I've been reading blogs and listening to podcasts on podtoid for a while now, and I thought I might enjoy this website even more if I started my own blog.
I'm a retro-gamer, so I will mostly write about old games. I will also write about stuff unrelated to video games that might interest you.
English is not my native language, but I don't want to use this fact as an excuse for my poor English. Therefore, if I make English mistakes, please let me know and I will be glad to correct it.
Why the name "teh_lvler"?
Well, one of the things that I like the most in video games is to grind for endless hours to see my stats raise and hoping that I will eventually get to lvl 99. For that reason, I wanted to create a nickname that reflects the complete nonsense and the stupidity of my hobby.
What's up with your blog header?
The first RPG that I ever own was Final Fantasy II (IV), so for me, there's a very nostalgic feel to it. I still have the cartridge somewhere in my closet, but the save battery died a long time ago. In my own opinion, because of its bright and colorful manga-ish style, it's one of the most beautiful games of the Final Fantasy series. That's why I decided to incorporate some monsters and characters of that game in my blog header.
Not much because of the gameplay, but mostly because of the awesome music and art style, Castlevania is one of my favorite series. That's why I decided to use the background of the first stage of Dracula X and a picture of Aria of Sorrow.
When I was living in Japan, people couldn't pronounce my French name, so instead of calling me Mathieu, they were calling me Machu. For that reason, I created a name using Chinese characters that sounded like "Machu". The meaning of those two characters is "demonic alcohol" or something like that. Since studying Asian languages is also part of my life, I decided to put it on my front header.
For the very few people who were reading my blog, you might have been wondering why I didn't post anything for such a long time. The reasons is because I have been working for the past 8 months on King Leveler, an Internet video game show.
King Leveler is a show containing two segments. The first segment is a story made in 3D FMV. I did all the CG and music by myself, so it took a while to finish.The second segment is a journalistic coverage of a video game. The first episode of King Leveler covers the Journey mode of Persona 3 FES, a RPG for the Playstation 2 released in 2008 by Atlus. You can watch the full show on http://www.kingleveler.com
In the second video, I instantly kill the last boss using Armageddon, a combo attack with Lucifer and Satan. This attack kills absolutely anything in the game in 1 hit. I didn't embed this video because I guess some of you don't want to see the final boss.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin is another gem that, for some obscure reason, have never been released in North America. Like Square did for many Final Fantasy titles in the US, Atlus skipped Innocent Sin and only released its sequel Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. This doesn't make any sense because those two games are strongly linked together. Although it is possible to understand the story by only playing Eternal Punishment, the experience is much more enjoyable if you play Innocent Sin before. When starting an Eternal Punishment game, you can even load your Innocent Sin save data to get extra stuff. For example, in Innocent Sin, at a certain point in the game, you can fight a secret boss that will give you a special ring. Then, in Eternal Punishment, you can use that ring to create a secret Persona. Since North America doesn't have Innocent Sin, it's impossible to get that extra stuff, which is quite disappointing.
I guess the main reason why they didn't release Innocent Sin is because there are tons of references to Nazis and Hitler into the game. Nowadays, being saturated with World War II games, not releasing a game because of Nazis elements sounds kinda lame, but I guess that 10 years ago, talking about that kind of stuff in videogames was taboo. At that time, Japanese developers seemed reticent to release controversial games that might offend Western gamers. I guess that's why games like Xenogears took so long to come out. They could just have edited that Nazi part out by calling them "The army of Death" or something… That would have been cheesy as hell, but that's better than nothing!
It is such a shame that Innocent Sin never came out in North America, because it is such a great game, especially thanks to its game mechanics. In this game, everything is based on the mechanic of rumors becoming reality. It starts with a rumor saying that if you call yourself on your cell phone, a joker will appear to grant your wishes. However, this joker happens to be sucking up people's dreams which put them into some sort of comatose state and gradually kills them. This joker seems to feel some kind of hate against Tatsuya, Eikichi and Lisa, the main characters of the game, because they committed a sin they can't remember (or don't want to remember). With their Persona power granted by Philemon, Tatsuya and his friends decides to go on an adventure to resolve the mystery revolving around the joker. Because of the rumors becoming reality, the story becomes completely over the top with neo Nazis and crazy stuff going around.
The goal of the rumor system is not only to make the game progress; it's a complete gameplay element. For example, after talking to NPCs in town, you hear three different rumors about a restaurant selling weapons. One says that they sell crappy weapons for cheap, another says that they sell normal weapons for a normal price, and the last one says that they sell great weapons for a very high price. Then, you can pay a detective agency to spread the rumor corresponding to your needs. Afterward, the rumor will become reality.
You got to be careful, because any kind of rumor can become reality. Like in the first Persona, you have to communicate with demons to collect tarot cards. After accumulating a certain amount of cards, you can create Personas in the Velvet Room. One day, when I was farming for cards in a dungeon, a conversation turned really bad. After a demon told me he heard that my best weapon was actually crap, he ran away to spread the rumor. A few minutes later, my best weapon actually became completely useless…
This seems like an annoying game mechanic, but it is actually very rare that such bad things happen. Like in the first game, personas are the main focus of battle, so you don't really need good weapons to survive. Personas still have 8 levels, so you have to grind a little bit to get the best of them. Since it's a lot easier to max them out, instead of sticking with the same personas continually like I did in Persona 1, I ended up using new personas after every dungeons. This makes the game much more addictive, and since I can exchange maxed out personas for rare items, I never felt like I worked for nothing.
Since I ended up with more than 100 hours of playtime, I realized that it still takes a while to max out personas. But since the battle system is much more enjoyable, I didn't felt like I spent that much time grinding. I actually was surprised of my playtime. In Persona 2: Innocent Sin, all the fights are in auto-battle mode. After choosing each character's action, they do the fighting automatically. If you need to heal or are not satisfied with your battle strategy, you can pause the battle anytime and change the settings. By choosing the right combination of attacks, you can even create special attacks with your personas. Thanks to this auto-attack system, battles are fast paced, and with the right attack pattern, you can go through dungeons easily.
Plus, those dungeons are some of the most original dungeons that I've ever seen. You will fight in a CD store, in a gym, at the Arcades, and in many other colorful settings. I don't know what it is, but there's something appealing about fighting my way through a shopping mall infested with demons. This feeling is similar to when I was playing Earthbound on the SNES; since you can somehow relate to the environments of the game, it triggers a reminiscent feeling.
Also, since we all experienced high school life, we can also relate to Tatsuya, Eikichi and Lisa, three of the main characters of the game. There are tons of other characters in the game, and they all have a specific back-story and development. Since it takes place a few years after that game, some characters from the first Persona make their apparition in Persona 2: Innocent Sin. We even get to know who Philemon, the guy who gives you the power to use personas, really is. For Megaten fans, there are some cameos hidden in the game, For example, in one of the stores, there is a guy wearing the uniform of the school in Shin Megami Tensei If…
If you pay a close attention to the surroundings, you can find many little interesting details. For example, in Maya's apartment, if you flip the camera to the right angle, you can find a TV set with a Playstation. In the Bikini Line store, on the vendor's desk, you can see a pack of a popular cigarette brand in Japan. It's interesting to see that, at that time, this kind of advertising was perfectly politically correct, and that nowadays it's completely unthinkable.
It's those little details that make the graphics rich and beautiful. Except for the map of the city, the game is completely in 3D with 2D character sprites, similar to Xenogears or Disgaea. When you talk to NPCs, most of them have a portrait, which is quite impressive considering the huge quantity of characters in the game. Lisa, one of the main characters, is actually a gaijin. When you go to her house, you can meet her father. Since her father is a complete Japan freak but cool at the same time, his portrait is a perfect copy of Steven Seagal. I know it's kind of a prejudice toward gaijins, but I thought it was hilarious.
The graphics looks gorgeous for their time, and it's pretty much the best that can be done on a PSOne. They finally threw away the archaic first person view and replaced it with smooth third person controls. You can run in any direction you want and, compared to Persona 3, flip the camera angle anytime you want. It may sounds like nothing but, it's actually a big step in the evolution of the Megaten series.
This game has a great story, great graphics, great character development, and an addictive gameplay. It has everything I want in an RPG and even more. If you want to try Persona 2: Innocent Sin but can't read Japanese, some fans made a really great English translation of the script of that game. This script can also be used as a walkthrough. You can find it at http://www.chthonian.net/persona/oracle/.
Like SquareEnix, Atlus tend to rerelease their games all the time to do as much money as they can. Therefore, if we show enough interest in the Persona series, who knows; we might see a PSP rerelease or something. Anyway, don't miss my next article in which I will embed videos showing off my level 99 team wiping out everything with the strongest personas in the game. I will also show some secret stuff.
This is a video of Hitomi singing kimi no tonari, the main song of the game. She wrote the lyrics and made the melody. She is a cancer survivor, so I'm glad she's doing fine today. The modern sound of the soundtrack of Persona 3 is nice, but we don't hear those heartwarming songs anymore nowadays. Just hearing the melody of that song gives me the chills.
Persona 3 is considered, by many gaming magazines and websites, to be the best RPG of 2007. However, Persona hasn't always been such an acclaimed series. The first Persona game was more of a sleeper hit, especially in North America. It came a long way before becoming an extremely successful franchise.
Megami Ibunroku Persona, released on the PlayStation in 1996, was the first game of the series. For its time, it had a really interesting story. Some elements of it might feel generic nowadays, but compared to most RPG, it's a really imaginative story. The game starts off with a high school student playing, with his classmates, a silly game called Persona. During the game, the shadow of a little girl appears and then they lose consciousness.
During that time, they all do the same dream about butterflies and a masked man named Philemon. This masked man explains to them that their identity is shaped by numerous selves living inside of them. Those selves, called Persona, can be summoned to fight during battles.
After waking up from that bizarre dream, things start to get really weird in the city. While visiting Maki, their hospitalized friend, demons starts spawning everywhere, causing a great chaos. Armed with their Persona, guns and swords, the group of high school kids wanders around the city to try to figure out what's going on. During their journey, they find out that the problems are somehow linked to a corporation named Sebec, and to Maki's mother who's working there. As the story progresses, the main characters gain some kind of maturity and gradually start to understand more about their own selves, which is an important aspect of the Persona series.
Another essential part of the Persona series is the tarot card system. Unlike other Megaten games, when you communicate with demons, instead of trying to recruit them, you have to convince them to give you tarot cards. Then, you can fuse those cards to create new personas. To do so, you have to go to a bizarre blue room that only persona users can see; The Velvet Room. In that room, you'll meet Igor, an interesting character that looks like the Penguin from Batman. Igor and his Velvet Room will return in every single Persona games. He is some kind of trademark for the series.
The tarot card system is quite interesting, but there is one big problem. When you create a persona, you have to level him up in order to unlock its strongest attacks. Maxing up a persona takes forever, so when I found personas that I liked, I never felt like changing them for newer personas because I didn't wanted to do the grinding again. As a consequence, I've played 90% of the game with the same personas.
You may wonder why I didn't want to grind to get super badass personas. Well, the main reason is because the battle system is absolutely terrible. The designers of that game seemed to have tried to create a really complex battle system, but those complex elements only made the battles more tedious. Your characters are placed on a grid, and every weapon, spell, or gun has an attack range. According to your weapons and personas equipped, you have to place your characters on the correct spot to be able to attack the enemy. People who like chess or turn-based strategy games might like this concept, but personally, I thought it was just annoying. Since when can I only shoot people in front of me with a pistol? I've never seen a short range gun before…
However, there is an even more annoying part of the battle system. After a battle, depending on how well they did during the battle, each character get a different amount of experience points. This means that, in order to level your characters equally, you cannot just spam your best spell to kill the enemies in one shot every battles. You have to make every character useful. However, you can easily abuse this system by making your useless characters cast healing of buffing spells. Even if everybody is already fully healed or buffed, the caster will still gain tons of experience.
If you ever thought that Final Fantasy VIII battles were painfully long because of the summons, it's because you never played Persona. I think I've never seen such slow battles before in any other RPG. They are so slow that, most of the time, thanks to the auto-battle mode, I was studying or doing my homeworks during battles. I was enjoying the fact that I could do something productive while playing a videogame, but again, this only proves the fact that the battle system sucks.
As for the graphics, you can judge by yourself by watching the screenshots. They are kind of a mixed bag. Since during the mid 90's 3D was the new big thing, they filled this game with CG videos. For 1996, those CG scenes look pretty decent but Philemon, the masked man seen in the main characters' dreams, moves like a character from the old Thunderbirds TV show. If I had seen those scenes when the game was released, my head would have exploded, but now, they just look funny. It's always amazing to see how much 3D evolved over the past 10 years.
The actual gameplay is a mix of different kinds of graphics. The overworld is in third person bird view. The level of details is pretty high for a PSOne game, but there are no textures at all. In dungeons' corridors, the view is in first person. This time, everything has textures, but there are fewer polygons. Except 2 or 3 switches in the entire game, those corridors are completely empty, so if you see a corridor on your map leading to nowhere, don't bother exploring it. When you enter a room, the view turns into third person isometric 2D. Those rooms are highly detailed have beautiful art style. I wish the entire game was in that view.
During conversations, character portraits are displayed. Those portraits are nice, but they don't have that clean professional finish that characterize modern Megaten games. I realize I'm just nitpicking there. For a first generation PSOne game, the graphics are pretty good.
Besides the annoying battle system, thanks to a nice story, great ambient music, and decent 32 bit graphics, this game is quite enjoyable. Depending on the choices that you make during the game, the ending can change. You have to make the most morally correct choices to get the best ending.
Your last party member will also vary depending on the choices you make. If you do a lot of complicated stuff, you can even get a secret character. I think it's impossible to get that character without using a walkthrough. He's one of the strongest and most badass characters of the game, so it's worth going through all the efforts to get him.
In the Japanese version, you can even do the incredibly hard Snow Queen quest, which is not just an optional quest, but a completely different storyline. For some reason, this quest was removed from the North American version. Maybe it was due to its difficulty or time constraints.
I think they went a bit too far into the localization of that game. They altered most of the portraits, and even changed one of the main characters into an African American. Instead of wasting time into details like that, they should have spent more time into writing a decent translation. I've never played the North American version, but I've heard that the translation is so bad that sometimes it's difficult to figure out what's going on. It's kinda sad that the first Megami Tensei game released in North America was butchered to this point.
Even if I'm a huge fan of the Persona series, it's difficult for me to recommend playing the first one. The fact is that the other Persona games are so much better, so I'd rather recommend those. All the problems of this game have been corrected in its sequels. However, I have to give some respect to the first Persona. If this game was never released, we would never have seen Persona 3, one of my favorite games of all time. I can't wait for Persona 4!
Welcome to the first part of this Megami Tensei Retrospective! I don't intend to cover all the games in chronological order, but I thought it would be a good idea to begin with the game that started it all: Digital Devil Monogatari: Megami Tensei, released for the Famicom in 1987.
The story of this game is based on the Digital Devil Story novels by Aya Nishitani. Akemi Nakajima, a computer genius, wrote a program that somehow turned bad and summoned an army of demons. Accompanied with her friend Yumiko, who can cast spells because she happens to be the reincarnation of the Shinto Goddess Izanami, Akemi enters the Tower of Daedalus to put an end to the chaos that he created himself. For a 20 years old game, I thought it was a pretty cool story. It's kinda funny that such a computer genius is stupid enough to not expect the terrible consequences of creating a demon summoning program.
When you start the game, you have to allocate 15 points to your stats. However, for Akemi, if you don't allocate most of the points in strength, you won't be able to kill anything. For Yumiko, if she doesn't have enough psychic power points, she won't be able to cast Dia (healing spell) from the beginning, so you'll be pretty much screwed. With this in mind, the point allocation system doesn't leave much room for customization, but it's still a nice touch.
The first floor of the Tower of Daedalus is some kind of village populated by strange people. Right from the beginning, compared to the other Megami Tensei games, you can notice that the setting is more fantasy based. This is kind of a disappointment for me, because I really love the modern urban setting that characterize most Megaten games. As usual, you can find in this village a store, a healer, and a place to fuse demons.
After buying some equipment, I decided to enter the dungeon. The first thing I noticed was the music. This is probably the most badass 8 bit music that I ever heard. I can listen to it in loop for hours without getting tired of it. I was also surprised by the quantity of elements of this game that still remains in modern Megami Tensei games. The moon cycle is there, you can recruit monsters in battles by talking to them, and the spell names are the same.
After wandering around for a few hours, I finally encountered a boss. Since he was pretty huge, I was sure he was the final boss. I thought it was a pretty good length for a 20 years old game, similar to the first Wizardry games. But I was completely wrong. I was sooooo far away from the end. This game is absolutely HUGE.
Realizing that the game wasn't over yet, I went back to the first floor to heal myself and to fuse demons. Then I decided to go deeper into the Tower of Daedalus. After a while, the graphics and the music suddenly changed. I was pleasantly surprised, because I didn't expect that much from a Famicom game. After exploring a bit more, I met a small Viking that asked me to give him a shield in order to let me pass to the next area. By pure luck, I happened to find the shield earlier, so I gave it to him.
In the next area, after killing the boss who actually is a medusa that turned the entire area into stone, everything returned to its normal self so I could explore further. After that, I met a captain who explained me that this area is not a dungeon, but a ship. By talking to him, I could travel to different areas in the game. I thought it was a pretty cool concept for a dungeon crawler.
However, this is where the hell started. The next dungeons are absolutely huge and chaotic. In other Megaten games, there is something called Automap that draws a map for you, so you can know where you've been. In this game, there is a spell called Mapper that creates a really small 3x5 map, but it doesn't helps that much since everything looks the same. I guess I'm supposed to draw maps by myself on a piece of paper but, as oldschool as I am, I don't feel like doing that. Still, even drawing a map would be really difficult to do, because sometimes I get warped to a random area and completely lose track of where I am. On top of that, occasionally, there are complete parts of dungeons that lead to absolutely nowhere. Imagine going through a labyrinth for 5 hours just to end up facing a wall. What the hell were they thinking when they made that game?
In spite of that, there is, from time to time, some pretty interesting stuff going on in those dungeons. For example, after wandering in circle for countless hours in a dungeon, I ended up meeting one of the weirdest things I've ever seen in a video game. Some strange pink girl with three empty eye sockets and tubes going all over her body is talking to me: "The Nakajima crew… You went through a lot to get there… Because I made a pact with Lucifer, I became like this. Please release me from this mask." It's not Silent Hills, but I thought it was pretty creepy for a Famicom game.
At some point during my painful exploration, the music changed again, so I guess I was at the end of the dungeon. However, another stupid little Viking was waiting for me! This time, in order to pass to the next area, I needed to give him a sword… I wanted to finish every single Megaten game, but I guess I'll do an exception for this one. If I'm going back to those endless dungeons to search for, room by room, a sword that could be anywhere, I fear that I might reach bankruptcy for destroying too many controllers. Therefore, this is where my Digital Devil Monogatari: Megami Tensei adventure ends.
Even if I'm complaining a lot about the crazy dungeon designs, playing this game was still a good experience. The story was great for its time and the music was just badass. I also need to mention that the deep and complex demon fusion system was really impressive for its time. It was great to experience the roots of Megaten. If you are a Megami Tensei fan and want to see where the series started, you should give it a try. Just pretend that the game ends after the first boss!
Here’s Daedalus, my favorite track of the soundtrack, remixed for the Super Famicom remake.
If you have been a gamer for a long time, I'm sure there's a series that have a special place in your heart; the kind of series in which you have nostalgic feelings attached to it. For me, this is the Megami Tensei series.
For those who are not familiar with this series, Megami Tensei, also called Megaten, is a 20 years old Japanese RPG that made its debuts on the Famicom (NES) in September, 1987. Since that time, around 50 Megaten games and spin-offs have been released. During the Super Famicom (SNES) era, Megami Tensei became really popular within the underground gaming scene. The Megami Tensei series diverges from other rpgs with its extremely high difficulty and its controversial themes.
I don't know Megaten since a very long time, but I still have many great memories of it. When I was living in Japan, I often went shopping for videogames in Den Den Town (the equivalent of Akihabara in Osaka). One day, I saw that blue box of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne in a video game store for only 10$. I was kinda intrigued by it, so I decided to buy it. However, since I was busy, I didn't get to try it out at that time.
A few months later, I met, for the first time, a girl that soon became one of my best friends. Even if she is a cool looking lawyer, she really is a hardcore gamer. One day, we were talking about video games at a coffee shop. She was telling me in Japanese that she always loved that Megaten thing and that she even bought Megaten figurines. At that time, I had no idea what she was talking about.
It's only when I got back home that I realized that the strange blue box that I bought a few months before was actually part of that crazy Megaten thing that she tried to explain to me earlier. Since she loved Megaten so much, I thought it might be good game, so I decided to give it a try. I was completely blown away.
The modern setting was so much refreshing compared to the generic medieval style that I got used to over the years. Also, I absolutely loved the fact that this game got rid of the stupid RPG premise of saving the world by actually starting the game with the end of the world. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is a pure masterpiece from the beginning to the end.
Since that time, I got hooked to the Megami Tensei series and started to collect all the Megaten stuff that I could find. I even started to dig for extremely rare stuff like the Maniacs version of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne for 150$. I soon started to know even more stuff about Megaten then my Japanese friend who first introduced me to that series.
This is my love for the Megami Tensei series that pushed me to start writing this. In my retrospective, I will try to cover every Megami Tensei games ever made (maybe except the cell phone spin-offs). I will write about my experience playing those games, and might also make some gameplay videos. If I'm really into one of those games, while writing about my progression, I will definitely try to get to lvl 99 and do all the optional stuff.
Depending of my free time, it might take a year or two to complete this retrospective, but when I'm playing Megaten games, I'm having such a good time that I don't mind spending all that time. I hope it will become a great source of information and that you will enjoy reading it.
But first, let's rock this thing out with a badass SMT: Nocturne AMV.