Tag Archives: dress-up

FGC #627.1 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

The Wild Arms 3 LP will be back and continuing next week. Right now I need to talk about Stranger of Paradise for reasons that are likely related to brain damage. Also, this article contains spoilers for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. The plot is vaguely incomprehensible anyway, but, ya know, if you don’t want to be spoiled on a game that came out like a month ago, just go ahead and read one of the 600 other articles on the site. Thank you for listening.

Eat it, ChaosStranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has finally refined the genre with one simple trick: the perfect protagonist for a JRPG is a complete idiot.

Alright, this humble blogger must admit that is not quite right. For one thing, SoP:FFO is not a JRPG. It is an action game with significant JRPG elements. If you attempt to play this game with a typical JRPG mindset, you will watch your not-so-humble protagonist die. A lot. You cannot simply “trade blows” when you are facing a mad ogre in this Final Fantasy universe, and you must dodge, parry, and properly back-attack if you want to stand a chance. Learning exactly how to utilize your weapons is a must, and it is pretty clear early on why magic as we know it is a limited resource. Here’s a hint: if you can lob fireballs from a great distance away from your opponent, you are less a wizard, and more of a sniper. Gotta tape those superpowers down in an action game! And, to be clear, this is a departure from Final Fantasy 15, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, or even Kingdom Hearts. Those are more action-JRPG affairs, a storied tradition that traces back to waiting for 100%s on your action gauge in Secret of Mana. This is an action title, where “using a potion” is less of an inevitability, and more of a sign that you are choking in your battle duties. You should have been able to take down those wolves without getting hit, Jack! Are you sure you’re cut out to be a Warrior of Light?

But, as much as SoP:FFO is an action game, the plot and general framing is definitely a JRPG. That is as it should be, as this whole story is a loose adaption of Final Fantasy (1), the granddaddy of all JRPGs that do not involve compulsive gambling. This is the world that involves Cornelia, a dark elf prince, and exactly one named pirate. The ultimate threat is that same as in 1987, too, as the Four Fiends are menacing the primal elements of the planet, and, if four (or so) Light Warriors don’t get off their collective duffs immediately, the whole world is going to rot and/or burn. So world travel is on the menu, and every monster has to be stomped from here to the Sunken Shrine. Save us all, person with four letters in their name!

But Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is no mere HD remake of Final Fantasy…

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.

FGC #209 Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13

Here it comes!I want to start by plainly stating that I loved Lightning Returns. I played it through twice, and that’s an extreme rarity for me nowadays. I loved the combat, I loved the world (we’ll get into that), and it was still probably the most pure “fun” I’ve had with a JRPG in a while. That said, let’s look at the good and the bad of Lightning Returns.

BAD: The World is Stupid

The conceit of Lightning Returns is that all of time and space got totally fubared over the course of Final Fantasy 13-2: Serah’s Big Adventure. Thanks to a pair of nitwits and an army of monsters that are somehow the good guys, time got broken, because you can apparently only toss a moogle at a problem so many times before all of reality shatters. As a result, the world(s)(?) was reduced to a collection of easily segmented “areas”, and, with grandfather time out of the picture, people do not age. What brave new world is this!?

Except…

Only the tiniest bit of lip service is paid to the “everyone is an immortal” thing. Despite living for 500 years, the majority of Nova Chrysalia’s population is pretty indistinguishable from the average Final Fantasy population. They fritter about their days, provide sidequests, and occasionally fight monsters. Every single person is at least 500 years old, and the best anyone seems to be able to accomplish is opening a bakery. As an easy example of this nonsense, there’s a sidequest where you reunite an estranged father with his son. In 500 years, they apparently couldn’t get over their issues, but, yay, sidequest heroine Lightning is here to patch up any stormy relationships in a thirty second cutscene. I think the reward for that quest was unlimited meatballs or something. Centuries of life and potential progress, and all we got are new recipes for side dishes.

Seedy's!But the biggest issue here is the whole “end of humanity” thing. There’s supposed to be this overpowering feeling of melancholy to a world that is on the cusp of destruction. Lightning has thirteen or so days to save every soul she can find, and her first “case” is a serial killer in a grimy town filled with sorrow. It’s basically Final Fantasy meets Jack the Ripper (except ol’ Jack is hunting women with fluorescent pink hair), and every NPC you encounter is lamenting their sorry, immortal life and how nothing has any meaning anymore without procreation or aging. Boo-hoo. This contrasts poorly with…

GOOD: I want to live there

Seriously, if I could live in any Final Fantasy world, I’d pick Lightning Returns.

The first city, Luxerion, is a lame knockoff of Dickensian England, but the other big city, Yusnaan is a city dedicated to “we’re all immortal, so let’s have a damn party until the end of time”. It’s my kind of place. There are street merchants selling every kind of food you can imagine, monster battle arenas for entertainment, some kind of deadly version of Nickelodeon Guts, and fireworks every night. There are random musicians wandering around, so I assume the rad in-game music can be heard by the residents, and, added bonus, it’s very easy to avoid monsters in this area if you need a rest. The whole place seems like some kind of beautiful dream of an endless Mardi Gras, and the only drawback is that the drama club puts on the same stupid play every night. Get some new material, nerds!

FlappyAnd the rest of the world is just beautiful. I don’t mean from a “fancy HD graphics” perspective, I’m talking about how I’d genuinely want to enjoy the Wildlands if they were locally available. Probably a great place to play Pokémon Go. I figure that, sometime in the last 500 years, some immortal landscaper decided the rolling planes needed to have the lawn mowed every few days, so everything looks surprisingly hospitable for monster hunting grounds. And there is a lush and verdant ecosystem, with floating eyeball creatures and lizards the size of dogs and twelve chocobos for every chocobo eater. The concept of Nova Chrysalia is that what was salvageable from the “old world” all got recklessly smooshed together, but here it looks like such a move might improve a good deal of real estate. If anybody wants to destroy time and space in the real world to see how that works out, let me know, I’m game.

Oh, and the Dead Dunes sound like a place to avoid, but, should you own a fedora and whip, it’s totally the best place to grab ancient relics. And when you’ve got a timeline that somehow includes millennia of destroyed civilizations, that might be a fun way to while away the centuries.

GOOD: The world respects its heroes

Let’s run down what the cast of Final Fantasy 13s has been up to…

Best buds!Snow founded nonstop party town, and then retired to his private fortress to sulk for the rest of eternity. Thus, Snow has become the saddest boy in a town of happiness. This seems like an appropriate punishment for being Snow.

Vanille feels that she’s responsible for the current fate of the world because she made some poor life choices approximately a billion years before Final Fantasy 13, and turned into a colossal chaos demon, like, once. Despite being instrumental in then saving the world (twice!), she’s still down on herself, so she turned to religion. And that religion made her the new Blessed Mother. Of course, they’re going to sacrifice her on judgment day to appease some angry god or something, but she’s marginally aware of that, and seems to be okay with a few centuries of being worshipped as a living goddess. And she got a new hat, too! Score!

Fang is less than okay with the whole “my secret lover is going to sacrifice herself for the world” thing, so she’s decided to hunt around the dessert for relics that will save dear Vanille. While she was doing that, she kinda incidentally started an entire society of archeologists/bandits, so she maybe sorta rules a complete continent. Wasn’t really her intention, she did have other things on the agenda, but I think finding magical treasure is a little easier when you’ve got an army at your disposal. Also, as she points out, thanks to cryostasis and time traveling and more cryostasis, she’s 1,621 years old, but still looks to be physically in her 20s. Not bad.

Noel, the last hunter of 13-2, has somehow also become the leader of a death cult, though unwillingly. He tries to fight our main heroine thanks to a random misunderstanding involving fake oracles, and, upon seeing the error of his ways, decides to become a vigilante in a city of misery. This basically makes him Batman (albeit AzBats). Becoming Batman is what most people aspire to, so good for him.

Hope, Lightning, and Serah all become unwilling pawns in a mad god’s plan, but it could be worse, they could be…

BAD: Inadvertent Racism

Lightning and Hope might be pawns, but they’re also literally the most powerful people on the planet. Hope is a conduit for a literal god, and Lightning has been granted insane Valkyrie power to complete her task of killing literally every monster in existence. Every other main character is in a vaunted position in their respective faction (whether they like it or not), and, save the fact that Odin seems to have been demoted from “transformer” to “bird”, anybody that helped out in an earlier Final Fantasy 13 game is doing pretty well.

Except Sazh.

Sazh!Sazh is still worried about his son, who had his soul fragmented into random bits because who cares. Sazh decided to solve this problem by hiding in a broken airship in the middle of nowhere. After 500 years of sitting in a rocking chair and creepily muttering to himself, Sazh has become a legendary hermit, and his only interaction with the outside world is when those damn kids TP his hovel every Halloween. And this isn’t a Yoda situation, where he has ancient wisdom to impart to anyone that will listen; no, this is more along the lines of “if we had a bigger budget, his new model would be a naked man covered only by his beard and an afro that is hiding an entire family of bats”. When his son’s soul is finally recovered, Dajh is afraid to wake up, because Sazh has become that scary.

Couple this with his initial characterization being half totally awesome and half a lazy retread (gee, where have I seen a Final Fantasy character known for firearms and being extremely protective of his child before?), and his 13-2 role being “stuck in the neon claws of Gamblor”, I want to say that the African American community is not well represented in this Japanese RPG. Okay, maybe I’m seeing too much here, but when the entire rest of the (white) cast gets to become kings and queens, and the black guy becomes a crazy go nuts recluse… it kind of sticks out.

And, Christ, the bird that lives in his afro gets more of a role in the story than Sazh!

GOOD: Lightning kicks ass

WeeeAfter spending a few centuries in the timeout chamber, Lightning is back and kicking ass. Of all the Final Fantasy “main heroines”, Lightning indisputably is the most likely to slay an angry god. Granted, her only competition is Terra (whom Dissidia pigeonholed forever as “whiny mage”) and Yuna (“I’m sad my boyfriend is a ghost”), but, still, I can probably count the number of strong-in-the-real-way female characters coming out of Japan on one hand. Well, “strong” and also “doesn’t appear in a game featuring tear-away clothing or twelve year olds wearing butt floss”. Lightning is determined, powerful, and absolutely does not spend any of her time fawning over boys or worrying about her hair.

And, by virtue of the gameplay, she’s also kinda the most powerful character ever in a Final Fantasy game. Lightning is finally a true army of one, and is completely alone on her adventure to save the world. No party, no monster companions, no omniscient player dropping off magical abilities or whatever: it’s just Lightning against every monster left on the planet. And there’s never any “oh no you’re not man enough” nonsense, either. Right from the get go, Lightning is tasked with saving every last soul on this husk, and there’s no doubt she’s going to succeed. Lightning wholly and totally kicks ass, and doesn’t need so much as a moogle to help her.

BAD: Lightning is a robot

Unfortunately, “Unstoppable Lightning” comes at the expense of… ya know… Lightning.

I’ve mentioned this before, but all Final Fantasy main characters (and most of the supporting cast) are built exclusively for their one-and-done stories. This is a good thing! But it also means most Final Fantasy characters may be boiled down to a simple mad lib. Terra is magically unbeatable, but unloved. Squall is accomplished, but plays poorly with others. Tidus is an all-star, but can’t dress himself. The basic point of every Final Fantasy game is to save the world, but to also shade in whatever blank is afflicting the hero. Cloud is going to kill Sephiroth and stop Meteor, but along the way, he’ll learn the real meaning of freedom and, dare I say it, friendship. I believe it was Kurt Goldstein that first theorized that it would only be possible for a fully actualized person to summon a dragon that can shoot laser beams.

He's back!I mention this because Lightning had a pretty clear arc through Final Fantasy 13. Amongst… everything… happening in that labyrinthine plot, Lightning does pick up on the whole “letting people in” moral that is hiding somewhere behind the space pope. Consider that the inciting incident for 1,000 years of strife in the Final Fantasy 13 universe is the simple scuffle that Lightning won’t accept Snow as an invited member of the family. This problem quickly cascades to Macbethian proportions, and that thread kind of gets lost somewhere around Snow earning a motorcycle made out of subservient sisters, but, still, it’s there! Lightning changes and grows over the course of Final Fantasy 13, and, while she’s not some emotionally perfect being by the finale, Lightning does become a better person by the end of Final Fantasy 13.

So, naturally, they had to strip out that Lightning in time for her titular game.

This, of course, is not by accident. Like Cloud before her, Lightning had to be reduced back to her core components in order to be “recognizable” as the same badass from Final Fantasy 13 promotional materials. In this case, the story uses the bluntest tool in its arsenal (okay, second bluntest, an outright retcon would be worst), and basically says “a wizard did it” to the now overly stoic Lightning. Lightning had her emotional core/heart/Claire torn out by a vengeful god, and now she’s super sad about not having emotions anymore. But just because the story offers a reason for a character’s regression doesn’t make it forgivable. The Lightning that was capable of making good intentioned poor decisions (like, say, giving a knife to a vengeful teenager) is gone now, and all we’ve got is a mechanical war machine that occasionally comes around to “Hey, something seems off.”

So, basically, Lightning is turned up to eleven, but we lose Lightning in the process.

GOOD: Dress-up!

Here comes the wardrobe!