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4:37 AM on 01.02.2014

Final Thoughts: Persona 4 - Golden

Disclaimer: This being final thoughts, there are a lot of Spoilers ahead. You've been warned!

Confession time: I absolutely loathed Persona 3 Portable. Being told it was a must have as a PSP/Vita owner, bought it when on sale and was severely dissapointed, mainly because climbing Tartarus is such a chore: after grinding through 80 floors, finding that there were still another 160 floors to climb was reason enough to vanish it from my memory card.


Though it's main screen theme is hauntingly beautiful.

Anyway, Persona 4: Arena appeared at a later date, and as a BlazBlue fan decided to give it shot. Being thoroughly confused by the storyline, went on to see the anime adaptation to at least have an idea of what was happening, and was gladly surprised. Not the best show ever, but it was fun and pushed me to give the RPG version another try, along with reading that it improved over many of Persona 3's shortcomings. 

So, after a few weeks of giving eye to a used copy of Persona 4 - Golden on a non-franchise games store downtown, I finally decided to cough up the money before someone snagged it for a last minute Christmas present; and because of holiday break, blazed trough it on two weeks flat. Here are some of my last impressions:



I really liked the battle system this time, specially on bosses. In most J-RPG's, it usually ends up with spamming the highest damage spell your party has, if null elemental even better, curing as needed and ignoring status effects at all, since battles end up so quickly as to make them not worth their use. Prepare to be erradicated on the TV world following this mentality.

The game forces you to pay attention to enemy (and you party's) weaknesses, and status boosts and lowerings are devastating. If an enemy begins to focus, DEBUFF IT -can't stress that enough-, as a fully charged Megidolaon spells death on most cases. For the first time in ages, the Guard option is useful! End of dungeon bosses can take some time because of this, but overcoming each feels rewarding as a result.



Mitsuo's dungeon drives this point home mid-game. It's also prety cool, having a retro videogame look to it, with the boss selecting his attack options from a menu, leveling up during battle and moving jerkily, akin to frame limitations of the era. Even the boss battle theme gets an awesome eight bit remix!

On the other side, Marie's dungeon is terribly annoying: you can't bring over items, weapons or money, and have to make up with what you pick up on the road. That sounds like a great change of mechanics in order to mix things up after many hours of gameplay, but ends up unamusing as a result of enemies being extremely weak and giving so little experience, I ended up running from most the battles. Shadows being invisible on some floors seals the deal. The boss, while easy, makes for a compelling battle due to plot reasons. Felt so sad and guilty fighting it!



None of them holds a candle to Nanako's dungeon, though. A pivotal moment in the story, taking a leap onto the true feelings and thoughts of this sad, lonely child is heartbreaking, thanks in big part to what become my favorite track from the game, Heaven.

The lyrics, along with the calm depiction of the atmosphere (a child's interpretion of the afterlife as a beautiful place for her deceased mother to rest), make for a very emotional chapter. Would have liked for the theme to continue even while inside battle (like it happens with the one against Gwynn in Dark Souls), but maybe that would have been to much for my poor aching heart.



Moving onto Social Links, I liked Ayane's the most. Having felt very much the same way during my high school years, her issues felt so relevant and hit close to home. It also has a touching resolution, lover's route or not. Ai's is also one I liked a lot, along with Sayoko's -which is also really funny on her first interactions-.

Found the main cast links the most boring somehow, and completed them only to get their final Persona forms... I can't stand Rise's voice actress (since the dreaded EMIL! shout crept to my poor ears some time ago), but she's so useful in dungeons, I had to soldier through it. That SP after battle is almost worth it. Almost. Speaking of that, the Rescue System is really nice and ties nicely to the theme of the game. Receiving encouraging messages from other players -sadly automated- and a very big YOU ARE NOT ALONE prompt before battle makes for a nice touch.



The final battle against Adachi and Ameno-Sagiri was really cool, and would have made for an awesome canon ending to the game. For some reason, to me the extra Izanagi arc feels anticlimatic and cliche, being almost identical to battling Zeromus at the end of Final Fantasy 4 (using an item to reveal the boss's true form and being revived by an apparition of all your friends made through the journey). But maybe that's just tiredness from it being such a long game and having faced three red herrings already.

Didn't get the Accomplice ending, so that's something to look for in a next playthrough sometime in the future, along with finishing the Social Links I couldn't manage to level -most of the secondary cast, like the Old Lady, the Step-Mother and the Tutored Student-. Also, curious about what taking some of the attribute-gated responses will end up in. Seeing the "not enough Courage" message was a bummer many times.



In all, I had a nice time with Narukami and friends, and are looking up to seeing them again on Suplex and Dance All Night (no Persona Q at launch because of current lack of a 2DS :/ ). Also, maybe those Persona 3 Movies may prove to be enough motivation to take the challenge of Tartarus again (not really!). Thanks for reading!   read


10:58 PM on 12.06.2013

My Favorite Gaming Moment Of 2013: Hunting the Griffin

During the course of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, you are sent on many quests, ranging from delivering goods to braving dungeons, defending ieged forts and taking over bandit strongholds, even solving treacherous plots in court in the process and saving a little time to hang out with the ladies. However, there is one that proved to stand among them all, and ingrain itself as one the best memories I've ever had with a videogame.

Mid-game, you gain access to the Duke's manor, and enlist yourself to his service. That means being sent on quests concerning inmediate threats to grand Soren, which are handled by Aldous, his advisor. The first of these is called "Griffin's Bane", and simply reads "A griffin is stalking caravans. Join the volunteers who plan to vanquish the beast.". Let me tell you of the tale that rose from it...



The beast had been seen on a hill on the outskirts of the city, so after grouping up with some soldiers, the Arisen marches on to take on the winged terror head to head. However, it is nowhere to be seen, and the group suggests setting up some "bait" for it. A fresh Goblin corpse from a nearby encampment seems to do the trick, and the Griffin arrives for the free snack.

With some of the most beautiful animation of this generation, the beast hovers around the group for a bit, flapping it's wings magistically with enough force to sent the less fair of feet to the ground. With a heavy thud, it landsin front of the party, sending dust all around the arena and screeching in defiance.

Swords slice the air, magic spells are cast and arrows pierce its wings, but all in vain: the beaked foe takes to the air again, making way back to its hideout on the distance, the tall and ruined Bluemoon Tower, to feast on its freshly looted sustainance.



So begins the long trek towards the beast's lair. After a long walk trough the North-Eastern lands of Gransys, roamed by wolves (which hate fire) and snow harpies, the first obstacle presents itself in the form of Windsworm Valley, a coastal bluff in which a heavy wind takes it toll on the party, slowing its movement and stating that this journey won't be an easy one.

Exhausted, the Arisen arrives as the sun sets over Pastona Cavern and its surrounding canyon passes. Suddenly, a group on bandits descends on the party, heavily entreched on old fort ruins. The battle is brutal and desperate, but the group of adventurers prevails after taking control of the fort's ballistae.

Without a moment to rest, the chosen one marches on, and stumbles upon an strange set of stones, arranged on formation in the middle of the pass. On close inspection, the earth starts to rumble heavily, and soon a heavy Stone Golem stands proud on the battlefield.



This threath proves a hefty challenge, as the mightiest of attacks dent not it's health, until the shine of a magic rune reveals it's weak points. Clinging to the hulking titan, the Arisen works in tandem with the group to cut the magical currents that flow trought it's body, not an easy task as the colossus's weight makes the land tumble on each of it's steps. Finally, on the verge of exhaustion, the flash of a fireball breaks the enchantment and the stones that formed the construct rest on the ground.

Now low on supplies,one of the pawn companions remarks the closeness of Smuggler's Pass, and the allure of getting hand on some stolen goods proves hard to resist for the fellowship. However, they find it to be well guarded by Skeleton Knights, which zealously guard the treasures of the place. The struggle ends being quite profitable, as the sword Caladbolg rested between a pile of bones.



After healing injuries, the party moves on and arrives at the feet of the imposing tower, surrounded by a deep dive into the sea. The clash of blades resounds inmediately, and the group hurries to help the Duke's forces, which had been sent days before to scout the area.

After dealing with ghastly inhabitants on treacherous terrain, always a step close to plumetting onto the abyss, finally the stairway leading to the top floor is found. The view is breathtaking, but there is no time to bask on the rising sun: suddenly, the winged menace reappears, and it's powerful blows begin to collapse the old and fragile ruins.

Making haste, the adventurers flee from the scene, but find themselves trapped by a sturdy gate and are forced to confront the beast on uneven ground. The pawns make their best to distract it, while the Arisen frantically looks for a way to open it. A good bash breaks the lock, and the party escapes just moments before the platform falls down into the sea.



Hurrying with the beast in town, and the threath of a long fall seconds away, the group manages to make it to the summit, and ready their waepons for the final showdown at the bird's nest. The foul enemy is engaged, and soon chaos erupts all around the mile high terrace. Biting, scratching and helping itself with the powerful winds made by its wings, the beast wrecks havok among the party.

The grueling conflict continues, and both sides begin to creep towards defeat. The beast is hurt, its wings scorched and pierced, while on other side supplies and strenght begin to dawndle: if the battle continues for long, it will spell doom for the party.

So, the Arisen decides on a incredibly risky tactic: the moment the beast comes close to the floor, he grabs its tail and begins to climb up to its neck. Sensing the treath, the Griffin rolls in the air and shakes fiercelty, doing its best to get rid of the clinging knight, and makes way to the edge of the arena in order to secure that he falls to his death...


 
However, with the last of his strenght, he manages to slit the feathery neck of the creature, and crashes along with it on the edge of the floor, centimeters away from a long dive into the clashing waves! Exhausted, hurt and bleeding, he can't resist to smile as the now rising sun bathes with his light the treasure guarded by the beast: bags and coffers full of coin and jewels, sided by the enchanted armor and weapons of mighty warriors who had fallen in battle searching for this coveted bounty.

Taking the hide of the beast as a trophy, and as a materials for a new set of armor, the party finally rests in view of the long road taken, knowing that even greater challenges wait ahead for them in the close future.



This tale is for me  without a doubt, one of the greatest moments not only of the year, but of my whole life as a gamer.

When I first heard of the rise of MMO's this is what I had in mind, this was what I roleplayed as a kid on the yard after reading books about mythological beasts on the school library, what the covers of the Dungeons and Dragons choose-your-own-adventure books promised and failed to deliver. And here it was, not ruled by dice or queued commands, but guided by step by step by my hand and decisions.

The awe felt in each situations, the need to change tactics on the fly, the art of managing limited supplies and scavenging for more on the field, exploring the area for treasure, risking death in the process, the adrenaline rush at the proximity of failure.. experiences videogames appear to have begun to forget slowly.



With time, we've grown accostumed as gamers to being granted power by the developers, and dealing with huge beasts as if they were cannon fodder: a manticore, a cockatrice, an ogre are just grinding steps towards the real challenges. But here, the act of hunting a sole Griffin, had become an epic adventure, worthy of song and praise, a tale to share on camps and taverns. And best of all: it was mine! Thanks for reading.   read


7:56 PM on 10.24.2013

October: A Month of Steampunk Bullet Dodging and Murderer Scarecrows.

So, after a bit of a break from gaming (anime watching binges get me from time to time) this last week I've been mostly dedicated to Jamestown (thanks Dtoid!), slowly making my way throughout it's various difficulty levels.


Haven't got a chance to play multiplayer yet, but it looks great.

Normal and Difficult were no big deal, and seem like a perfect way to introduce people to the genre, with Legendary being the first real test of ability for a one credit clear, specially because the last level can really chew up on lives on the slightest mistake (forgetting about score and chaining vaunt and vaunt cancels seems to work, however), good thing the last boss is really easy, even on its final form.

Divine is a completely different tale though, I can barely make it through the levels individually (specially the second one and the annoying spores) so a full Gauntlet run seems unlikely, and let's not even talk about Judgment, which gets downright insane since the beggining of stage one.


And then, he goes Super Saiyan. Not joking.

While the game has great sprite and gameplay, the music could have been done better: shmups are made with replayability in mind, so bombastic, epic tunes can get a little tedious after a while, but that may just be a result of being spoiled by Zun (and the fan remixes are even better, currently listening to a sassy jazz version of Border of Life). Overall, it's a really good game which hopefully can get a sequel sometime; the addition of matchmaking would be really awesome!

In between runs, I've been also dabbled on some League Of Legends now that we have a Latin American server. Short version, I suck at it. But it's quite enjoyable with friends, and the great quantity of champions makes it so each week there is something new to try.


Caw, caw, caw!

So far, Fiddlesticks and Jax have given me the best results (jumping from a bush to rain down a murder of crows over a teamfight never gets old), and Garen is quite easy to use as well, just can't get on the habit of last hitting minions while managing cooldowns, poking the enemy, calling missing enemies, looking for ganks and setting wards: too much multitasking! There's a reason why I'm silver league on Starcraft 2...

Anyway, a few weeks ago we went to watch the finals at a local bar, it was exciting to see so many people cheering at a videogame event!. In fact there were so many people at the venue that no food or beer was available after the second round, and the roar of the crowd at an Ace (complete wipe of the enemy team) rivaled that of a goal of the national football selection (very serious bussiness here in Mexico!). Too bad it ended 3-0, a comeback by the losing would have been great.


Also, Lulu is cute as hell.

Just hit summoner level 11 last night, let's see how things fare against medium difficulty bots... though with Jinx and her uber-brokeness (seriously, she gets used every game and racks up no less than 25 kills on each one) being free this weekend, the IP and EXP should keep rolling in at a decent pace (even had a 15 minute game with four level 30's on the team!).

At this moment, I've just bought Corpse Party: Book of Shadows from the PSN Store. Loved the first one, and can't wait for midnight to play it properly, the last games 3D stereo sound could get real creepy under the right conditions. Also, Asami Imai is on it, and you can never have enough of her :3


Man, did those scissor see action!

Watched the anime version a few days ago, and was surprised at how faithful it was to the source material: while some things got a little rushed (like how to deal with the children ghosts), the voice acting was top notch and the level of gore really sends shivers down the spine. Though it could have done away with the fan service. somehow, Yuka and Satoshi seemed less annoying in general, and Kizami got way creepier with his upgraded psycho gaze. A must watch for this season! Hopefully Dead Patient delivers again when it's released overseas.


Next year, maybe?

Well, needed a break from school stuff to keep my sanity, thanks for reading, and see you around!   read


6:40 AM on 08.17.2013

Mansions, Moe and Madness: A Look Into Freeware J-Horror Games.



This last couple of years a trend of horror videogames designed upon the RPG Maker engine has emerged, notably among japanese gamers, most likely due to the success of Team GrisGris "Corpse Party" series, whose first apperance was on 1996, but only gained recognition upon reaching the PSP on 2008.

Swaying away from the conventions of mainstream games, this platform has given these designers the opportunity to experiment with the genre, adding their own twists and quirks to this (formerly) decaying genre.

Lack of combat, an emphasis on exploration, surreal themes, cryptic puzzles and many sudden deaths are staples of this take on the genre, as is the use of an overhead perspective, female main characters and multiple endings, along with subtle changes on second playtroughs.

Here are some of the flagship entries in this niche, and hopefully some of you, dear readers, may be convinced to give them a try. Believe me, it will be worth it!

Mad Father



After the passing of her mother due to illness, Aya Drevis has spent her life happily playing with her dolls behind the walls of the family manor, under the care of her loving father (a rural doctor) and his assistant, a young woman with beautiful green eyes. That is, until she wakes up to a chilling scream on a dreary night...

Relying on classical horror tropes, like evil spirits, the undead, a terrifyng mansion, dark basements and secret tunnels, this game is a good starting point into this genre. The ambience is akin to the Clock Tower series, up to the defenseless protagonist whose only means of survival consist on running, hiding and careful use of the enviroment.

The puzzles are based more on the correct selection of items, and thinking outside the box in how to apply them on some cases. Health is restored after leaving a screen, though some hazards will result in an instant death.

There is a lot of portrait and CG work, which makes it pop up among other games made on the same engine, and the sprites are well detailed for both characters and the enviroment, while the music consists mostly of soothing piano tunes.

Vision is mostly limited to Aya's lantern radiance, adding to the eerieness and sense of danger of the areas, with some jump scares dotted around, and good use of footsteps and other sounds, like creaking of floorboards and rattling of furniture to darken the mood.



The game is quite lenghty, clocking around two hours and a half, not counting deaths, with good variety of situations and puzzles, though it is possible to miss an item and have to backtrack a little, specially in the beginning of the game.

There are three different endings, each one worth seeing and with proper art done that doesn't appear on the others, along with a hidden extra cutscene that can be unlocked by collecting 21 gems hidden in the scenery or obtained via side tasks.

The true end is rather shocking and puts a character on a totally different light, making a second playtrough worth it in order to pick up on subtle foreshadowing, and to read some extra notes that explain some of it that only appear on a replay.
 
The game can be downloaded here: http://www.vgperson.com/games/madfather.htm

The Witch's House



While traveling to visit her friend in the woods, thirteen years old Viola finds herself trapped by a wall of thorned roses, with no other shelter nearby than an old, eerie house... said to belong to a witch.

This one has little dialog, and a higher emphasis on unexpected deaths than the others, however most of them are creative, and the jump scares work very well. A little more controller dexterity is needed tough, as some chase scenes require good reflexes. While there are some usual enemies, cursed items and the enviroment coming to life are the main foes in the witches lair.

The puzzles are straightforward, with the exception of one involving numbers at the very end of the game, though no one requires backtracking, and the solutions aren't as arcane as those of other entries (specially Misao).

The tileset work is good and varied, while the music does it work. There is little use of full screen CG's, but some effects like fog and darkness are well implemented, causing
at times a little slowdown due to the engine, though nothing unplayable.



A playtrough should take around an hour and a half, counting deaths, luckily there are a lot of save points so it never feels like you lost a lot of progress.

The ending twist is memorable and frankly a little sad, though much of it isn't explained until a second run, where the files on the library change a little, and extra information can be gotten via a no-save run, which is easy since you'll know how to avoid all hazards.

The game can be downloaded here: http://www.vgperson.com/games/witchhouse.htm

Misao



It has been three months since the dissapearance of Misao, a student from the local highschool, and rumours begin to spread among her classmates. After a night of restless sleep, one of them -Aki- awakens to Misao's voice in the distance...

The closest one to Corpse Party in both in setting and gameplay, this game (from the team behind Mad Father) has a more open ended structure than others, centering about the exploration of Aki's high school after it is transported to an alternate and deadly plane of existence.

However, access to some areas is gated behind puzzles and hazards, requiring a lot of backtracking between locations and fiddling with items in search of reactions. To reduce frustation, a fast travel option is adquired shortly, and a quick save option is a button press away. Due to the amount of sudden unavoidable deaths, it will soon become second nature to save before inspecting the most harmless of objects, or talking to other characters.

The game has a B-movie feel to it though, with some of these demises seen from a mile away, and other even worth of a chuckle due to their silliness. That said, the game deals with a serious and very real issue at the end, which turns the mood entirely upside down and even manages to make some relevant social commentary.



The spritework is functional at best, though each character has it's own set of portraits and there are some well done CG's appearing from time to time. While the tileset is frankly standard, there are nice ambience touches in the form of background events or noises. Character design takes more than a cue from Revelations: Persona, though.

The game is quite short, taking no more than an hour for a full run (unless the player finds himself stunted on a puzzle), and it's two endings are dependant of a single endgame decision. Getting the Good End allows the selection of a "Truth" epilogue on the main menu, which sheds some more information on the motives of some of the characters and their fates. There is also an unlockable second playable character for the main story, which maintains the overall plot but changes some dialogue and reactions.

All been said, despite it's low points, a walkthrough is worth the time, and it can be downloaded from here: http://www.vgperson.com/games/misao.htm

Yume Nikki



It's been a long time since Madotsuki's last interaction with society. Refusing to leave her room, she spends most of her time sleeping, drifting away in strange worlds where anything is possible...

The weirdest of the bunch, it's unique approach to the genre -some say the creation of an entirely new one- has spawned large ammounts of fan art, discussions, theories, and even fan games mimicking it's characteristics.

The game is entirely exploration based, with no puzzles to solve or storyline to follow outside of the goal of collecting all "effects", items that grant Madotsuki with abilities ot merely visual changes.

There exist twelve different worlds to navigate, consisting of vast expanses of terrain where it's easy to get lost, populated with interesting, strange, disturbing and just plain weird images, creatures and imaginery. Some of them can be interacted with, but there are no real hazards or enemies to keep an eye for.



Yume Nikki is entirely hit or miss: some will love it's eerie ambience and "feeling" of navigating other person's dreams, while most will be turned off by it's lack of interactive opportunities and defined goals, as much of the fun consists of discussing theories and interpreting the visuals with other persons.

The sprite work, in parallel to the game, is bizarre and weird, ranging from the carefully drawn to doodles and scrabbles. The music is mostly drones that end up nauseating, and do a great job on setting a mood of discomfort and awareness, akin to the feeling of not having completely woken up from a dream.

Very different from the rest of the entries on this list, yet playing by the same rules, those curious enough may apply here: http://yumenikki.wikia.com/wiki/Yume_Nikki

Ib



One rainy day, elementary school student Ib is taken by her parents to a gallery currently showing an exposition on cult artist Guertena, producer of bizarre and eerie works, which seem to have a life of their own...

The best one, saved for last. Focusing on surreal imaginery rather than blood and gore, Ib provides an absorbing tale that, trough subtle notes and exploiting the paranoia of the player, manages to crawl under the skin long after gameplay is done.

Though the game has got a hit point system in the form of the dwindling petals of a rose, it is mostly used as a means to deter the brute-force solving of puzzles, as chances to recover are plentiful and monsters are easy to evade.

However, the various works of art that dot the gallery manage to be disturbing on their own, maintaining the player on their edge even on perfectly safe situations, and there is also some fourth wall breaking at unexpected times. Enemies range from living manequinns to cursed dolls and haunted paintings.



Sadly, the sprite work is the weakest point of this entry, looking somewhere between eight and sixteen bit, and the tileset can seem rather bland in comparison to other works.

On the audio side, while the action goes on in total silence for the most time, the real world gallery theme is nice, and lower floors also have catchy drones that accentuate the creepiness of the ambience.

The plot is deeper than the other games on this list, and has sparked discussion about the meaning of certain scenes and specific dialog. It is also rather lenghty, as even though a playtrough takes around an hour, there are six different endings that are affected via multiple variables, making a guide needed for the rarest of them.

With a surprising amount of changing events due to choices, at least one replay is suggested in order to see how different things unfold depending on particular events, with one route giving the ability to control an unexpected character for a short time.

The game can be downloaded here: http://www.vgperson.com/games/ib.htm



Well, that's all for now, thanks for reading, and remember: for best results, use a good pair of headphones, move to a dark room and wait for night to come...   read


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