All entertainment mediums are strange in certain ways, but television is one of the weirdest. Since TV producers typically make their revenue from advertising, there’s pressure to get as many eyeballs as possible watching any given program; after all, the higher the ratings, the higher the ad rates can go. This leads to shows—including non-fiction ones like news broadcasts—using sensational hooks to draw viewers in, often exaggerating situations to no good effect. TV becomes a shallow caricature of regular life, but a compelling one. Such tendencies lead to oversimplified ideas, inadvertent fame, and other problems, and the smaller the community in which these things take root, the faster they spread. These problems and others are at the heart of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4.
Set in a small Japanese town called Inaba, Persona 4 opens much the same way its predecessor did, with the protagonist (for the rest of the review, we’ll call him Satoru Minami, which is what I named him in-game) being introduced to the Velvet Room, where he is told that he has one year to unravel a mystery that he will soon become involved in. As Satoru gets settled in at his uncle’s house and new school, this mystery soon manifests in the form of murders that occur on foggy nights. There is also the matter of the Midnight Channel, an urban legend which claims that you can see your romantic match if you stare into a turned-off TV screen on a rainy night. It is on one such night that Satoru discovers that he can put his hand into the TV screen. This is how Satoru’s adventures in the “TV world” begin.
The TV world is an odd place which is perpetually foggy and overrun with aggressive beings called Shadows. It is divided into wildly different regions that exaggerate concealed personality traits and feelings, sometimes to outrageous effect. This world is where the vast majority of the RPG part of the game takes place. The battle system is a refined version of the “press-turn” ones from previous MegaTen games which, in a welcome change from Persona 3, allows Satoru to directly control his teammates during battle whenever he wishes. The Personas themselves are magical animas whose abilities can be called upon in battle; unlike the other party members, Satoru’s Persona ability is the “wild card”, which allows him to obtain, fuse together, and hold multiple Personas. Weather conditions in the real world determine if certain rare monsters will show up in the TV world on a given day, and in addition, there are “fusion forecasts” which change day to day and affect what bonuses are granted when creating new Personas in the Velvet Room.
Outside of the TV world, Satoru attends high school, and can go shopping, take on part-time jobs, read books, go out to eat, fish, do favors for people around town, and, most importantly, get to know the people around him a bit better. Forming and improving your “Social Links” with these people—a group which includes fellow party members, as well as family, classmates, coworkers, and others—leads to stronger Personas created through fusion, and unlocks other in-dungeon benefits. They are also miniature stories within the wider scope of the main one, often helping to illustrate why certain characters are the way they are, and showing how they grow and change as people. My one major regret upon reaching Persona 4‘s “good ending” was that I did not get to finish more of these tales.
Speaking of Social Links, the characterization is some of the most true-to-life that I have seen in any JRPG, including Persona 3, in some time. The characters all act their age and are clearly imperfect; this latter bit ties into a very important theme of the overarching story—self-awareness and acceptance—but is refreshing nevertheless. As for the former, the strongest example is Nanako Dojima, a normal seven year old girl without any of the precociousness that plagues so many children in JRPGs. She loves singing along with commercial jingles, thinks platypuses are awesome, and struggles with her feelings toward a workaholic dad who doesn’t have much time to devote to her. She is, in many ways, the heart of Persona 4, and ended up being my favorite character in the game.
If Nanako is the heart of the game, the soul is Teddie, a cartoon-like bear in a clownish outfit who is roughly the shape of a snow cone. When you first meet him, he is the only friendly resident of the TV world, and shares some of its flamboyance through his personality. Seeing him grow, form friendships, and come to terms with his place in the grand scheme of things is fascinating to watch.
While the characters and their stories are fascinating, the major downside of Persona 4‘s storytelling, strictly from a practical perspective, are the frequently long cutscenes. Save points break these up regularly, though it can sometimes take between thirty and forty-five minutes between each one. While I had enough time blocked out to consume these scenes as they came about, this setup became problematic during the game’s single most heartwrenching event, during which a lengthy series of dialogue choices has to be gone through—choices for which the answers were not as straightforward as they might seem—in order to determine which way the story goes. Make even one mistake, and you’re put on a short path toward a bad ending. Oh, and prior to this set of choices, there’s some thirty minutes of drama, the impact of which is ultimately lessened by going through this section multiple times in order to get the “correct” answer. I’ve been told that the annoyance of this section has been lessened in the PS Vita port, Persona 4 Golden, through the addition of a save point, but I can’t confirm this myself.
Still, that’s my only major gripe about what’s otherwise a near-perfect game. The poppy soundtrack is just as wonderful as Persona 3‘s. As with many of Atlus’ PS2 games, the 3D graphics are serviceable, but the 2D ones, which include character portraits, the menus, and various comic book-like effects, are frequently inventive and always pleasing to the eye. The localization work is another outstanding Atlus USA production, but the voice acting, while good overall, is not quite up to their previous standards. Some of Chie’s lines, not to mention most of Margaret’s, are delivered in a wooden fashion, and Naoto’s battle dialogue is unnecessarily over the top. However, the voice actors for Kanji, Teddie, Nanako, and Adachi turn in excellent performances all around.
This game’s a keeper, and is one that I will likely revisit sometime in the future. Have to complete those other Social Link stories, after all.
I wasn’t excited for E3 this year. Of the games I knew that were coming out, there wasn’t much that I absolutely needed to see more of, and my anticipation for the as-yet-unannounced was low. It turns out that I was right to skip the Microsoft and Sony press conference streams, as there was practically nothing of interest to me in the liveblogs that I read (well, there wasHalo 4, but I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers for it at the moment). The following day, I caved and watched Nintendo’s presser, but found it to be sorely lacking.
After several days’ worth of coverage, only one new game piqued my interest, and that was “Project P-100”, a crowd management action title, directed by Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya, that seems to have gotten barely any attention from the press at all. This game is similar to his earlier Viewtiful Joe in its Super Sentai aesthetic, and the basic concept of controlling a crowd that turns into weapons to beat giant villains is pretty awesome. The one thing about this game that came as a disappointment was that it is for WiiU, a system I don’t have any interest in getting. Other than that, and a welcome reminder that the 3DS Paper Mario exists and is on its way, there wasn’t anything for me.
In the meantime, I’ve been continuing on with my main personal goal for 2012: reducing my backlog as much as possible. April is the current record-holder month with seven games beaten, including one (Soul Nomad & the World Eaters) that took me nearly 45 hours, and the two Pinky:st DS titles that I reviewed in my previous post. Some highlights these past few months include the DS remake of Dragon Quest VI, massively moe and just plain charming doujin shop sim/dungeon crawler Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, bare-bones browser-based JRPG Parameters, fantastic expansion pack Tropico 4: Modern Times, and Pokemon White Version, which I’ve written about before and was top-notch all around.
There was also Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, played co-op with my Halo-detractor husband. We had a good time, playing the game with the new graphics and old soundtrack, though I have some quibbles regarding the former. The new maps are brightly lit compared to the original versions, which, along with the whole co-op thing, made the game’s scariest moment a bit less so. Also, some of the new character models were lacking, especially Sergeant Johnson and 343 Guilty Spark. More than anything, I’m now cautiously optimistic about Halo 4.
I also played a couple of platformers, namely The Legendary Starfy on DS and Ratchet & Clank for PS2. Starfy was a decent game with a lot of character, but it was also much wordier than I expected, with more cutscenes than is average for a platformer. Ratchet is not as good as its first-party brethren Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus and also has some irritating bugs. However, the weapon/gadget system at its heart is well thought-out, and the storytelling, which is similar in tone to Jak and Sly, is enjoyable enough.
There have been a smattering of others, including the two Izuna games, mystery dungeons with an emphasis on humor and fanservice, and, on the negative side, vague endings that lack so much as a credit roll or “The End” text before dumping the player into Postgame Territory. I also beat the puzzle game RUSH and attempted to play EDGE, but the bad controls and mediocre design of the latter led me to quit. Finally, over the weekend I played through Breath of Death VII, a parody RPG that resembles an early Dragon Quest and contains jokes and references that range from the silly to the sillier; despite some design quirks, it’s well worth a play if you love the genre.
That’s it for what I’ve beaten these past few months. As for what I’m actively playing right now, I’m approaching the end of “The Journey”, aka the main game in Persona 3 FES. This RPG has been unlike most others I’ve ever played, in a good way, and I hope to write about it at length later on. I’m also playing Dance Dance Revolution again (SuperNOVA 2, specifically); after a long ordeal, a couple of new, working pads arrived yesterday.
Once I wrap up “The Journey”, I plan to put Persona 3 FES aside for awhile before taking on the bonus episode “The Answer”. Right now, I’m considering starting de Blob 2 and/or Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 as my next game (or games). As usual, we’ll see.
February was a productive month, gaming-wise. After completing Tropico 4‘s campaign, I went ahead and played On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two, which was more of the same Penny Arcade-themed adventuring, albeit with a gimmicky end boss. There was something of a cliffhanger at the end, though, and given that Episode Three was cancelled, I would have to rely on Penny Arcade’s own documents should I wish to know the rest of the story. (ETA: Pete has informed me that Zeboyd is working on Episode 3. Huzzah!)
I also took up Pokemon White again, where, among other things, I added the last three Gym Badges to my collection. There was also a handful of new story events to play through, where Team Plasma continued in their quest to free Pokemon everywhere from trainer oppression. Compared to past Pokemon enemy squads, Team Plasma is easier to empathize with, though no more or less devoted to their cause. Their leader, the enigmatic N, is certainly the most memorable such character that I’ve yet seen in the series. Although I’ve set the game aside again, largely for practical reasons (Pokemon White has a season-based system that uses the DS’ internal clock, and I haven’t seen Winter or Spring yet), I’m looking forward to taking on Victory Road and the Pokemon League.
Tropico 4 was also revisited, much earlier than I thought I would. This time, it was to play the first two DLC missions. The one contained in the “Junta Military” pack was quite challenging, while the “Plantador” mission had a thick streak of humor, with its pop-culture friendly occult theme. In between all of this, I made a lot of progress in Sonic Colors, finally beating it on the 28th. It remains a wonderful Sonic, and simply a great platformer in general.
After all that was wrapped up, I decided to go back to the Halo franchise with the next game in the series, Halo Wars. I was already familiar with developer Ensemble Studios’ work through Age of Empires II, and therefore expected good things from what wound up being their final game. Thanks to Halo Wars‘ interesting missions and marvelous control scheme, I wasn’t disappointed. By necessity, it’s a lot simpler than PC RTSes, but far from dull; it’s probably the most fun I’ve had with a Halo game since the original. Sadly, the campaign was over fairly quickly, but on the plus side, it gave me my last beaten game of the month.
The PS2 port of Baroque was decided upon as my next game, and the first one for March. I started it yesterday and played for the better part of the afternoon, but decided to drop it in the end. It’s a roguelike, but with action, as opposed to turn-based, gameplay, which is unusual for the genre. Nevertheless, it has roguelike-style difficulty, complete with randomly-generated dungeons and being booted back to the starting area at Level 1 every time you die. I died quite a bit early on, but made progress at a steady pace, and then, not very long after starting over yet again, I came across the Experience Wings.
The Experience Wings are a piece of equipment that boost the amount of experience points one can get from each defeated monster. Needless to say, they make level grinding much easier, lessening the pain I felt just on Normal difficulty. However, after going through several floors, I play through a story event that sends me back to the beginning, at Level 1. After making it so that the Experience Wings can be carried over to this new session, I do it all again, though it’s much more monotonous this time, and the same thing happens. While reading some info about the game afterward, I found that progression is determined not by what floor of the dungeon you make it to, but whether or not you can fulfill the arbitrary and oftentimes vaguely hinted-at goals given to you by the macabre, dull, and badly voice-acted NPCs. Upon learning this, I could readily envision the tediousness this would entail, and promptly decided to give it up.
So, what’s on the agenda next? As I said before, I’m on hiatus from Pokemon White again; also, I don’t think we’ll be tackling Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles‘ tough endgame again anytime soon. Right now, my plan is to continue on with more Halo games I haven’t played yet, namely Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach. I also have Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in my backlog, which I’d like to play co-op, but that’s not as big a priority. I also want to start another JRPG, though I haven’t settled on which one yet. Tales of the Abyss, perhaps?
How many games will I beat in March? Stay tuned…
Special Stage: Congrats once again to my friend and fellow Citadeler Tarale on her recent engagement! The incredibly geeky story of how she proposed to her boyfriend, via Team Fortress 2 and with some special help from Valve, made Kotaku Australia; here’s the story!
Xenogears is one of those games that I had long been curious about, but didn’t want to play, both because and in spite of its reputation. I didn’t like Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, mainly due to its sedate dungeons and overlong, poorly-paced cutscenes, and didn’t relish the thought of slogging through its predecessor. However, at the same time I wanted to know why Xenogears has commanded such attention. Therefore, when a new Let’s Play of the game by The Dark Id appeared at the Let’s Play Archive, I dove right in.
"All shall be mocked accordingly..."
It turns out that I had made the right decision. Seemingly every new dungeon, rare as they are, is described as the worst in the game; the story has some interesting ideas but is needlessly complicated, poorly plotted (a good example: that old JRPG trope, the battle tournament, is used as a major plot device twice), and did far more telling that showing; and from the looks of it, the staff had just about run out of money when it came time to work on Disk 2. The Dark Id’s humorous asides, especially the ones involving sandwiches and/or Citan Uzuki’s dickery, plus his astoundingly thorough analysis of the game’s quirks, made all this the more digestible; I’m sure I would’ve experienced Chrono Cross levels of rage if I had played this myself.
This Xenogears Let’s Play is easily the longest one I’ve ever read, and took me some time to get through. Not long after wrapping it up, I decided to play a new game. I’d already finished with Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny and given up on the original Tropico after finding it a bit too difficult, and not the fun kind of difficult, either. Also, I wasn’t in the mood to pick up Sonic Colors or Pokemon White again. There was that damned-cute-moogle-fest Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, which I was (and still am) playing co-op, but I needed a new single-player game. So, the new game I played? Bayonetta.
For the next three days, I found myself immersed in the closest thing to a masterpiece I have played in the action game genre. Bayonetta is marvelous, with slickness, humor, and outrageousness in abundance. The title character is a strong, sexy, and ridiculous gunslinger and a great follow-up to a certain other beautiful mixed-race hero from an earlier game by the same director. Speaking of which, there are several homages in Bayonetta—some more subtle than others—to director Hideki Kamiya’s previous works, to certain classic Sega franchises, and to games that have nothing to do with either. My favorites of these made me absolutely giddy as this already awesome game got even better. In general, there is so much love put into Bayonetta—love of the heroine, her world, the action, and of video games themselves. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience another game like this again.
The next game I played only took me two days to get through, but has a much longer title: Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One. This was one of several games I picked up during this past December’s Steam Holiday Sale, and more or less on a whim at that. The game itself plays a bit like a weirdly balanced JRPG with notes of graphical text adventure and that unmistakeable Penny Arcade feel. It was all right, and I’m looking forward to playing Episode Two sometime soon, in part because one of my favorite PA characters, Charles, makes an appearance.
After Rain-Slick Precipice, Episode One, I decided to delve back into the world of Caribbean island management—but via Tropico 4 this time. The campaign this time around is a long one at twenty missions, but once I got to a certain point, the previous starting islands began to make repeat appearances. This was a little disappointing, as were the moments when the sound would stop during a cutscene, or the one time during the final mission where the game crashed, or the few other tiny annoyances presented themselves, but I was still engrossed for a good two weeks. In many little ways, it’s much improved from Tropico 3, and I ended up spending more time playing it than I do with a lot of JRPGs. I wrapped up the campaign this afternoon, so now I’m going to step back from it for awhile and catch up on just about everything I’d been neglecting in the meantime, such as, well, this blog…
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It’s a new year, which means the annual status report on my backlog. I would’ve had this up sooner was I not waiting on Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey to arrive from Play-Asia. This was one of seven(!) console and handheld games I ordered for myself shortly before the New Year. Then there’s Sonic Chronicles, purchased at Best Buy after Christmas, plus a not insignificant number of computer games purchased during Steam’s amazing Holiday Sale. All this plus my preexisting Pile of Shame adds up to a mountain of games to pick and choose from in 2012.
What have I gotten myself into? DX
My DS backlog has become particularly large with fourteen entries, at least half of which are RPGs. The Xbox 360 and PC piles have grown some as well, as has the Wii one, which was nonexistentthis time last year. The GameCube stack is unchanged, and the PS2 one has shrunken, but only slightly. All in all, the number of console and handheld games this year comes to thirty-five; add in PC/Mac, and it’s closer to fifty, which is more than double the tally from last year.
This growth, particularly on the DS side, was largely fueled by my wanting to pick up certain out-of-print games before they became impossible to find. There’s also the matter of my not being able to beat many games last year, thanks to certain real-life factors. Therefore, my goal this year is to beat at least twenty-five games, which would be a marked improvement from last year’s seventeen.
Here are my must-play games for 2012, in no particular order:
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES – Now that Rogue Galaxy has been beaten (and thoroughly enjoyed), Persona 3 is the candidate best-suited to fill its shoes as the Game I’ve Had in My Backlog Since Forever That I Really Should Play.
Half-Life – As was the case with Halo, I feel that I ought to play this FPS.
Tales of the Abyss – I think I’m about due for another fun Tales experience.
Last Window: The Secret of Cape West – Yet not before replaying Hotel Dusk.
Soul Nomad and the World Eaters
Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
Professor Layton and the Curious Village
The Legendary Starfy
Going by previous backlog posts, I’ll probably end up playing somewhere between a third and half of this list, and one or two games will make repeat appearances on next year’s. We’ll see how it goes.
Welcome to the home of PAX Prime, the Washington State Convention Center in lovely Seattle, WA!
This was where we spent much of our weekend—attending panels, checking out the cosplayers, and going hands-on with upcoming games in the massive Expo Hall(s). Actually, we didn’t get to play as much as we liked, since the lines for popular titles, most memorably Star Wars: The Old Republic, were incredibly long. As with PAX East, panels were our main priority.
However, we did watch a lot of games being played, in all sorts of genres, and checking out the booths themselves was also enjoyable. The booth that was hardest to ignore was the one for FireFall. They were a major sponsor of the show this year by the looks of things; in addition to the huge booth, there was an animatronic display near the Expo Hall entrance (Prototype 2‘s booth was also in that area), FireFall branding on the PAX swag bag, ads on the escalators, and more. Clearly the goal of FireFall‘s publishers was to get the name and look of the game firmly entrenched in our minds. As for the game itself, I didn’t get to play it, but it looks like an MMO action game of some sort. It is also highly derivative in its aesthetics—even the logo is StarCraft-ish.
Bethesda’s booth was impressive as well, thanks to a large dragon that loomed over the area dedicated to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda also had some Prey 2 stuff as well as Rage in playable form. Save for some canned, stiff animation, Rage looks absolutely stunning, though I seriously doubt that my computer will be able to run it.
Although I didn’t see anything of the game itself, the BioShock Infinite display was marvelous, and the most unique thing I saw on the show floor. There were a few other standouts scattered about, including a plant-like thing for Rift, the inflatable Normandy hovering over Mass Effect 3, the secret society quiz terminals for The Secret World, and Sega’s Rise of Nightmares prison cell. For the Kinect version of Just Dance 3, Ubisoft had a simple stage, but dancing con-goers added the extra hook.
Some people tend to forget this, but geeky non-video games have a large presence at PAX as well. There were a lot of areas dedicated to board, pen-and-paper, and trading card gaming, including a whole branch of the Expo Hall. Publishers of such games had their own booths, plus there were a handful of booths selling games, gaming accessories such as dice, and even dedicated pieces of gaming and collection furniture.
Other vendors included Seattle import specialist Pink Gorilla (which had plenty of import games at their booth, but strangely, no PS2 ones) and artbook localizer Udon, who shared space with comic book publisher Oni Press. There was also a booth selling general anime merchandise, but I was immediately turned off once I noticed that the Nendoroids and certain other items were bootlegs. Square Enix had Deus Ex: Human Revolution Play Arts Kai figures on display at their booth but, much to my dismay, the company wasn’t selling any of their collectables at the show.
Upstairs was a sort of annex to the main hall, where indie game publishers and lesser-known PC hardware manufacturers lived. This room saw a lot of traffic thanks in large part to the presence of Mojang, aka the Minecraft developer. Meanwhile, there was the Handheld Lounge, a land of beanbag chairs occupying hall space on two floors, and sponsored by Nintendo. Although Ninty had a large booth in the Expo Hall, they showed additional games here, including two upcoming Kirby games and Dragon Quest Monsters. Unfortunately, I had somehow forgotten to take photos of both areas.
I could go on, but to describe everything I saw would double the length of this post. Therefore, I’ll close out with brief impressions of the games I actually played.
Kirby Mass Attack for the DS is one of the most unique platformers I have seen in some time. The entire game is played with the stylus, and up to ten Kirbies can be controlled at once. These Kirbies are obtained by eating food found on the field (Maxim Tomatoes, as expected, are the “strongest” of these foods), and some areas can only be reached with a certain number of Kirbies. Though the game is being released very soon, the copies available for play in the Handheld Lounge were in Japanese. I guess the localization wasn’t ready for the show.
Kirby’s Return to Dream Land and Fortune Street were the only Wii games shown in the Handheld Lounge. The former supports up to four players at once and is as madcap as one expects from the studio that also makes the Smash Bros. games; unfortunately, the other characters aren’t as versatile or as necessary as Kirby, which is this game’s greatest weakness. Fortune Street is the first of the Itadaki Street games to be released outside of Japan, but I don’t think it will do very well since, for a board-style party games, it is way too complicated.
Pokedex 3D is neat, and I’ll probably download it once/if I get a 3DS. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is about what I expected, which is to say I’m still planning on buying it.
At the Microsoft booth, I played around a little with Sonic CD, which thankfully has an option to turn on the original graphics, since the “new” ones look horrible. My husband and I also tried out Trine 2, which looks and plays very well, and Pinball FX 2 which is great save for the fact that the balls blend into the playfield a bit too much.
The main indie game I tried at the show was Path of Exile, a Diablo clone with not much to it. The user interface reminded me of Torchlight‘s, but having the health and mana meters on opposite sides of the screen was inconvenient.
That’s about it for the Expo Hall. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about the panels and certain other events which I attended.
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