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Posts Tagged ‘jrpg – general’

Continuing Adventures, Revisited

I don’t replay games as often as I used to, in part because my backlog of fresh, new-to-me titles has grown so large. The last time I did was in August 2020, when I played through the version of Pinky:st Kira Kira * Music Hour released in Europe, titled Kira Kira Pop Princess. Still, ports and reissues of games I’ve played before enter my collection from time to time, causing me to file mental notes to someday replay the likes of Phantom Brave, Halo: Reach, and Final Fantasy IX.

Oh hey, this looks familiar…

Given that one of my projects this year has been to whittle down the Ys wing of my backlog, on this year’s agenda was Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. The PS2 port of Ys VI was one of the games I wrote about during the very first year this blog was in operation, and I was curious to see how it had held up. This time, I played the PC version, which, aside from the addition of save point warping and some other tweaks, is more or less the same game that Falcom originally released for that platform back in 2003. What this means is that the PS2’s 3D character models are gone in favor of the original sprites, and there’s neither ugly CG FMVs nor substandard voice acting (or any voice acting, for that matter). What few out-of-engine cutscenes exist are done in a 2D style reminiscent of those in other Ys games from that time. Despite some jaggies and blurriness on the 2D art assets—artifacts of this game’s age, if nothing else—this PC version is probably the optimal way to play Ys VI in the year 2022.

As for the game itself, it turned out that my thirteen year-old review was still largely on-point, though I found myself having less patience for the amount of backtracking and grinding I had to do, to say nothing of the ridiculousness of the dash jump controls. The dash jump is a special move that can be used to traverse distances that are a bit too far for a regular jump. To pull one off requires doing a dash attack, which is not an easy thing to do in the first place, while jumping. Given that this was a replay where I didn’t feel like going for any sort of total completion, I gave up trying to reach certain treasure chests after awhile. I still went around and took on the optional bosses, though, which resulted in gear that helped me out a good deal in the endgame.

In comparison with Memories of Celceta, the Ys game I had played prior to this one, it’s evident that the series has come a long way. Celceta isn’t as grindy, sports better map and dungeon designs, and had a bit more variety in general. It’s also about 33% longer than Ys VI, yet with less of a reliance on backtracking and grinding, doesn’t feel as padded out. However, both games share that exhilarating fast-paced sword-swinging gameplay that is a hallmark of the Ys series. Despite their differences, some of which are rather significant, both games fit comfortably within the Ys canon.

There is at least one other replay I want to do this year, the aforementioned Phantom Brave. On my first playthrough of that isometric strategy RPG, I came away loving everything but the gameplay, which is done in a “tile free” style that I found to be fussy more than anything else. As I (successfully) did with Final Fantasy VIII many years ago, I want to give Phantom Brave another chance; the main question is when. As for Ys, I have all three of the latest numbered entries to play next, starting with Ys Seven. Hopefully I can get through both that and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana before the end of the year. I won’t be done with Adol Christin for awhile yet.


Touhou a Go-Go

The Mystery Dungeon clone Dungeon clear! Reimu in Touhou Genso Wanderer ReloadedTouhou Genso Wanderer Reloaded was one of those games I picked up on the strength of my experience with it at a PAX, specifically at the sparsely-populated UNTIES booth in 2018. This was a year before I played Touhou Eiyashou: Imperishable Night, which was my proper introduction to the Touhou series. Later on, I would play through its predecessor, Touhou Youyoumu: Perfect Cherry Blossom, before starting the Switch port of Genso Wanderer, my first Touhou spinoff, more than a year later.

As it turns out, Genso Wanderer would lead me to starting a third mainline Touhou game, and the last one I had in my backlog: Touhou Fuujinroku: Mountain of Faith. This was because there are several prominent characters in Genso Wanderer who were first introduced in Mountain of Faith, the tenth entry in the core series of magical shmups. Two of these characters, Aya and Sanae, star in their own post-game sidestories in Genso Wanderer; another one, the kappa Nitori, plays a key role tied to the crafting system; and the rest of the cast make notable appearances at various points. While there are a bevy of characters from all over the Touhou canon featured throughout, I got the impression that Genso Wanderer‘s developers must’ve loved Mountain of Faith in particular.

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An Epic Adventure, Reasonably Sized

Until this past Sunday, when the credits rolled on Ys: Memories of Celceta, I hadn’t beaten an Ys game since 2013. Even though I love the series, they had been starting to pile up, but so many other games got in the way. A reimagining of Ys IV, Celceta is a fairly standard entry, which is by no means a bad thing. There are a handful of party members to manage, which isn’t typical of many Ys games, along with a sprawling forested overworld, decently-sized dungeons, sidequests, crafting, and more. Weapon reinforcement felt extraneous, especially given the pace at which new gear would be introduced, and a certain dungeon sported some annoying design quirks, but otherwise, this was another engaging adventure with heartthrob explorer Adol Christin. Most importantly, I was able to get through the main story and most of the side stuff in thirty and a half hours. This is two and a half hours more than the average Main+Extra time on HowLongToBeat. I tend to go over these averages by about 10%, so my own beat time was about the length I had expected.

Adol and I have no time to waste!

Length is one area in which Ys games excel. The most recent game in the series, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, is long by series standards, but even that has an average beat time of 41 hours. Compared to some of the other JRPGs I’ve beaten in recent years, this is positively breezy. Back in January, I finally wrapped up Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past with a total logged time of 96:16. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was less of a slog, but still took me just over 72 hours to finish. With some series, such as Pokemon or Disgaea, I come into those games expecting to spend a minimum of fifty hours with them. For mainline Personas, I plan for at least a hundred hours.

As much as I enjoy these series, I do wish that their individual installments were shorter on average, particularly given the size of my backlog. Ys’ stories never feel rushed, have appropriate amounts of tone-setting flavor baked in, and don’t overstay their welcome. Sure, some JRPGs, like the aforementioned Dragon Quest VII, feel bloated in terms of storytelling and lore, but even those with tighter pacing often end up being long. How is it that Ys can pull off a similar experience with less gameplay time?

For starters, Ys-style combat and movement feels snappier than those in other action RPGs, such as the Tales and Kingdom Hearts series. This isn’t unique to action RPGs, either; the turn-based Bravely Default features quick, breezy battles. Ys games also tend to have no more towns than you can count on one hand, which cuts down on NPC chatter. Compare this to Dragon Quest VII, which not only has a ton of towns, but most of these locales change in significant ways depending on the time period you visit them in. There’s also the matter of grinding, which, to be honest, is a non-issue with the main storylines of most JRPGs, but does rear its ugly head every once in awhile. In short, to get a JRPG down to Ys length, a good balance between brevity and design seems to be ideal.

When I looked at some more of last year’s big JRPG releases on HowLongToBeat, it was heartening to see that Monstrum Nox wasn’t alone in terms of reasonable length. Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s Main+Extras time is 42 hours and Disgaea 6‘s is, remarkably, 46.5. Even Tales of Arise has a Main+Extras time that is less than 60 hours, which seems remarkable for a Tales game. Perhaps JRPG developers are finally moving away from the idea, prevalent since at least the PS2 era, that longer equals better. Perhaps they are remembering that the best JRPGs don’t have to be the longest.

I certainly hope so. There are a number of potentially very long JRPGs still sitting in my backlog, some of which are so intimidating in terms of length that I keep putting them off. On the other hand, there’s also more Ys games. The plan is to get through most, if not all, of those Yses by the end of this year, interspersing them with other JRPGs of a reasonable length. As for the longer ones, I’ll continue to chip away at that pile whenever the mood strikes me.


The State of the Backlog

Sure, I didn’t finish many games in 2021, though this year should be different. My backlog is, as usual, jam-packed, and end-of-year sales and gifts added quite a bit to it these past few months. My backlog is so large now that I have mini backlogs for individual series, never mind platforms. I’ve managed to whittle down the unplayed MegaTens to three (six if Persona spinoffs are included), and Dragon Quest games are at four now that I’ve slogged through Dragon Quest VII on 3DS. Disgaea is also at four, including a remake of the first game, which is one of my favorite RPGs of all time, and a co-op centric replay of most of the Halo series, this time via The Master Chief Collection, is in the cards.

Most of my Switch backlog, which has grown by leaps and bounds the past few years

The mini backlog which has concerned me the most these past few years has been for Ys. Ys games tend to be shorter than other JRPGs, with fast-paced action to match, so it’s a wonder why, at the start of the year, I had five of them sitting around. One of these is the PC version of Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, which was one of the very first games I wrote about for this blog, but aside from that, I haven’t played any of the others before. With DQVII done, and wanting a break from that style of gameplay, Ys: Memories of Celceta was one of two JRPGs I started last week. It’s good so far, with a lot of the Ys series hallmarks—driving music, huge bosses, interesting dungeons, and slightly clunky graphics—mixed in with some new touches. It’s pretty much what I expect out of an Ys, which is definitely a good thing.

The other JRPG, stared a couple of days before Celceta, is Touhou Gensou Wanderer Reloaded, a Mystery Dungeon clone set in the Touhou world of Gensokyo. It’s a solid rougelike with some nice tweaks to the formula, such as the ability to keep all of your items, including enhanced weapons, after being wiped out in a dungeon. This makes future runs a bit less painful, provided you don’t lose (or accidentally sell) your best gear. TGWR does assume familiarity with Gensokyo and its residents. (Despite the title, it’s the third in the Touhou Gensou Wanderer series, so it’s possible that some of the past events alluded to are from those previous two games.) I actually started Touhou Fuujinroku: Mountain of Faith, the last mainline Touhou game in my backlog, shortly after starting TGWR because I was curious about certain new-to-me characters. Both games are fun, though Mountain of Faith is harder than I expected, so I don’t know if I’ll ever beat it. As for TGWR, I’ve already finished the main campaign, but haven’t marked it as “beaten” since there’s so much left to do.

I want to start another game soon, preferably something short I can get through in one or two days. There’s a lot of those types of games in my backlog, but I tend to put off the narrative-heavy ones depending on how I’m feeling at the time. Seeing as how I was suffering regular bouts of insomnia for awhile, and still do on occasion, some of these games have gone unplayed for years. For the first one, perhaps I’ll finally finish my run through the Tale of Tales catalog and play Sunset.

Hopefully I can get through many of those shorter games before the year’s out. JRPGs as well; I have a lot of them sitting around unopened, and am aiming to finish at least five of them this year, and ideally, more like twelve. Anyway, that’s the plan. Good luck to everyone else tackling their backlogs in 2022!


Summer of Games

For those who might’ve missed it, P.S. Triple Classic wrapped up a little over a week ago, with a fanart farewell post. You can now read the entire official English-language run of P.S. Triple online, along with commentary and some articles related to this comic. I’m still considering my options for the abandonware iOS apps, but I will try and make them available somehow, probably in the near future.

As for what else has been going on, I’ve been hard at work on the next 10th anniversary project, which will hopefully launch soon. I’ve also been playing a bunch of games, so let’s dive into those.

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Thievery Stimulation

There were two unusual things I noticed about Persona 5 during the first hour or so of playing.

The first was that it started a little ways into the future, with a botched heist at a casino. The protagonist, who the player names when the police force him to sign a confession, is told that he was ratted out by one of his teammates and is later interrogated by a hard-nosed prosecutor while under the influence of a truth serum. It is this conversation which becomes the game proper, starting in early April of “20XX”. While betrayal isn’t unheard of in this series, it was a little jarring to be told straight off that one of my future party members isn’t to be trusted, and it led me to spending a bit of time winnowing down my personal list of suspects. Certain other aspects of the story proved to be predictable as well, though for different reasons; it wasn’t until some time after the tale caught up with “the present” of the interrogation that the game’s biggest surprises came to light.

Persona 5's Velvet Room.The second was the Velvet Room, the metaphysical place “between dream and reality” where series protagonists craft new Personas from old ones. In Persona 3, the Velvet Room was a spacious, elegant elevator, constantly climbing upward. In Persona 4, it was the back seat of a stretch limousine, which drove forward on an etherial road. On the other hand, Persona 5‘s Velvet Room is static, a circular prison occupied by overseer Igor and this installment’s blue-clad attendants, the twin wardens Justine and Caroline. Igor doubled-down on the metaphysical metaphors by noting the protagonist’s mental imprisonment, and implying that he could be freed through “rehabilitation”. I found this situation—the Velvet Room’s traditional motion replaced by stasis—to be unusual at first, but it ended up feeling appropriate.

This rehab takes the form of fighting Shadows—manifestations of human personality and cognition—in a parallel world. This time around, it is called the Metaverse, which is filled with “Palaces” and is accessible to a chosen few via a mysterious smartphone app. Most of the Palaces are ruled over by a Shadow whose real-world counterpart has desires distorted enough to negatively affect the people around them, often in abusive ways. The protagonist and his fellow Phantom Thieves change not just their outfits while in the Metaverse (a nice touch that, for one, avoids the awkwardness of characters wearing winter school uniforms during summer vacation while exploring dungeons, as in the previous two games). They also change things for the better by stealing special Treasures—symbolic items representing hearts—from these Palaces, which collapse as a result and permanently alter their owners’ perceptions in the real world.

There’s much more to the rules and such governing the Metaverse, but those are the basics. The plot is dense, especially early on when the protagonist and schoolmate Ryuji meet Morgana, an amnesiac who is nevertheless intimately familiar with the Metaverse, for the first time. Morgana is this installment’s requisite Pinocchio figure; like Aigis and Teddie before him, he has a somewhat mysterious past and a deep-seated yearning for humanity. However, even though he’s a fun and interesting character, he is also the most unlikeable of the three. Perhaps because he takes the form of a cat, Morgana is a conceited, and sometimes childish, jerk at times.

A typical battle. Note the snazzy menu.The rest of the Phantom Thieves crew is made up of a bunch of outcasts, which includes the protagonist. All formerly conformist misfits who don’t quite fit in because of who they are, and victims of selfish, powerful adults, the Phantom Thieves earn their Personas by embracing rebellion, which fit this theme through their appearances as inspired by fictional outlaws (Arsene [based on Arsene Lupin], Zorro) and larger-than-life historical figures (Captain Kidd, Johanna [based on Pope Joan]). The implementation of this theme, as well as the inconsistent seven deadly sins one which is prevalent throughout the game, is kind of goofy, but I mostly got used to it. Like its predecessor, Persona 5 has a lot to say about the role of the media in society and how the seemingly innocuous, everyday views of the general public can further shape which direction it takes. However, it is a much darker tale, with highly-motivated villains and several instances of Very Bad Things, some potentially triggering, happening to the main cast and/or their associates. There’s also the usual range of MegaTen demons for the protagonist, who bears the “wild card”, to collect and use. This time around, Shin Megami Tensei’s oft-dreaded demon conversation system is how one obtains new Personas. I had mixed feelings about this design choice going in, but certain abilities that can be obtained throughout the game ended up making this process a bit less painful than it has generally been in the past.

Speaking of those abilities, I got them and others by nurturing relationships with Confidants, Persona 5‘s version of Social Links. Each Confidant has a distinct set of abilities that can be obtained, along with the usual Persona Fusion stat bonuses and unlocks, depending on who they are. For example, spending time with a politician named Yoshida leads to special conversational abilities which make negotiating with Shadows easier and/or more profitable. Even some social stats, like Kindness and Proficiency, can be improved through certain interactions, which is a welcome addition. There’s a more unusual and diverse range of Confidants in this installment, including shopkeepers and even residents of the Velvet Room. However, there is also a certain Confidant whose story can’t be advanced until after a certain point in the main tale—and the game doesn’t warn you about this. Aside from this problematic design flaw, plus a certain basic sameness between many Confidants that becomes apparent as the game wears on, the overall relationship system is as polished as it has ever been in a Persona game.

The other core component of Persona 5 is, of course, the dungeon-crawling and Shadow-battling. The Palaces where the Phantom Thieves do their work are wonderfully designed—easily amongst the best levels Atlus has ever made, in any of their RPGs. While there are some repetitive elements—particularly in the randomly-generated “Palace of the Public” Mementos—there are also many unique spaces, both large and small, and a wide range of thematic differences between each dungeon. The battling is the same reliable system from Persona 4, complete with All-Out Attacks, but there are a few new tweaks, among my favorites being Bless and Curse spells that don’t instantly kill and are almost always guaranteed to work. Different this time around is an overwhelming number of types of items, particularly for healing HP, and many of which will go unused.

That leads me to the main menu, which any player will undoubtedly spend a lot of time in. Like much of the rest of the game’s trimmings, the menus are in stark black, white, and red, with manga-esque character art and typography inspired by cut-and-paste ransom notes. They are gorgeous to look at, with slick little animations between the main menu and its subsections, and neatly organized, too. There’s also a separate (and just as stylized) menu for text messages, which the protagonist receives on an daily basis and are helpful for both plot-related reasons and for keeping up with Confidants; a robust fast-travel system; and the ability to save just about anywhere while out and about in everyday life.

As for the previously-mentioned amount of items, a large part of that is thanks to a crafting system to make tools such as lockpicks, as well as another one to duplicate cards which can be used to teach skills to Personas. There’s also treasure items which can be sold for cash, key items such as Palace maps, books, gifts, and as mentioned before, a lot of HP healers. Many of the HP, SP, and status effect curatives can be bought at a variety of shops, including a supermarket, a pharmacy, a discount store, a convenience store, a train station kiosk, and several vending machines, and some are only available for a limited time.

Shibuya's Central Street.If this sounds overwhelming, it is (and you will want to ignore the vast majority of those items), but it is also reflective of its setting: Tokyo, including the real-life districts of Aoyama-Ichome, Shibuya, and many others which become available later on. Persona 5 is overwhelming in both its shopping choices and activities for beefing up social stats, but this is because Tokyo is overwhelming. Notably, some of the shops present in the game are parodies of real-life chains such as Don Quijote, 7-Eleven, and Tsutaya, while the odd bits of actual product placement by the likes of HMV and Calbee blend into the setting fairly well. In these aspects, Persona 5 has captured the consumerist chaos of the Tokyo metro area perfectly, and feels even truer to life than it would have otherwise.

All this is presented with crisp and colorful graphics which straddle the lines between painterly, typical of a modern-day “anime” game, and the MegaTen series’ traditional flat style. As mentioned before, the dungeons have been handled with care, and the same is true of the named characters, Shadows, and Personas. Some character models, like the sparkly and snowy Jack Frost, even have an extra bit of textural oomph to them. Design-wise it’s excellent, with the notable exception of Ann; given that her story arc focused on sexual harassment, and her dislike of being put into perverse situations in general, her skin-tight and boob-windowed Phantom Thief outfit is in questionable taste. A few scenes appeared to push my PS3 to its limit, which resulted in some audio hiccups. While I’m on that topic, the voice acting was average—not amazing, but generally not bad, either. This is especially true of the handful of traditionally animated cutscenes, where the dub cast clearly tries to match lip flaps as closely as possible. As for the localized script, it has a handful of corny and awkwardly-written moments, but is otherwise very good.

Finally, I must mention the wonderful, wonderful music. Fellow fans of composer Shoji Meguro will recognize his signature style all over the soundtrack, especially his love of electric organ and sometimes distracting English-language vocals. However, the soundtrack is particularly lovely in that it captures some of the essence of Shibuya-kei, the diverse musical movement which originated in the real-life version of one of Persona 5‘s most important locations. I already own the soundtrack and it’s currently living with my other game music, but perhaps I should place it next to my Pizzicato 5 and Fantastic Plastic Machine albums instead.

The long wait for this game’s release has been worth it. Despite its flaws—including others I’ve not mentioned here, such as Atlus’ continued use of gross gay stereotypes; more to do with less time, thanks to frequent story events; and a certain rushed-feeling story arc and new character introduction—Persona 5 makes for an outstanding addition to any JRPG fan’s library. It has a darker story than its predecessors, a fascinating and well-realized cast of characters, and the most stylish visual and aural trappings you’ll see and hear in any game this year. If you somehow haven’t played this yet, it is not to be missed.

Special Stage: Back in May, Anime News Network posted an interesting feature article titled “The Real Japan Behind Persona 5” which discusses the likely inspirations behind certain story events. Note that it contains spoilers for the whole game, and especially the first and fifth major story arcs.