I finally got around to finishing Persona 3 Fes[t]. Outside of the members of SEES, the characters were a bit more shallow than those in 4, but at the same time, less overtly optimistic. Some characters remained relatively unchanged after spending a year around you, far from the profound revelations more common in 4. The characters ended up feeling more real by the end, and it got me thinking. There are minor spoilers ahead.
I once tutored a high school girl who spent her time skipping school, shoplifting and generally causing a ruckus. Her mother was desperate for someone not only to get her academics in order, but also to get her to live a life with less familiarity with the police. Shoplifting was the least of her crimes, I would find out, as she opened up to me quite a bit over the several months I was tutoring her. She wasn't a good student, and I was pretty convinced she had ADD. She didn't study, she didn't do her work, and she rarely remembered what we had gone over previously. She really wasn't a good student, but she was something that I never was while growing up: thinking about her future.
That may sound odd, a school-skipping shoplifting teenager being thoughtful about what's to come, but this girl wasn't stupid. She knew she hated school, I knew it, her mother knew it, and this girl was full of questions (one of which pertained to whether or not I thought it was a good idea for her to become a stripper, but this was just part of the larger concern she had for how she was going to survive on her own).
Recently, I got a text from her. She's working now, apparently with a coworker who has the same name I do. She got a job, damn it, and spends money to buy things. She's taking her life seriously. When I first met her, I wondered whether I could actually help someone who could barely pay attention to me. I didn't do much for her academics, but I think I got her thinking about how her decisions will affect her future. I almost cried. Okay I did a little.
This is the what the denouement of Persona 3 did to me. It didn't accomplish this on its own; it was the reminder of the good in my own life that switched on the lacrimal glands. Something about meeting that little girl Maiko's dad again, or running into Akinari's mother after he had died (sure the man was maudlin to the core, but it still meant something damn it) really makes it clear that Persona offers a rare experience. In Persona, you get to see how the people you've gotten to know are doing once all is said and done, for better or for worse. It's not just the end of a story. It's life going on. Some people needed to change and did, some didn't, and some needed to remember who they were.
The characters in these games are people who are deeply affected by your actions, and despite the linear and regimented progression of each social link, it's your decisions about who to spend time with and when that drive the narratives forward. To see them again as they move on with their lives makes these characters feel personally connected to you.
One might ask how this is any different from the commonly employed cinematic trope of listing short blurbs about the events in each major character's life following a movie's conclusion. Part of it is the time it takes to get there: every relationship developed in the game was on a slow boil for however many hours it takes to beat the game (minus randomly generated dungeon crawling). A larger part of it was that these relationships developed because of what you did and said. This is what video games do that other media simply can't. It's not just a matter of player agency, the emotions evoked because of that agency are unique. You can feel with the characters, rather than for them.
Now as I am about to graduate, my little brother is heading off to university for computer science, my sister is starting law school, and I've just gotten back in touch with some old friends. It's all very bittersweet, leading to several nameless emotions only felt in life or in games.
I finally finished Virtue's Last reward. First of all, it was great. Second of all, it wasn't as good as 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors. Third, there are spoilers galore after the big bold warning below, so don't read past that if you haven't read/played any of the Zero Escape games, but address that deficiency at once! Please. For your own good?
VLR has some of the most rewarding and satisfying puzzles I've yet seen in a game. None but one actually stumped me, but that had more to do with the puzzles being perfectly logical than their being too easy. They're like ciphers: a pattern always exists, and in fact several patterns are present, it's just the player's job to figure out which ones are relevant to the solution of the puzzle. The designers actually exploited this to great effect, having two correct solutions for every puzzle in the game. It's truly remarkable, and the puzzles are very entertaining taken on their own.
The story suffers primarily from the scale being so large that it's cliché. The original had a very small scale to its premise that made the whole thing more personal and allowed for the characters' personalities, rather than the events happening around them, to drive the plot. This also made it difficult to see where the story was going. The story in VLR was just a little too predictable in too many places, and the scale of the events had a lot to do with that.
Anyway, I want to ask anyone reading this who has played the games: what did you successfully predict? What caught you completely by surprise?
Here's a list of the predictions I made, some correct, some wrong. (What's with all the lists in the CBlogs, lately?) Here there be all of the spoilers.
Things I figured out very early on:
1) Tenmyouji is Junpei: I figured this one out the first time Tenmyouji spoke to clover for more than a few moments. To be fair, I get the impression players were supposed to figure this out pretty easily.
2) Alice and Clover were in cold sleep: This follows from the previous one and the presence of the treatment pods. Of course, I also thought this was true of either Sigma or Phi, but I'll get to that later.
3) Dio set the bombs: again, fairly easy. Dio simply didn't seem to serve any purpose in the story early on other than screwing everything up, so I figured yep, that's the guy.
4) Dio killed the old woman: Same reasoning, though I couldn't figure out why until later.
5) The old woman is Akane: I figured this out simply because I knew Tenmyouji is Junpei. Again, the writers seemed to want this to be obvious to people who played 999.
6) The facility is not on Earth: I'm pretty proud of this one. I started to think about this when everyone started jumping around 20 feet in the air, and all of the moon related puzzles made me pretty sure. The idea that there needed to be a higher pressure inside made sense in light of the virus, but the many other hints were too much, and the pressure chambers just screamed moon base.
7) The purpose of the game is to stop the radical-6 pandemic: I assumed this to be true once the virus came up. Not really a prediction, just an arbitrary guess that happened to be right. Call it genre savvy.
8) Luna is a robot: I figured this out once I met GOL-M. I assumed someone in the group was likely a GAULEM, and thought K was too obvious a choice. As for the others, Dio didn't seem likely because he seemed to be trying to fuck everything up, Alice and Clover being robots would have been too stupid to justify, Sigma and Phi seemed too important to be robots, and I already knew what Tenmyouji's deal was. Quark I rejected because I hadn't seen a child-sized model.
Things I realized late in the game before they were revealed:
1) Sigma is old: I really should have figured this out sooner; I was assuming that the three cold sleep pods were for Alice, Clover and one other person, and that other person had to be Phi (or no one). It was clear that Phi was young, but we never get to see Sigma. On top of that, the way the other characters interact with him is a pretty big hint (though there was some misdirection courtesy of Alice). I only figured it out just before meeting Akane at the tombstone.
Things that totally caught me by surprise:
1) Sigma is Zero Sr.: Yup, just didn't see that one coming at all. I thought that Zero Sr. was related to the original Nonary game in some way, possibly one of the people who was with Akane, Light and the rest.
2) K is Sigma's clone OR Akane: In my defense, this is arguably the most convoluted part of the story (not to mention a dire misunderstanding of the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment).
I don't think too highly of my intelligence. It's probably above average, but I would likely be spending more time developing new technologies or something equally productive and impressive if my intelligence were something truly remarkable. It means something, then, when I say that Sigma—the protagonist of Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward—is a moron.
That Sigma is, in fact, a moron causes a severe disconnect between the two aspects of the game. The puzzles in VLR are, in my opinion, on the easy side, with some challenging moments. They are satisfying to complete, however, and one would expect that, Sigma being the agent of these puzzles' solutions, the boy has at least respectable pattern recognition and problem solving skills. Once the visual novel sections butt in, though, Sigma becomes a blithering idiot who is treated as such by the rest of the cast.
It's difficult to put into words the frustration of playing as a character more stupid than you, especially in a story suffused with mysteries to solve. It is not uncommon for other characters, having come to some salient conclusion about this or that, to turn to Sigma looking for his analysis of the situation. At any other time, Sigma's decisions are your decisions, his epiphanies your epiphanies, but at these moments Sigma shows just how dependent he is on the player's cunning.
Sigma, have you considered that person X might have done thing Y?
Yes, I've suspected person X for a while now. Ugh, I guess I'll have to explain everything because you're so slow!
Hey, Sigma, did you notice anything weird about that graffiti?
Yes, there was a word that was mispelled. Pffft, poor dumb stupid idiot Sigma can't see something so obvious.
Hey Sigs! Did you see that power cable?
Yes, shut up. maybe you can plug it into something that needs power to power it did you think of that maybe?
Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up.
And so on. This isn't just an issue of the characters in the game not giving you a chance to answer (which they don't ever), Sigma really is too thick to see what the player may see quite clearly, as well as completely ignorant of any reference to science or literature that may come up to the point that he's never heard of Schrödinger's cat.
The real head scratcher in all of this is that the first game in the series, 999: Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, didn't suffer from this problem at all. Not only was the protagonist of the first game, Junpei, pretty sharp, many of the tricky or knowledge-based questions posed to Junpei are answered by the player. Characters ask Junpei to piece together evidence, ascertain the meaning of a cryptic image, confirm or deny knowledge of various concepts and much more, and in most cases it's the player who gets to answer. While I didn't appreciate this at the time for what it was, the many non-critical choices made available to the player had the invaluable effect of maintaining a strong connection between Junpei, the character, and Junpei, the player avatar. This made the events of the first game feel more intimate merely by virtue of the fact that Junpei wasn't ignorant of what you knew.
That aside, the game deserves a purchase. Not only is the story still compelling, excellent voice work adds some emotive depth, and the logically designed puzzles are satisfying to figure out on your own. Sigma may gradually wear away at your nerves, but in the short time I've been enjoying the game (only completing one path and a little of another), I've never once missed my $30.
Recently, I finally finished reading through my first visual novel, 999: 9 hours 9 persons 9 doors, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The puzzle sections were just long enough and satisfying to complete, utterly lacking any contrived adventure game logic (excepting one bit involving a roll of toilet paper). The story was one of those stories that really mustn't be spoiled, as so much of the fun is in trying to predict what will happen next and being vindicated or surprised by the events as they unfold.
Eager to nurture this incipient interest in visual novels with puzzles, I thought I'd dip into another known as Phoenix Wright. Intrigued was I, therefore, by an all too timely review of the latest in the series right here on Destructoid (the site that is now ruined forever because no more cocks or fapping). I began to read with interest when my heart sank. In his musings meant to introduce the review, one Jonathan Ross (not the affable, British TV personality) saw fit to reveal an important fact about the end of one installment of the franchise. Some responses to this, as well as a slew of other past experiences, lead me to ask this:
Why do so many people seem to think there's a statute of limitations on spoilers?
Pictured (clockwise from the top): I dunno, some guy, no idea, Phoenix Wright, what's-her-face, small child and Boobs McGee (?).
Do you think this, person reading this blog? If so, allow me to shine some light on a fact you may have forgotten: new people—you know, people who didn't exist when a given piece of art/entertainment was most popular—will always, for the rest of the human species's existence, become interested in older literature, drama, TV shows, movies, comics and video games. These new people are just as likely as you, person reading this, to be desirous of a fresh experience with works you enjoyed unspoiled. These new people may in fact wish to be entirely ignorant of what turns a story takes before delving into it, even if the story is very old! This may sound shocking, but it is true.
Recently, my brother (turning 18 next month oh fuck I am so old) finally started doing something I've been hounding him to do for some time: he started playing the original Thief games. The experience that was, and most importantly STILL IS engrossing and more accurately described as "immersive" than any other I've had (outside of real things that are actually happening) is something I want him to traipse trough on his own, ignorant of what's to come. That's how I experienced it, and I would and should be ashamed were I to rob him of the opportunity to be taken by surprise. I feel the same way about some of my favorite books. It doesn't matter that the Epic of Gilgamesh is thousands of years old, don't go around prattling on about every little plot development while claiming that it's just fine to do so because the story is old. I don't care that The Brothers Karamazov is over a century old, it's a damn good story.
Oh by the way this is the only English translation worth reading so go buy it now.
Some stories are cultural touchstones, and their themes and often their plots are common knowledge by virtue of their being referenced so regularly—Rosebud is the sled, the play's the thing wherein Hamlet catches the conscience of the king and Doctor Faust is claimed by Hell in the end. This is unfortunate, not carte blanche to gleefully spoil the story for anyone who's not had the chance to experience it themselves; it's new to them.
When I was a child, I loved Greek and Norse mythology. The stories were exciting and weird, always surprising me with some new, bizarre development I could never have seen coming. As I grew older, I found that so many of the best twists in these stories are discussed openly, even by people who haven't read them. This is because they aren't stories anymore, they're culture, and that's not something to celebrate.
P.S. don't spoil Battlestar Galactica for me I just started watching it.
It's been raining for a few days, non-stop, in my little corner of Colorado. The flooding is so bad that I had to build a dam. The fog has already begun to set in, and it's supposedly going to continue through the weekend. It puts me in the mood to stare at a TV screen at midnight, and maybe write about an RPG series I have only recently had the pleasure of experiencing. Spoilers ahead for Persona 4.
I haven't even finished Shin Megami Tensei IV, yet (I'm debating whether participating in the tournament and being unwilling to finish my opponents while being just fine with beating the shit out of them makes me a hypocrite). I enjoyed it so much that the fact that I never played one of these games, despite my early gaming life being spent primarily on the PS2, really started to get to me. The series is often compared--erroneously, I think--to the Pokemon series. The mere existence of the fusion mechanic undermines this, however. Sure, there's breeding in Pokemon, but it's possible to fuse any old demon with any other (until you get to the higher levels, then there are some restrictions). On top of that, in the latest iteration this can be done at any time. This freedom, combined with the (once you learn it) clear skill naming system and the ability of demons to receive skills from their progenitors, makes for a metagame that adds more strategy to the experience than any RPG I've yet played, at least at first (more on that later).
So I found some copies of SMT III: Nocturne, Persona 3 and Persona 4. Since the latter had already been spoiled for me by hiimdaisy comics, I decided to start with that.
Persona 4 left me with tastes both bitter and sweet once I had reached its true true ending. While the "friendship is power!" bullshit is all too common in the world of anime, it really fits the spirit of the game. After spending all that time [s]maxing out my social links to skip the grind[/s] forging lasting bonds of friendship with the many characters in the game, I would expect that to have some relevance to how the game ends. Unfortunately, cliché anime bullshit is standard in the game as a whole.
Take Yosuke's social link capstone, for example. In anime, male best friends beat the crap out of each other because that's manly or something. In real life, I can't recall ever asking my closest friends to punch me in the face for any reason, and I don't think they would if I asked. They're friends. Bully characters aren't even characters at all, they're there so that the main character can help Chie be a defender of justice (and get under her skirt, more on that later). Of course, we have to go to a hot spring, and no anime is complete without loud conversations about breast size. As for the narration, it's common in many anime series for the characters to relate to the player, verbally and at length, a summary of the events that have just occurred, like it's a play and you're sitting in the cheap seats. This is the role the narration serves. Of all of the things anime producers have a habit of doing, this is the most annoying, and it is prominent in Persona 4 in a big way.
I don't know. Why don't we find out instead of sitting here talking about it?
What Persona 4 has going for it, though, far outstrips what marrs its otherwise beautiful complexion. The graphic design is the best I've seen in any context, really, and every part of the UI is fun to just look at. That's good, there's a lot of UI to look at, and I wish more RPGs would make such an effort. The music is famously excellent, my favorite being "Heaven", and surprisingly doesn't grate. It's a soundtrack you can enjoy listening to repeatedly, which is exactly what you'll be doing.
Most of all, the game is fun, which isn't something I thought I could say about the whole of an RPG. The combat can quickly turn in your favor or very much against you with a single decision, debuffs are critical to success in many cases and some battles I have won only because I successfully inflicted a status ailment on a foe that was about to slaughter my party. The characters are likable the story engaging, blah blah blah. Those social links can be a mixed bag, though.
For those who don't know, social links are essentially stats that you upgrade by hanging out with certain people linked with the 22 major arcana of the most popular version of a tarot deck. The "personas" (retooled demons from the rest of SMT) are also associated with one arcana each. Upgrading your social links gives bonus experience to fused personas linked with the same arcana as that social link, enough for a few levels, and most of the unlockable skills that persona has. This is a brilliant feature: it removes the grind of leveling up your demons and trades it for a more varied grind with interpersonal relationships. However...
...some of them are just not interesting (more on that later).
The game has me awash in opinions, too many for one post, so I'll be blathering on and on about it for some time, there's a lot to be said for and against it. That aside, Persona 4 Golden has me going to Vita land, and once I play that, I'm sure there will be even more to say (starting with the inconsistency of Atlus's voice acting direction; "Inaba" is pronounced three different ways throughout the game, come on guys). If you haven't played one of these games, do yourself a favor, especially if you like or used to like JRPGs.
Earlier this week, I purchased my first ever Shim Megami Tensei game. Concurrent with that purchase, and my previous purchase of the latest Fire Emblem, was a $30 credit in the Nintendo eShop. Eager to continue pioneering my way into the frontiers of game franchises I've never tried, I used that credit to download Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
I AM AN ADULT AND I REALLY ENJOY THIS GAME.
I'm a devotee of Harvest Moon. The best parts of RPGs were pieced together to construct a staircase of gradual improvement at an unfrustrating pace and with low stakes: your grandfather left you this crappy farm, level it up to make money and become popular with these folksy small-town heart-of-a-nation folks you live next to. It felt very personal, but also provided steady microdoses of dopamine as you enjoyed the growing complexity and profitability of your farming enterprise.
A large part of what made the original Harvest Moon (along with some, but not all of its descendants) so satisfying was that there were many choices to be made at the margin, and a lot of them didn't matter that much. Regardless of how you chose to layout your farm, or what order you completed tasks in, or how frequently you gave gifts to the townsfolk, or how much effort you put into the expansion of your home and other buildings, or how you laid out grazing land versus farming land, the results of your efforts were gratifying without any larger context or endgame. There was an endgame, of a sort, in that Dad would show up and judge your life at the end, but there was no "game over" condition. You could "beat" the game without putting that much thought into your actions, but the thought you did put in felt good. It was never necessary to get a horse, but that made it easier to make money and opened up time in the day to do other things. It was never necessary to get as many cows as possible and get the best milk from all of them, it was just fun to increase the profitability of your farm.
Maybe this isn't the most efficient... Ah, forget it, doesn't matter.
Animal Crossing is terrifying because it's all of that with less context and more mostly unnecessary choices to make at the margin and a bunch of useless junk to collect. The addictive nature of this formula is mitigated somewhat by the real time progression of the game world, limiting what can be done in a given day, but the gradually increasing list of stuff to do is turning the game into the time sink I know it can be, and I've only been playing for a few days.
The main motivation so far seems to be the purchasing of increasingly expensive extensions to your initially diminutive house from one Tom Nook. Nook is a bit of a bogeyman to fans of the franchise as I understand it. He's often characterized as a loan shark, enslaving players to the almighty bell with growing home loans to pay off. This is completely unfair to the chubby raccoon dog in a sweater vest.
Tom Nook not only gave me a home, no questions asked, for what turned out to be a pretty small down payment, he allowed me as much time as I needed to pay off the remainder through what he called a home loan. Home loans don't come with a 0% APR, pay when you can deal. Nook wasn't enslaving me to any long-term debt, he was getting together the resources and labor to build me a house (overnight, mind you) and telling me I could pay him back whenever. He's more like a rich uncle than a loan shark.
Tom Nook is more generous than most people have ever been, show the guy some respect. Then again, maybe I'm just paying him too quickly to see the scene in which Nook's hired thugs grab me on the way to the post office and break my legs.