Persona 5 (2017)

NOTE: I will leave this as spoiler free as possible and describe main themes rather than specific story notes. Be warned, some images will contain spoilers.

A few of you might be wondering where I’ve been hiding this month. I wish I had a great reason that involves international espionage or something, but the truth happens to be that I’ve been spending most of my free time playing a new RPG from Atlus called Persona 5. As of this writing, I just saw the end credits roll and with a tear in my eye I wish that I could play more. Usually a lot of JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) tend to be good for about 25-30 hours, then fetch quest you to a final boss that you don’t care about. My Playthrough of Persona 5 was 110 hours and I didn’t have time to do everything I wanted – I’m not one to immediately re-play a game, but I kind of want to with this one. I actually started to write this review a few weeks ago, but decided to stop in case the game “crapped the bed” at the end like so many do – thankfully that was not the case, and if there was any way to eloquently describe the opposite act I would write that instead.

For those unaware of the series my gushing pertains to, Persona is a long running spin-off of another series called Shin Megami Tensei which dates back to the NES days. If you want to see more info, I did a write-up a while back about how controversial the series was, that sort of shows you some themes and ideas within. SMT or “Megaten” games tend to be pretty hardcore, and for a while Persona has existed as a more casual friendly entry into the series, full of anime tropes and cut-scenes. As this series has matured, the staff has shifted the balance around a bit until they finally hit the sweet spot. I’m honestly leaning towards a “student surpassing the teacher” moment, and I think Persona 5 has been my favorite SMT game ever made.

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So, what makes this game so good? Does the near unanimous praise this game has garnered from review sites come from anywhere or is this just weebs hyping something? The answer is – Persona 5 is a near perfect classic turn-based Japanese RPG – a genre that everyone has been abandoning due to age and lack of innovation. And while many former genre-mates like Final Fantasy have gone to action-RPG land, Atlus has doubled down and it paid off. At the game’s core are two gameplay features that define the series – demon negotiating and the press-turn battle system.

Demon negotiations are what led some to call this series “goth Pokémon”, but in truth Megami Tensei, the first game in this series, was released nearly a decade before Pikachu was a glimmer in anyone’s mind. So yeah, you do go around capturing monsters to force into battles, but it’s a bit different here, as these creatures (from gods to toilet demons) act as a way for the characters to use magic and strengthen attacks rather than actually throwing down. The concept here is that these creatures, called Persona, are shards of the mind of the psyche of the characters and embracing their power will lead the characters to self-discovery, and in this case, stand up for themselves. I’ll talk more about this later, once I finish up this thought.

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The Press-turn battle system is perhaps one of my favorite RPG battle systems, as it forces you to think about strategy rather than plowing throw every encounter doing the same attacks. Basically, one attack is allotted per character deployed in battle. How you use these opportunities is crucial to your chance at winning the fight. By executing an attack (physical, magical, or using an item) one press turn will be used up. To make things more interesting, is the fact that you can lose and gain turns in a few ways. If an attack hits the enemies weak point or triggers a critical hit, you will gain a press turn (essentially an extra attack when all is said and done). Thus, making enemy exploitation and knowledge of your foes a primary factor in winning the battle. Be aware though that enemies can do the very same things to you. Therefore, if you are unprepared and caught off guard, even a much lower level group of enemies can defeat you quickly in a string of critical strikes. This exact situation happened to me in a few of these games, most notably SMT: Nocturne, where the game would constantly put you in situations where battles seemed almost impossible to win sometimes.

Now a great battle system can make or break a game, but the story is where it really counts right? Yes – and with this game the story was nearly flawless for me. I’m a sucker for anything related to western esotericism and Gnosticism, and this game is basically a media representation of many of the books and podcasts I like to study in my free time. For me, playing this game is almost like having the feeling of an epiphany the entire time which is a feeling I rarely have with games. In the past, The Persona games have been about the idea of secret inner beings that we force out of our mind. This concept is taken nearly directly from the pages of Swiss Philosopher and Psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. When writing about his concept of a persona, Jung explained that many lack a persona –

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“The alternative is to endure living with the absence of the persona—and for Jung “the man with no persona… is blind to the reality of the world, which for him has merely the value of an amusing or fantastic playground. […] Those trapped at such a stage remain “blind to the world, hopeless dreamers… spectral Cassandras dreaded for their tactlessness, eternally misunderstood.”

Then, there was the concept of recovery of these personas:

“Recovery, the aim of individuation, is not only achieved by work on the inside figures but also, as conditio sine qua non, by a readaptation in outer life—including the recreation of a new and more viable persona. To develop a stronger persona… might feel inauthentic, like learning to “play a role”… but if one cannot perform a social role then one will suffer. Thus, one goal for individuation is for people to develop a more realistic, flexible persona that helps them navigate in society but does not collide with nor hide their true self. Eventually, in the best case, the persona is appropriate and tasteful, a true reflection of our inner individuality and our outward sense of self.”

Within these few paragraphs lies the entire theme of this game – people are mere husks until they embrace a persona, nurture it through social interactions, and evolve it to better oneself.

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On top of this, Persona 5 is about bad people doing bad things, and good people feeling hopeless about it. The problem is, genuinely evil people doing genuinely evil things are commonplace in our world. This might be as small as somebody cheating on their spouse or a policeman taking bribes all the way up to mass murder.  For the most part, few have the courage or intention to go against this, since that is what our society has conformed to. We do many things to uphold collectivism, and feel that order brings “the greater good”. We listen to people in authority because we’re afraid that going against it will change our lives for the worse, no matter how much we disagree with them. If someone hides their bad intentions behind the media’s manipulation and lies, we believe it, because that’s all that we’re able to see. Without going into a political rant here, this game is very true to our current times.

Persona 5 is also about breaking free from those conventions, standing up for what’s right and basically throwing a big middle finger up to “the greater good”. In the game, our rag tag group of heroes assemble to help people that don’t have the power or courage to help themselves. They are all social outcasts in their own ways – a pair of juvenile delinquents, a foreigner judged for her looks, a stoic class president, a daughter of a powerful man, an artist seen as “eccentric” and even a person that shuts themselves away from the outside world. It would be easy for any of these characters to turn into bitter horrible people, but they don’t because they still have hope. Hope that humanity can turn away from evil.

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Easily, one of the most fulfilling parts of this game – and the reason it made me emotional more than a couple of times was the way it handles relationships between characters, and even NPCs. This isn’t a new thing for persona, as all of the games since Persona 3 have had a “Social Link” system in place wherein one gets stronger as they nurture friendships between characters. in most games, interactions with NPCs are a few bland moments of time filling exposition and that’s it – here one can easily fall in love with even the simplest characters. Aside from dealing with your own problems, the main protagonist becomes friends and helps a slew of other people, all similarly down on their luck and wanting to give up. One example is a back-alley Doctor that ultimately supplies the party with medicines and other goods, Early in the game you discover that she has a troubling past and has basically given up on all of her dreams. and only after you push her to be her best, does she finally accept her faults and move forward with her life. and that’s only one of many characters you interact with

These interactions are not mandatory, as the game allows the player the ability to choose how to progress the game. with a limited number of things that can be done in any given day, as well as the need to place some needs above others, means that some friendships will not be as fulfilling as others – much as with real life. It seems that at any given time, you know you really need to level a character up, but tests are starting soon and you better study! And what’s that 6 other people want to hang out! Socializing in the world of Persona can be just as hard as in the real world it seems.

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I promised that I wouldn’t go too far into spoiler territory, so I better leave it there. I would say this this is easily one of the best RPGs, scratch that, GAMES that I’ve played in the last decade. when most RPGs roll down a checklist of boring cliches, the Persona series continues to break new ground and re-invent itself each time. If you are looking for something different to play, and are willing to stick with a game that could clock in over 100 hours, you won’t find any more fulfilling game that came out all year. Here’s hoping that an inevitable “sequel” spinoff game comes out soon so I can hang with these characters again, and here’s hoping we don’t have to wait eight years for Persona 6!


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Doctor Who: The Adventure Games Episode 2 – Review

Note: The following is a mirror of a video game review that I did a few years ago when I worked for VGchartz. Just in case something happens on that site, I don’t want to lose it.

 My typical TV viewing routine during many a summertime Sunday night involves watching my favorite show, Doctor Who. Sadly as of last week I noticed that a void was now slammed into my life. The truth was that I had no new Doctor Whoepisodes to watch until around Christmas time because the season finale had just aired. Gladly, the BBC was there for me once again with the second of four interactive Doctor Who episodes. Doctor Who – The Adventure games. Episode 2.  Blood of the Cybermen is the second adventure and begins with a man working in an arctic base fleeing from an unseen menace on a snowmobile. The man, mumbling to himself about unspeakable horrors, flashes back to what caused the problems: an excavated Cyberman arm.

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The Cybermen are quite possibly the TV show’s most recognizable villains after the Daleks, who we saw in the last game about a month ago. For those who do not know, the Cybermen are a race of androids that have began to travel the stars in search of bodies that they can assimilate into their race. What began as a measure to stop the death of their kind became a true horror. Blood of the Cybermen captures the villains in all their terrifying glory, complete with all of their signature voices, sound effects, and catchphrases such as “you will be like us…”. Before any Star Trek aficionado points out the similarity to ‘the Borg’, a similar villain from the Star Trek TV show and films, the Cybermen came first – 1966 to be precise.

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I’m not too sure when the game takes place in relation to the TV show, but it’s pretty safe to say that it’s an unaired adventure set sometimes before the show’s finale. It stars Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillan as Amy, his companion. Both perform all of the voices and such for their characters. The Doctor is up to all the quirky hijinx that fans of the show are used to, including a section of dialog where the Doctor claims that he taught Elvis Presley how to play the guitar, albeit very badly. The rest of the story involves the Doctor, Amy, and a few new friends as they try to stop the Cybermen from taking over the aforementioned arctic research facility.

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The core gameplay is typical adventure game fare, with the player controlling the Doctor and Amy as they investigate their surroundings. You use the mouse or the direction keys to walk around, a left mouse click to investigate glowing objects, and “I” to bring up your inventory. This game has a bit more variety than the first from the get-go as some puzzles force you to work in tandem with your assistant. For instance, right at the beginning of the game you are given a rope that you must throw to Amy to tie to a snowmobile wench. When doing this the game switches viewpoints from the Doctor to Amy then back. While the first game did a bit of this, it was never to solve one puzzle together, and was more of a “tag-team” affair, as one character would go off and fetch random stuff whilst the other was busy. The system is implemented better here.

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As with the first game, the Doctor doesn’t actually carry a gun or any other weapon, so fending off enemies is pretty tricky. The developers handle this well by making use of a Metal Gear-esque sneaking style that comes up any time you get near an enemy. The Doctor automatically crouches down, and you are given an indicator in the shape of a caution symbol. If the symbol is green, you are mostly fine, but the closer to red the indicator goes the closer you are to getting killed. The sneaking sections in the second game are much better than many of those found in the first; the enemy A.I. seems to both be better and harder to stump. When sneaking past the Daleks in the first game, many were planted around like un-moving sentries that you could simply run behind. The Cyberslaves, which are Cybermen that have been only partially “Cyberized”, move around like zombies, and as such move their line of site around. This, and their way of walking around corridors, makes them a much more formidable enemy.

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This sneak mode has been coupled with a lot more climbing and exploring, thanks to the arctic cave setting which takes up a portion of the game, and so gives it a Tomb Raider vibe. There is even a portion fairly early on where you have to make it across a melting ice flow; one wrong step and it’s an icy grave for the Doctor. This makes portions of the game much more interactive and plays like a platformer game. 

The puzzles have also been overhauled. More specifically, there’s increased variety to the ones you’re given. This game only recycles one puzzle from the first game, that being one where you re-wire something that is broken. Other than that, the game contains a handful of new puzzles. They aren’t hard, but they’re challenging enough to break up the gameplay and still keep it interesting. One problem I had with the first game was a puzzle where you had to drag an icon through an electrified maze. The first time, this puzzle was fun, but after three times I was done with electrified maze puzzles. In this game, not only do you have to match the radio waves of a signal to stun an enemy, but you have to create an antivirus. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me, and far more varied.

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On the graphical side of things, we are once again faced with the following dilemma: the game is free (in the U.K.), so compared to other free games such as flash based puzzles games, Blood of the Cybermen blows most of them away. On the flipside, the game is no graphical wonder – even on the highest settings the game is fairly reminiscent of an original Xbox game or possibly a low-end Wii game. On the plus side, many of the environments in the game are much larger than the first game, such as the crashed Cyber-ship, and really show off the scope of this game. The graphics are a mixed bag – some places, like the crash, look amazing, while others look on the sub-par side.

Musically the game is awesome and has the sound production values of a larger, much more expensive game. This was brought to my attention, not because the music is overpowering, but because it keeps the player energized as the game progresses. There are some intense moments in the later parts of the game when you are being pursued by an army of Cybermen, and the music escalates to show you how close to being killed you are; not bad for a free game.

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As with the first game, Doctor Who – The Adventure games. Episode 2: Blood of the Cybermen is a great game for the price. The game is only a few hours long, but that helps pace the game out so that it’s like an interactive episode of the show. As of right this moment the game has still yet to be announced for the U.S., despite the official website proclaiming that they would be available in “early July”. Time will tell if that ever gets fixed, but one can assume that they will pop up later this month, after the initial run of Season five ends. All in all, you really can’t find a better Doctor Who game out there. While the graphics are a bit hit or miss, they are average at least for a game of this scope, and there are plenty of things for completionists to find.

Doctor Who- The Adventure Games Episode 1 -City of the Daleks – Review

Note: The following is a re-publish of a video game review that I did in 2010 ago when I worked for VGchartz. Just in case something happens on that site, I don’t want to lose it, and figured my blog would be an awesome place to share it.Since this time, all of the games were released in the U.S. for a small fee, if you run a Google search, you should find them pretty easily.

For those that do not know, a little sci-fi show from the UK called Doctor Who has become a media phenomenon and a popular television program in many countries. Doctor Who even holds a handful of Guinness world records including one for most successful science-fiction series, one for the longest running magazine based on a TV show, and longest running science fiction show. You would think that with a pedigree of that ilk, the show would have entered the realm of videogames more often, but aside from a recent Top Trumps game and a few PC games released in the 1980’s not much has been done with the franchise.

Recently BBC revealed that it was in talks with a few major publishers to bring a few top BBC properties to our consoles, and Doctor Who would be one of the first. The Production staff for the new show got in contact with Broken Sword creator Charles Cecil and Sheffield-based studio Sumo Digital to make Doctor Who: The Adventure Games. The series is a four part episodic adventure game, released for free in the UK, with a US release forthcoming.

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The first of this four part adventure has all of the content you would expect from a doctor who episode, and in fact even has the iconic title sequence and theme song there to remind us that this is essentially a standalone episode of the show. The story revolves around the Doctor as played by Matt Smith, and his assistant Amy, as played by Karen Gillan, landing in 1963. The Doctor suggests that they go see the Beatles or another activity of the time, but finds that something is not right. It appears that the ever-so-popular adversaries for the Doctor, the Daleks, have landed there at some point and re-written time. It’s up to the Doctor and Amy to unravel the catastrophe and hopefully prevent the ramafications of human enslavement under the regime of the metallic marauders.

The core gameplay is typical adventure game fare with the player controlling the Doctor and Amy as they investigate their surroundings. You use either the mouse or the direction keys to walk around, left mouse click to investigate glowing objects, and “I” to bring up your inventory. A lot of the puzzles are pretty simple, leading me to believe that this game was mostly meant for the younger fans of the show, but any inherent “easiness” is not indicative of the game being childish or condescending as some children’s games are.

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The children’s aspect of the game is re-enforced by the inclusion of “fun facts” where you click on a point of interest such as a fallen bus stop sign, and there suddenly pops up a history of red double decker busses. This is done in a way much similar to the lore found in the Metroid Prime games. While this does make the game somewhat educational, it doesn’t hammer you over the head, and these segments can be skipped if you are adverse to the idea of learning anything while you play a game.

Since the Doctor doesn’t actually carry a gun or any other weapon, fending off of enemies is pretty tricky: Doctor isn’t exactly Rambo. The developers handle this well by making use of a Metal Gear-esque sneaking style that comes up any time you get near an enemy. The Doctor automatically crouches down, and you are given an indicator in the shape of a caution symbol. If the symbol is green, you are mostly fine, but the closer to red the indicator goes, the closer you are to getting killed. Luckily if you do die, the game resumes at the last checkpoint that you made it to. The last real gameplay type you’ll have to deal with are occasional puzzles including a “drag the item through a maze without touching the walls” segment. These aren’t too challenging, and they keep you busy throughout the game.

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On the graphical front I wasn’t expecting a whole lot to be honest considering the price tag, but was pleasantly surprised that the game looked somewhat like an original Xbox game, or possibly even a Wii game. The animation is sometimes inconsistent with a few places looking far better than others, giving a somewhat rushed appearance. Some of the motions are a bit jerky, but I’ve seen worse mishaps on console games with a much larger budget. The game has an almost cell shaded appearance which really helps any sort of graphical inadequacy as it gives a more cartoony look. The mannerisms and facial features of the actors involved is flawless, a feat that was achieved by the use of a new type of rotoscoping to map the real life actors’ movements onto their 3d models.

The sound direction in the game is done fairly well, and contains a lot of spoken dialog. This really helps the pacing of the game, and again reiterates the belief that this game was intended to be as much like an episode of the show as possible. In the background there is also have music that I assume was composed for the show, which adds both tension and wonder.

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For the most part, Doctor Who: The Adventure Games Episode 1: City of the Daleks is a great game for the price, which for UK players is nothing (well technically you guys paid for it with the license fee). As long as the US price is reasonable upon release, let’s say maybe 5 dollars, it’ll be good as well. While not a technical achievement, it stands head and shoulders above any other free game based on a TV show that I’ve played, and is probably the best Doctor Who game ever made. The developers did a great job using what I imagine was a miniscule budget, and made something that was reasonably enjoyable. The game lasts a few hours, and will keep you busy if you decide to collect everything, and mess around. Sadly, we don’t get much of a “next time” trailer (if you will), but rumor has it that the second game will contain the iconic villians: The Cybermen.

Game Review: Doctor Who – Blood of the Cybermen

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Here is another review I wrote:

HERE

Game Review: Doctor Who – City of the Daleks

Here is a review I did for VGchartz on the game!

Click Here