Tag Archives: playstation 4

FGC #448 Mega Man X4 & Mega Man X5

MEGA!Let us consider a simple truth: Mega Man X4 was the culmination of three iterations on the Mega Man X formula. And Mega Man X itself was the culmination of the many adventures of baby, regular Mega Man. With this in mind, it is appropriate to recognize Mega Man X4 the pinnacle of the Mega Man X franchise, and, by association, an all-time high point for the thirty year old franchise as a whole. In short, Mega Man X4 is the peak of the Mega Man X formula.

And then there was Mega Man X5. Mega Man X5 was originally intended as the final Mega Man X chapter, so it would have been appropriate for that title to be the crowning achievement. It wasn’t. It had… issues. What were they? Well, they were all simple variations on the typical Mega Man formula, and every single one of them turned out for the worse. They may have seemed like good ideas at the time, but to get this pity party started, Mega Man never needed…

Ducking is boring

I'll be right hereFor years (decades!) people complained about dear Rock Man’s inability to duck. Every other platforming hero could do it! What’s wrong with the Blue Bomber!? No, that silly slide doesn’t count! Sure, that cuts a few inches off the vertical real estate, but it’s not a substitute for good ol’ ducking and sitting. We want to see those bullets sail right over Mega’s helmet, not ping right into the metal chump’s face!

And Mega Man X5 finally introduced ducking for our dear X (and any robotic heterosexual life mates that may be around, too). And, while a great many of us rejoiced at this news, it did not work as well in practice as we had expected. It turns out the gameplay that was never built for ducking just plain wasn’t built for ducking. Whether by a fault of the current designers, or as in an effort to maintain the action of the previously established titles, the Mavericks of Mega Man X5 did not find fun ways to accommodate ducking. By and large, the number one place you’d find ducking in Mega Man X5 is against bosses that require crouching to avoid a certain attack… and then all you’re doing is… ducking. Ducking is boring! It’s just sitting there! It’s much more dynamic when Mega has to dash or slide to avoid an oncoming barrage, and ducking simply encourages doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. It doesn’t have a place in giant robot fighting! We were wrong to ask for ducking!

And you know what else we were wrong for asking for?

Switching characters doesn’t work

Buds!Mega Man X4 was the first Mega Man X game to allow the player to choose Mega Man X or Zero for venturing through the entire adventure (X3 made Zero a playable character, but he was limited to about three total rooms before inevitably exploding). This was a godsend… but it came with the unfortunate caveat that you were tied to your chosen hero for the entire adventure. Within the opening seconds of Mega Man X4, you chose your fate, and if you made the “wrong” choice, you’d have to start everything over all over again. Granted, Mega Man X4 wasn’t the longest game in the world (even by Playstation 1 standards), but it was still rather annoying that wanting to use the X-Buster against Cyber Peacock would mean you’d never even see Zero.

Mega Man X5 rectified this mistake, and X and Zero were freely selectable at any time. You want to switch between the two super buds every other level? Feel free! …. Actually, maybe you should do exactly that, because if you don’t, you’re going to be screwed come the final areas…

Not all Replopids are created equal, and, unfortunately, X & Zero live in a meritocracy. As per Mega Man X tradition, permanent powerups can be collected across levels. Regrettably, the majority of these powerups do not apply to both Maverick Hunters. And, given a number of those powerups can only be accessed by individual heroes wearing specific armor or using specific abilities, it is very easy to “unbalance” the hunter duo. In the end, you might wind up with an X that possesses 7 health upgrades, and a Zero that can barely survive a stiff breeze. And, while this might be thematically relevant for the series, it is something else entirely for being able to “freely” switch between characters. If X is going to have five times the health of Zero, then why ever choose Zero? There’s no choice at all when one choice is a walk in the park, and the other is attempting to survive instant death.

And this pairs horribly with…

Bosses have levels (and that’s awful)

This is gonna be a whileIt seems there was an attempt to mitigate the “separate powerups” issue… but it went horribly wrong.

Each and every Maverick “boss” has the potential to impart additional items upon defeat. Depending on the level of the boss, you could receive absolutely nothing, or something amazing, like a weapon powerup coupled with a health increase. But how do boss levels work? Apparently they are tied to defeating other Mavericks and your own hunter’s rank, so the longer you take before tackling a stage, the stronger its boss will become. This all seems well and good until you get to the sad, sad way that levels are implemented with bosses: it only increases their health. It does not change their attack patterns, add extra attacks, nor increase the damage dealt. It simply turns average Mega Man bosses into damage sponges of Yiazmattian proportions.

And you better believe that makes the final boss rematch area an absolute waste of a Maverick Hunter’s time and energy.

This would be passable if the Mavericks gained new moves at different health levels, or switched “stances”, or… something! But, no, it’s just the same fight, but much longer. What’s more, we’re looking at a Mega Man 7/X situation where the best weapon for the job often activates some kind of special animation or reaction, so things take even longer. Nobody wants to stand around and wait for Dark Dizzy to get flying again! There’s a T-Rex I have to deal with in the next room!

Then again, there’s a strong chance I won’t get to the next room, because…

Modular Armor is unpleasant

It's a kind of armor...In Mega Man X4, you had the choice of obtaining one of two weapon powerups. Much like X3’s “choose your golden powerup” system, this gave the player a marginal choice in steering X’s development. It may have been a teeny tiny choice, but it was a choice all the same, and I’m sure there are some people that swear by one arm powerup over the other. After all, there are always going to be people that pick something other than plasma/are wrong.

X5 decided to run with that concept, and presented not one, not two, but three completely different armors for X. X could utilize the “fourth” armor from X4 (complete with plasma attack, natch), the highly mobile Falcon Armor, or the… well… whatever was happening with the Gaea Armor. The Gaea Armor seems like it was intended to be the “strong” armor to Falcon’s “fast” armor, but its abilities are all over the place. You can stick to the walls like Spider-Man! You can push blocks with a dash! You’re invulnerable to spikes!(!!!) The only drawback is that you can’t use special weapons, and you can’t air dash. That’s fine, right? No big deal! It’s not like entire levels are based around possessing either the air dash, double jump, or special weapons to make it through areas. It’s not like equipping the Gaea Armor will make certain areas almost completely unwinnable.

Oh? It does do that? And you can’t unequip an armor if it isn’t working out for a level? Oh. Well, that’s not very well-thought-out.

And that’s Mega Man X5 in a nutshell. Mega Man X4 was an excellent culmination of everything in the franchise, and Mega Man X5 decided to toss a lot of failed experiments into the mix. Later games would go on to perfect some of these decisions (Mega Man X8 is particularly good for character switching, and Mega Man Zero offered variety in boss fights), but, as a game that was intended as the finale of the X series, X5 falls far behind its predecessor.

Mega Man X4 might be the best in the franchise. Mega Man X5 veered too far off that path to be the best.

FGC #448 Mega Man X4 & Mega Man X5

  • GET IT!?System: Playstation initially, and then ported to everything that could support it through various compilations and digital releases. Including, but not limited to: every Sony platform, Gamecube, Xbox, Switch, and probably the N-Gage at some point.
  • Number of players: X and Zero may only be controlled by one player.
  • Other issues: Oh yeah, Mega Man X5 introduced Alia, who constantly interrupts the gameplay to provide important information like “shoot things” or “duck under boiling lava”. She’s largely a pest in this adventure, but I can’t fault the game too much for trying to be more inclusive for the kiddies that might need a little extra help. It was only the fifth game in the series, it’s not like there was any precedent for how to play the thing…
  • Further Issues: My bad, Mega Man X4 can’t be the best in the series, as it, like its descendants, has an annoying vehicle stage. But Mega Man X5 did introduce the concept of having to collect a bunch of stupid doodads on an instant death track, so it is still somehow worse.
  • Favorite Maverick (X4): Storm Owl. Say it with me now: Storm Owwwwwl.
  • Pew pewFavorite Maverick (X5): I appreciate that Mattrex is a weapons dealer before the virus drives him mad. When you’re an enormous, flaming dinosaur living in a volcano, there are only so many vocations open to you.
  • Did you know? I am required by law to note that the original names for the Mavericks of Mega Man X5 were all Guns ‘n Roses references, and they were suggested by the localizer’s wife. I should also note that all these names were dropped for the most recent X compilations, so Axel the Red is forever lost to time. More’s the pity.
  • Would I play again: Both of ‘em are a solid yes. Mega Man X5 may have made some poor choices, but it’s still a mega game. And X4 is exactly the kind of thing we’re all fighting for.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cave Story! Oh boy! Caves! Please look forward to it!

Stupid devil

FGC #446 Odin Sphere (Leifthrasir)

Good catWhy bother with yet another beat ‘em up? Why bother with Odin Sphere?

Odin Sphere is, at its core, a beat ‘em up game. Yes, it is the unusual 2-D beat ‘em up, and, yes, it has many “RPG elements” that separate it from the typical beat ‘em up title, but it is still “only” a beat ‘em up. You move from screen to screen, defeat some enemies, and then break a few crates for items before eventually reaching the boss. Basic mooks are continually recycled between areas, the areas themselves are limited, and even bosses are fought multiple times in multiple configurations. Odin Sphere is a beat ‘em up, and, even though it is gorgeous (or maybe because it is gorgeous), it is still fairly limited. It seems like there are five hours of unique gameplay in this twenty hour game.

So why bother? This isn’t an arcade beat ‘em up that includes fun times with friends, and, while some of the “JRPG elements” are interesting, you can’t hang an entire game on shoving sentient turnips into flasks. While Odin Sphere is damn pretty to look at, graphics are not everything (or at least I’ve been told that by every lying gamer I’ve ever encountered). There’s good beat ‘em up nonsense available here, but hitting any other title that is over in about a quarter of the time seems like a better choice.

Except other beat ‘em ups don’t feature Velvet.

Odin Sphere might be a simple beat ‘em up with repetitive monsters and locations, but it contains a very engrossing story. This is not to say it is a unique story! Most of the heroes and heroines of Odin Sphere are basic operatic archetypes, and God help me if I have to deal with one more character that has daddy issues and must go on an adventure to find their own place in the world. “What is this emotion called… love?” asks the entire speaking cast of Odin Sphere. And Oswald is clearly just Darth Vader minus the fatherhood angle, which leaves us with… Darth… Nothing? But! Despite all of this, the walking clichés of Odin Sphere are a collection of surprisingly memorable lads and lassies, likely because their proclivity for Shakespearean soliloquies grants us a rare look into these protagonists’ minds (also: fun Shakespearean tropes like “I can only be killed by a tree” “Well my middle name is ‘Tree’” “Oh fiddlesticks”). Aren’t we all tired of silent protagonists? Give us more adventurers with deep-rooted psychological issues.

And the leader of the pack for these nerds is obviously…

VELVET!

Velvet Valentine. I mean, look at that idle pose! She’s got more personality just standing there glaring at a rabbit than most characters earn over the course of a 40 hour adventure.

Get 'em!

But it’s not just about classy poses, she also possesses a ridiculous whip chain weapon (that incidentally absorbs the souls of the dead). And everyone knows that in videogames (unlike in our mundane, crappy world) whips are the most powerful weapons on whatever passes for Earth du jour (Erion?). Whips have range, power, and, if you’re good, the power to command fire (Belmonts have known this one simple trick for centuries). Yes, there’s that whole bondage connotation, but who cares about that when…

Spider-Man!

Whips allow you to become Spider-Man! Who cares about anything when you can be Spider-Man? Actually, given Velvet has experience as a dancer, she’s more Spider-Gwen… and maybe that’s even better? I mean, there are a lot of Spider-Mans running around out there, but Ghost Spider is pretty unique. And, like Velvet, she has a cool costume, too.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses for Velvet…

This sucks for everybody

Velvet comes from circumstances. Velvet and her twin brother were abused by their grandfather, a man who also killed their mother in a fit of rage. Apparently Grandpappy King Valentine would arbitrarily whip his grandchildren, and force his granddaughter to dance for him for reasons that can only be maximum skeevy.

Bro!

This created an unfortunate situation wherein Velvet’s brother grew up to be a duplicitous jerk/three-headed dog monster (although Pappy Odin kind of added to those issues, too), and Velvet herself eventually became an adult with an understandable level of PTSD. And, considering Velvet is also stuck in a magical universe where anything can happen, she lived in fear of her abusive grandfather returning from the grave. When he inevitably does that and kicks off a (surprisingly successful) plan to destroy the world, suffice it to say, Velvet is not having a fun time.

Samus!

But she’s having a fun time when she’s flipping around like Samus Aran. Hey, that bounty hunter had problems with authority and dead parents, too! Samus and Velvet should hang out and play with their grappling beams together!

Such a dreamboat

And it’s not only jumping skills that will make Velvet’s life better. She has the love of a loyal prince, Cornelius, who, despite being cursed about ten seconds after his introduction, is a true Prince Charming. He fights for his country, his people, and, most importantly, Velvet. And he didn’t even need a magical sword to defend his love against his vaguely patricidal father. That’s a man worth keeping, Velvet! I can count on one hand the number of people I know that would fight a sewer dragon for their lover.

Bunny!

Oh, and she really likes rabbits, too. Rabbits, in many cases, are better than a doting boyfriend. If only there were some way to combine the two…

Now, is anything about Velvet here all that revolutionary? Nope! I compared her to three other fictional characters in the span of a few hundred words, so it’s pretty clear Velvet isn’t the most original character (that you should not steal). But she’s… fun. All these traits seem to alchemize into a perfectly golden heroine, and wanting to see what becomes of the wannabe Romani is a fine reason to fight the same stupid five bosses all over again.

Why do we play some videogames? Maybe it’s just a matter of having the right character.

FGC #446 Odin Sphere (Leifthrasir)

  • KISS MESystem: The original Odin Sphere appeared on Playstation 2, but then we saw a rerelease on Playstation 3, Playstation 4, and Vita eight years later, presumably because of phat piles of Dragon’s Crown cash.
  • What’s the difference? The new and improved Odin Sphere Leifthrasir contains a number of quality of life improvements, new skills, and the occasional area where you can jump around like an idiot for no reason. But it barely offers any new story content or “levels”, so only seek out the remake if you have eyeballs that enjoy gorgeous graphics carried along a HDMI cable.
  • Number of players: One Valkyrie at a time, please.
  • What’s in a name? The titular Odin Sphere is likely a reference to Odin’s gigantic spikey-ball thingy. Or it could be a reference to the circular arenas featured in every battle stage. Or some kind of upgrade on Wagner’s “cycle” of music dramas. Or it just bloody sounds cool. I didn’t make this game!
  • Other naming issues: Wagner the Dragon has a name that is pronounced like “Vagner”. Oswald the Unlucky Rabbit gets the proper American/English soft pronunciation of his W. I’m not one to fiddle with accents and articulation, but try to be a little more consistent, Japanese-created magical Norse creatures.
  • Favorite Character: Go ahead and take a guess.
  • An End: I very much appreciate that the final boss gauntlet initially appears as a “choose your favorite fighter” situation, but is actually deeply tied to the lore of the piece, and asks the player if they’ve been paying attention to the various prophecies floating around. However, I am not a big fan of the fact that these five (mostly) original bosses were all herded into the final moments. We could have used original content elsewhere, guys!
  • Did you know? Sheep grow on trees.
  • Would I play again: Maybe we could see this one on the Switch? The grindiness seems like something that would be ideal for a kinda portable system… but then again the same could be said of nearly every modern beat ‘em up. That’s it! Go ahead and put every beat ‘em up on the Switch! It’s the only way to be sure!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… We ❤ Katamari for the Playstation 2! That one is sure to roll up a lot of fun. Please look forward to it!

This sucks for everyone involved

FGC #442 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

BLOOD!Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night reminded me why I actually enjoy my favorite genre.

We live in confusing times. Just a few years back, it seemed like it was easy to define the direction of gaming. AAA was king, and, if anyone was “involved” in videogames, they knew that the next big thing was inevitably a franchise with intense graphics, open-world sandbox gameplay, and RPG-like elements. Or… something. Look, what’s important is that every gaming news site out there was telling us that the hottest titles available all cost the gross national product of South America, required twelve craptillion hours to produce, and were available now for your Playstation X or FourBox or whatever.

But things are different now. It may just be my old man imagination, but it seems like the videogame industry has finally adjusted to accommodate both AAA games and less intensive, but dramatically easier to produce, “indie” games. (In many cases, these “indie” games aren’t independently produced at all, but it seems like such an unintended slight to refer to them as “budget” or otherwise lesser titles. Though one could suppose that the “budget” thing really is the biggest factor here…) Back in the Playstation 2 days, it was newsworthy that Katamari Damacy was a “budget” title at its initial $20 MSRP. Now, presumably thanks to the advent of digital storefronts and more accessible development tools, games that could likely be best described as “light” are available at $20 just as often as the latest release drops on the same storefront at $60 (or $90 for that all-important day one edition). This has had the wonderful side effect of reviving certain genres and playstyles, so “the arcade experience” has finally resurfaced along with other categories that include “pretty much Zelda” and “shoot ‘em up (without exploitation)”. And, of course, the metroidvania has returned to us. In fact, the metroidvania has returned to us in spades.

MEOWIt seems like there is a new metroidvania released every month (every seven seconds come Fall). And, like a sucker, I have a tendency to throw myself into about every third one that comes down the pike. I like metroidvanias! I have liked them since Super Metroid (“What about the original Metroid?” “We don’t talk about that”). And I suppose that, like a plumber that is permanently thirsty after an unfortunate detour through Desert Land, I am always going to be starved for more metroidvania content. I can’t even say that I will wait to finish one metroidvania before I start the next one, as it appears I am playing another metroidvania while I am writing this very article. Load times are writing times, people! I’m a very busy man, and I have to see that sweet 100% map completion achievement somehow!

But that’s the exact problem I had that I hadn’t realized until playing Bloodstained: Not all metroidvanias are about completion.

I admit that I have played a number of metroidvanias in recent years, and now I’m pretty sure that I played them all wrong. For an easy example, I can look at Metroid 2, Metroid 2, and Metroid 2, all games that were reviewed recently (“recently”) for this site. And if you look at those articles, you will note that two out of three of those games were completed and reviewed (“reviewed”) within days of their release. How did I do that? Well, obviously, I completed the titles as quickly as possible. Why did I do that? Well, that’s simple: it’s a videogame, it’s a challenge, and you’re winning if you finish the challenge the fastest. Yes, I can and absolutely will go back to “100%” the title, but I’m going to do that as quickly as possible, too. I noticed that door I couldn’t open quite yet, you better believe I’m going to come back later and nab every last expansion pack and powerup bonus. After I’m all done with that, I’m going to check a FAQ and/or forums to learn what I missed, and maybe review a few speedrun strats. Then, after I’ve seen my own fastest run through the latest SR388, then, maybe, I’ll put it all down, call the game complete, and see you next mission. …Which might happen about seven seconds later with a certain robot named Fight…

And Bloodstained taught me that no, you’re wrong Goggle Bob. Stop and smell the roses (that may or may not be expies for medusa heads).

Too hot todayLet’s address one thing before we go any further: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is by no means a perfect game. For one thing, the bosses suck in all kinds of different ways. Practically every creature has way too much HP, you see the same stupid patterns over and over again, and there is just no universe where certain samurai bosses needed “reprise” fights (particularly in light of the Boss Rush mode). I’m pretty sure I distinctly enjoyed, like, one boss battle, and everything else was either way too stupid/easy or way too frustrating thanks to stupidity/endurance. And I’m playing on Switch, so let me tell you about how, every once in a while, I am reminded of Super Castlevania and the kind of slowdown that I thought was relegated to games from thirty freaking years ago. Oh, and speaking of thirty years ago game design: there is the occasional bit in Bloodstained that might have been more at home back in Simon’s Quest, the infamous Castlevania title that told players to literally bang their heads against the wall. At one point, I (a person who famously plays a lot of videogames) was completely stuck for finding a solution to my current predicament, and it turns out the resolution involved talking to a random NPC out in the castle boonies. Why would I ever do that? Who knows, but I couldn’t see a single clue to lead me in that direction, so I was stuck randomly wandering all over the map.

And… I enjoyed that.

I didn’t know what I was doing, and I enjoyed that.

It has been said a thousand times that the appeal of a number of videogames and their associated genres (that is to say, all the games that copied the original title until they were defined as belonging to a genre) was always their level of freedom. Grand Theft Auto 3 is a title that was probably completed by about 25% of its players, but was somehow still enjoyed for hours upon hours thanks to all the fun one could have with a cheat code and a rocket launcher. Skyrim probably has something to do with terrifying dragons, but it is also a cheese wheel discovery simulator. And The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild allows for a Link that can ignore the literal apocalypse and dick around discovering tree poop for entire months. Freedom is the name of the game!

Another terrible night for a commuteBut “freedom” is something that is generally lacking in 2-D adventures. Mario might have been able to find a key or two in his 2-D outings, but those levels were still “courses”, not “environments” (and you could likely claim the collectathons of the late SNES era were Mario and others growing against their 2-D confines). And while there were a few 2-D games based on exploring, that entire perspective has always been about finding the next checkpoint or powerup that helps you to find the next powerup. There’s a reason that Metroid rewards you with its heroine in her knickers for a speedy run through Zebes, and totally ignores how you used your grappling beam to teach the etecoons how to love. The point of a 2-D adventure is not to “have fun” in the environments, it is to find the optimal way to move forward, to gain more skills, and then see what’s around that next bend. The fun is in the discovery of new areas and powers, not in simply reveling in the areas you’ve already traversed.

But when I got stuck in Bloodstained, I discovered that I actually liked playing around in this haunted castle. I didn’t have any new abilities. I didn’t have some grinding goal. In fact, I didn’t have a damn clue where I was supposed to be heading, or what I was supposed to be doing. But I was at least at the point in the game where Miriam’s moveset is more robust than your typical Castlevania protagonist. It was fun to play as Miriam, and, as a result, it was fun to revisit older areas with Miriam. It was fun to see monsters that had previously been a detriment, and were now a possible source for new and exciting items. It was fun to see old areas, and enjoy the ambiance of any given room in a capacity beyond just randomly hitting walls and hoping for a meat drop. I want one, too!It was fun! It was fun exploring the world of Bloodstained not for some overarching goal, but just exploring for the sake of exploring! Like some kind of fancy-pants, city-slicker 3-D game. And even if I wasn’t making any “plot” progress, I was still collecting a host of materials, shards, and experience from my unplanned sojourn. Even when I’m not doing anything, I’m doing something! That’s the sign of a good videogame!

And, ultimately, I feel like that is the source of the good from the “vania” side of the metroidvania equation. My personal theory for years has been that Metroid games are better than Castlevania games. Why? Well, if you find a Super Missile container hiding behind a wall while exploring Zebes, you can enjoy that Super Missile upgrade whether you’re at the start of the adventure or heading toward the final confrontation. Meanwhile, while exploring Castlevania (or… Igavania? Huh?), you might find a +1 sword hidden in a concealed room. But you’ve already discovered a +4 sword. Why would you ever bother with such a piddling weapon? Congratulations, you found the secret, and it’s completely useless. Why did you even bother exploring?

But that’s only true in a bad Castlevania. In a game where your every undertaking is enjoyable, then finding even the crappiest of swords is enjoyable, because you enjoyed getting there. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is such a game. Bloodstained is fun to play, and, in that way, encourages the player to stop and take it all in. Every movement, every monster, every gigantic severed dog’s head (it’s a weird game) contributes to an overall feeling that is bizarrely welcoming. Yes, Bloodstained predominantly takes place in a deadly castle filled with murder-beasts, but it also feels like Iga is inviting you to his magical kingdom (that incidentally contains giant werewolves). It’s fun to play Bloodstained, and it’s fun to be in Bloodstained.

Ante Up!I feel like that is something I forgot along the way. Through the portable metroidvanias, through the reimaginings of other titles, and through the current bounty of excellent indie titles, I’ve been focusing on “beating” these ‘vanias. And, while that is a perfectly valid approach to any videogame, somewhere I lost the simple ability to enjoy the moment. Stop, smell the zombies. and encounter a castle on its own terms. With an interesting moveset and environments, Bloodstained encourages exploration as slow and meticulous as the effort it inevitably took to build this kingdom.

Bloodstained isn’t a perfect game. It might not even be a truly great game. But it is a game that encouraged me to look at games differently, and that’s always perfect.

FGC #442 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

  • System: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC, and Switch if you’re nasty. Vita and WiiU are right out.
  • Number of players: There’s some manner of multiplayer somewhere in here, right? For all I care, it’s single player, but I’m pretty sure there was a stretch goal somewhere in there…
  • Kickstart This: Yes, I contributed money to see this game produced. Do I feel that influences my own opinion on the game? No. Considering I am really terrible about checking any developer update emails, I’m going to go ahead and say my “production credit” is just an eternal reminder that I reserved this game way early.
  • Favorite Shard: Being able to manually “aim” Miriam’s hand is the perfect middle ground between your average metroidvania and Samus Returns’ continual aiming. And the best use of aiming Miriam’s hand is to shoot a bevy of True Arrows right at your opponents. There’s nothing finer than seeing a goopy zombie puddling around with arrows in its knees.
  • Look out!Boss Battler: It seems like the bosses that were most difficult in Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon have been converted to extremely easy encounters for this adventure. In particular, Andrealphus, the bird-armor thing, goes from the biggest bad to the smallest chump. Though I suppose a lack of pits really takes something away from the poor guy…
  • Say something mean: The entire first area is terrible. Bloodstained offers easily the worst opening I have seen in a videogame in years. Miriam starts off too limited, the areas are claustrophobic, and the boss of the area is just the worst. Did someone demand a really s*** prologue area? Because we got a really s*** prologue area.
  • Did you know? While Dracula technically doesn’t appear in this game, the ultimate impetus for the final villain of the game is very similar to the motivations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. So even when the count doesn’t show up, it seems he has an influence on final bosses.
  • Would I play again: I feel like I got everything I wanted out of this castle, but I’m certainly going to dive in when further character DLC drops. I will be returning to this magical land once again. Actually, come to think of it…

What’s next? We’re going to continue our Bloodstained coverage. Kinda. Next up is Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, and we’re going to play a little game of compare and contrast between the seemingly very similar protagonists. Please look forward to it!

Robin!

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

EVERYBODY DANCE NOWLet’s talk about stones, and how much blood you can get out of them.

It all started back on the Super Famicom with Shin Megami Tensei. The SMT series was, at its core, a JRPG about playing Pokémon while the forces of Order and Chaos battled for the very soul of humanity. It was philosophical. It was deep. It was banned in the West, because Satan may or may not have made an appearance. And it kicked off an entire franchise of titles based on the simple dichotomy of order and chaos and a general need for humanity to steer penis monsters riding chariots. SMT wound up a success for Atlus, which spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, the most popular (eventually) being Jack Bros. Persona.

The Persona series started as, essentially, a slightly less apocalyptic version of SMT. Yes, there are demons, angels, and the occasional Hitler running around, but they’re all operating on the fringes of society, and not outwardly participating in the end of the world. It was basically the Harry Potter to Shin Megami Tensei’s Lord of the Rings. Many of the SMT trappings were still all over the titles, though, and no one was going to mistake Persona for an entirely independent franchise. Then we hit Persona 3, and things started to… mutate.

Persona 3 features demons, monsters, and a particularly homicidal version of Jungian psychology. It is also Day Planner: The Game. Persona 3 has frequently been referred to as “Japanese high school simulator”, but, even more than that, it is a game about balancing your (avatar’s) life. Do you go out tonight (and fight monsters), or do you stay home and study for that test tomorrow? Are you going to spend the afternoon hanging out with your girlfriend, or your best friend? The nerds dance, tooAnd would you like to spend time with the kindly old couple that is obsessed with a tree (?), or is it time to while away the afternoon playing a MMORPG where your homeroom teacher is inexplicably hitting on you? Decisions, decisions! Persona 3 isn’t only about choosing your battle tactics, it’s also about choosing your friends, afternoon plans, and how you combine trading cards into demons that may or may not summon the apocalypse.

Persona 3 wound up becoming a pretty noteworthy hit. While there are a number of potential reasons for the success of the title, one significant factor is likely that you, the all-important player, so fully inhabit the life of this protagonist. In making practically every decision for this “hero” for one year of game life and about seventy hours of real life, it is rather inevitable that an audience would grow overly attached to their individually curated protagonist. And what happens the moment the main character is separated from the player? (Spoilers for a thirteen year old game incoming!) He dies! The protag literally cannot live without you!

The death of Persona 3’s hero is substantial for a number of reasons. The most obvious, of course, is how Persona 3 is all about death. Death, dealing with death, and the broad knowledge that one day you too will die are all general themes that pop up again and again in this title where you can also summon Thor to cast a lightning spell. But beyond that, there is the simple explanation that this is a focused, self-contained story that starts when a strange boy enters a strange city, and ends after that man has made meaningful relationships with people that will live on after his adventure and life have concluded. Persona 3, whether by thematic or simple writing convenience, is meant to be a wholly contained, limited story about the significant, last year of a teenager’s life. Persona 3 is not a story that is meant to go beyond its own borders. Persona 3 is a deliberately claustrophobic tale that is enhanced by its own limits.

And then, naturally, we had Persona 4. And it was a success. So we saw Persona 4 Super. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game Turbo. And Persona 4: The Animation. And Persona 4: The Rhythm Game. By about the time we got to Persona 4: The Rogue-Like, a certain pattern had emerged: the enormously successful Persona 4 was, perhaps from its inception, built to be less a self-contained story, and more a franchise unto itself.

And then Persona 5 finally emerged. Persona 5’s fame may have peaked with this…

It's a whole new game

But we are also talking about a protagonist that practically launched alongside his own canon fursona…

Sonic Heeeeeroes

So it is pretty safe to say that Persona 5 was designed with a slightly different goal than the title that “started” the (most profitable version of the) franchise. Shin Megami Tensei gave way to SMT: Persona that gave way to a series that was simply known as Persona, and now it appears that individual Persona titles are attempting to be franchises unto themselves. Please look forward to Persona 5: The Shoot ‘Em Up.

And here’s Persona 5: The Rhythm Game right next to its simultaneous release of Persona 3: The Rhythm Game.

And, honestly? These twins seem to prove that both titles are equally lacking in meat on their respective bones.

SO BLUELet’s cover the good first: the soundtracks of both Persona 3 and Persona 5 are amazing, and an entire game based on their respective OSTs is incontrovertibly a good thing. Any excuse to listen to some of the iconic tracks from either series is a welcome pretext to press buttons along to the beat, and we’ve got an excellent GUI on our hands here, too. Some rhythm games can get a little confusing with their various “press this now” prompts, but there is no such screen muddling here. And you’re not expected to free-style for extra points, either. The game portion of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is excellent, and a fine way to re-experience one of the best parts of both “origin” titles.

But it couldn’t just be a simple rhythm game. No, the Persona series seems to demand that every spin-off be somehow “canon”, so there is a full introductory scene that explains exactly why the casts of both games now must dance. It’s all a dream! Orchestrated by dueling sisters! There are no consequences for losing! There are no consequences for anything! But we’ll be damned if we let one Persona title pass without a novel’s worth of words that amount to absolutely nothing. It’s not nearly as egregious as Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story mode (which, reminder, was an entire visual novel’s worth of dialogue and twists and turns that only amounted to “believe in yourself”), but, if you want to play the full game (and why wouldn’t you want the full experience available to you?), you must participate in “social link”-esque dialogues with various party members. Ever wanted to learn exactly what Mitsuru thinks about dancing? No? Well, too bad! It’s the only way to complete this escapade!

But the twin release of dance parties for Persona 3 and Persona 5 conveys a very telling tale: both supporting casts are boring as hell.

VIDEO TIMEOkay, that might be a bit harsh. And, frankly, it even feels wrong. In the case of Persona 3, I finished the title, and immediately wanted to dive back into a New Game+ just to revisit all my old friends at Magical Dungeon High School. Similarly, Persona 5 had an unforgettable cast to the point that its fans could talk for hours about how some characters are violently underserved by their forced interactions with other (likely misogynistic) characters. In both cases, it seems like there’s a reason people would want to see the entire cast pop up again in new spin-off titles… or at least hang around in the background of a Smash stage. I liked Futaba! I could deal with more of her!

But the writing for this rhythm game (that may or may not simply be a way to further capitalize on an unforgettable soundtrack) truly underserves these casts. They are left as simple caricatures of themselves, and certain characters blend together across titles into one indistinguishable blob of archetypes (Ryuji and Junpei are the same guy, apparently). What’s the difference between the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 3’s team and the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 5’s team? Ostensibly, not much!

The worst teamAnd this seems significant, as the cast of Persona 3 was only really meant for one (albeit long) adventure, while it is obvious that Persona 5 meant for its Phantom Thieves to go on and steal the show in other franchises and Persona byproducts. Joker is going to stop by Sonic World and the Mushroom Kingdom, but is he any more developed than Jack Frost? Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight seems to indicate that he’s not. He’s just as remarkable as the other cypher that didn’t even survive his maiden adventure.

In the end, the support conversations of P5: Dancing with the Stars and P3: Dancing with the Doomed -the entire plot of both “adventures”- prove one thing: there isn’t much difference between Persona casts. And, considering one gang was meant for bigger and better things, that is rather demoralizing. Persona 5 was built to be the Big Mac to Persona 3’s Dollar Menu cheeseburger, but, once you’ve got your order, it turns out they’re both little more than a chicken nugget.

Just remember this moral when we hit Persona 5: Shin Arena Diving Space Tractor 2 Turbo. The Persona 5 well is already feeling a might dry…

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

  • System: Playstation 4 and… Playstation Vita? Really? Are you… sure?
  • Number of players: I’ll be dancing with myself.
  • Two Games? Let’s face it: the separation of these games into two different versions is a pretty obvious cash-grab. Persona fans are suckers, and pretty much every brand manager involved is well aware that those losers were always going to buy Persona: Dancing Red and Persona: Dancing Blue. And they’ll buy the special edition, too, because it comes with a plushie or something. And that plushie is still sitting on my desk as I type this. Damn fans.
  • The best teamYou’re complaining about the plot of a rhythm game? It’s not about the plot per se, it’s about that someone had the idea to make this a cool “hang out” game featuring both casts… and the “hanging out” seems less fun and more like a job required to earn a new hat. If I’m interpreting having a conversation with Ann as a boring slog now, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen in another seven spin-offs.
  • Favorite Track: Rivers in the Desert is severely underappreciated. Then again, Persona 5 has an amazing soundtrack all on its own, so there is some steep competition.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Most of the songs are accompanied by random characters bopping around to the rhythm, but two tracks per cast are dedicated music videos featuring either the boys or the girls. In general, one is kind of goofy and silly, and the other is sexy and sultry, complete with costumes and swimsuits. Want to guess which gender gets assigned to sexy times?
  • Did you know? There’s probably a universe where someone decided to model all the social links for dancing, but Dr. Tae Takemi still refuses to get out of her chair.
  • Would I play again: This (these?) title holds up as a great rhythm game, so I’m probably going to revisit some tracks in the near future. Unfortunately, I’m never going to touch the “plot” ever again. I have better things to do. And these Phantom Thieves should, too…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Startropics 2: Zoda’s Revenge! Oh no! Zoda is gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

Yuck
This is just… awkward.