find all of his old friends either dead or changed. It takes up about a half hour in the movie, but it is essentially the same set up as Yakuza Kiwami.

Yakuza Kiwami is good. Newcomers to the series can start either here or with Yakuza 0 and miss nothing. I’ve recently beaten 0 and 1, and I’ve got Kiwami 2 and 6 on deck. I think I might take a trip through the whole series before finishing up with Kiryu’s grand farewell in Yakuza 6. Mostly because my Mario replay is wrapping up and I need a new project to fail to complete.

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Monster Hunter World

I was admittedly pretty nervous about Monster Hunter World. While the trailers and previews I had seen looked excellent, they had made one thing very clear to me: Capcom was changing things up with this game. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the changes seemed like they might be affecting core of the series and could change Monster Hunter into something else. While there are certainly things about the series that could use some updating, altering the series too much runs the risk of losing what made it so compelling in the first place. Luckily, Capcom managed to focus on just the changes that needed to be made, making a completely modern feeling Monster Hunter game that still plays like a Monster Hunter game. Maybe the best Monster Hunter game.

Monster Hunter World is still Monster Hunter. The game removes a lot of the seams from the game, but it still plays largely the same. Some of the smartest moves Capcom made were about the stuff that the game didn’t change. The array of weapons are the same as they have been for the last two games. There have been adjustments to how each weapon works, but they are same ones that have been there for years now. It is a familiar base to build from as other things are altered. The structure also hasn’t changed, it is still up to four players hunting a beast or two, it still has the same rhythm. You take a quest, you eat a meal and then you go out on a hunt. The combat is the weighty, measured affair that it has always been. Afterwards, you take your rewards and try to build better gear to kill bigger monsters. That repetitive, simple core of the game is what makes it so easy to lose yourself in. After every couple of quests you can make some new weapon or armor and you will be a couple of piece closer to making the next one on the list.

Monster Hunter World takes the bones of the series and then takes advantage of the greater power available to them with the current consoles. That means that the graphics are significantly improved. Which is to be expected; the last few games were on the 3DS and the last console one was originally made for the Wii (it did get a WiiU upres, but it was still working off of Wii base graphics). It also allows for the maps to be more intricate and layered. Instead of just a dozen screens to run around in, the areas in this game are dense, dynamic environments. The game has removed the loading screens between areas, meaning that each map is now one big playground, albeit a playground with a lot of interesting little areas to explore. Aside from looking better, the monsters have more fluid arrays of behavior, especially when there are more than one of them about. Monsters seem to truly interact with each other, getting in fights and acting according to certain characteristics. The big alpha monsters of each area scare off the smaller game, roughly equally powerful monsters fight it out. Before, the only monster that really acted anything like that was Deviljho (someone will correct me with monsters I forgot). The game just feels more alive than previous games in the series have.

The other thing that Monster Hunter Word added was to the hunting part of the formula. Before the hunter part consisted of a lot of tedious, mostly fairly simple systems. Bring a spit to cook meat on, Paintballs to hit a monster and mark it on the map. Just a lot of little systems that don’t add a whole lot, but also weren’t all that much of a hassle. Now, the game adds some track checking and some fireflies that after you find a monster’s trail help lead you to it. Of course, those fireflies do more than lead the player to monsters, they also lead players to any sort of item that you need to forage out in the wild. They are a really elegant edition.

The biggest problem I have with Monster Hunter World is that there really aren’t as many monsters as previous games. That is to be expected with the jump to new hardware, but it is still a little disappointing. The new monsters are mostly really cool, but I really miss some of my old favorites, like Brachydios and Zinogre. Hopefully, Capcom will add some of those back in later editions, that I am sure are coming, or sequels. As it stands, Monster Hunter World is excellent.

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.