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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Forgotten Gems: Theresia – Dear Emile (DS)

For me, survival horror games have lost their edge. I remember actually getting scared while playing Resident Evil 2 ‘back in the day’ and have been saddened at the state of the genre since. While I love games like Resident Evil and Condemned, these series have begun to take a turn down ‘action game alley’ and have lost what made them so appealing to me in the first place. Granted, I have yet to play Resident Evil VII, so my opinions could change. Recently, while scanning a list of adventure games on the DS, I ran across a game I had enjoyed a LOT a decade or so ago and had somehow forgotten about. The game, Theresia: Dear Emile, seemingly came out of nowhere back in 2008 from Aksys games and was flooded under all of the other holiday games on the DS. It is a shame though as Theresia was probably the scariest game I’ve played in a while.

Theresia is an adventure horror title exclusively for the Nintendo DS. In this game, developed by WorkJam, players take on the roles of two different characters trying to understand their past, present and intertwined destiny. The first of the two stories, called Dear Emile, is the story of an amnesiac girl who wakes up in an abandoned complex full of corpses and traps left by someone trying to kill her. The other story, Dear Martel, can only be accessed after completing Dear Emile and stars a young scientist. The meat of the game is within the Dear Emile Scenario. I can’t reveal too much more about the storyline as it is very much veiled in mystery, and I do not want to spoil the fun.

The game follows the backdrop of a war torn country, with biological weapons and the horrors of war, as well as isolation and death. While other survival horror games resort to demonic forces or zombies as the main antagonists, Theresia pits you against an entire building that seems to be trying to kill you. Through the course of the game you come across many disturbing scenes like a pantry left alone so long that it is completely covered with ravenous bugs; piles upon piles of dead corpses; torture rooms for war prisoners; and even dead loved ones that cause horrible memories to flood in. It is this method of making me feel the desperation of the little girl I am controlling that makes this game so unsettling. In a way it reminds of the overly creepy vibe I get from many of the Shin Megami Tensei games.

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The immediate realization I had after turning the game on, is that it plays almost exactly like the old Shadowgate series that was on the NES, N64 and computers. The game is presented with a first person view of corridors and hallways, much like an old-school first person shooter minus the gun. Also like Shadowgate, you have the ability to look at objects, touch objects, use a number of inventory items and in some cases combine said items. This is all pretty standard fare for a point and click adventure game for veterans of the genre, but Theresia does a few creative things with the set-up.

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One thing that is immediately apparent is that Theresia does not want you to explore the game too much. There are many areas where in a normal adventure game you would find small trinkets hidden in desks drawers or barrels, for example. In Theresia, 99 per cent of the objects you can touch and examine are booby trapped and have to be disarmed or simply left alone. At the beginning of the game you come across a records room full of books, and you can look at a bunch of these books on the shelf. However, only a few can actually be removed as the others have spring loaded darts or knives hidden behind them. This means that in many places you are scared to examine the area too much for fear of instant death traps like electrified doors and acid. Throughout the game you do find elixirs for your life bar, so you can keep yourself alive much longer, but as the game progresses these are few and far between.

Most of the puzzles in Theresia are hard, not I’m going to kill someone if I don’t beat this hard, but hard nonetheless. Because of this, the developers have added a hint system into the game in the guise of a barbed wire covered pendant – or a mirror in the second scenario – that the protagonist carries with her. All you have to do is drag the pendant to the icon that represents yourself. The girl squeezes it, cutting her hand in the process, and a hint comes up. During my play through I did not have to use it very much because although the complexity of the puzzles is very steep, I didn’t really get stuck too often. I am glad this was in here though, as the hint system sometimes alerts you to things you may not have noticed.

An example of this complexity can be seen in one of the more laborious puzzles I ran across in the prison area. I had a block of ice I had fished out of a fridge that had frozen over, and needed a way to get the key that was frozen inside. My first thought was to hack the key out with an axe, but the game informed me that it might mess up the key, so the next logical step was to melt it. I later stumbled across a crematorium room that was used to burn prisoners, and assumed that this was the key to the iceblock. I had to figure out a way to light an incinerator found in said room, but the wood I carried was too big. And without spoiling all of the shocking twists and turns I had to go through, I ended up having to cover something with ethanol then burn it to heat a metal slab then retrieve the key with pliers after dumping water on the fire that had melted the ice. As you can see, this isn’t some simple adventure game, and it can be VERY time consuming. These puzzles were fun to figure out and, unlike similar games like Touch Detective, there were no huge leaps of logic that nobody could have figured out without the help of a strategy guide.

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The controls for Theresia are fine, but not well tuned to the DS. Theresia does not use any DS functionality besides the stylus for the simplest of controls and the two screens, obviously. Personally I even found the stylus controls to cramp my hand up a little bit and played the game almost entirely without the stylus, only taking it out if I had to turn a crank or something. I feel that this was an oversight and makes the game feel even more like a port of a PC game, which it is not. The button mapped controls worked well but you could not do everything without the stylus, so it wasn’t really a great alternative control scheme.

The graphics for Theresia are a mixed bag. On one hand you have beautiful hand drawn anime inspired cut scenes that use stills, and the occasional well done 3D cinema scene. But this is sometimes undermined by the fact that, for the most part, the corridors and hallways all look like Wolfenstein 3D in some ways. In some areas the textures look very good, but in others they are like a retro PC game. I have a feeling this is because of how massive this game is, and better graphics would have taxed the small DS cartridge. The 2D rooms you stand in run separately from the 3D corridors, and look beautiful. They are hand drawn and are the norm for DS adventure games. With this in mind, and the exceptional art design and mood set by the game, it all seems to fit well.

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Theresia’s next technical point, the sound, was also done very well. Like many survival horror games, the music consists of moody ambient sounds that set the tone for the game. The sound designer was able to harness his keyboard for true evil, as the music leaves you creeped out more so than the game in some ways. The music is often disjointed and not happy whatsoever, while other times you get a baroque funeral dirge blasting at you. None of these make you want to be in this horrible compound anymore. These musical arrangements really add to the game’s presentation and keep it as creepy as possible.

Theresia – Dear Emile is a very good and scary adventure game for the DS and, even though it is slightly different from most survival horror games presentation-wise, any survival horror fan should at least check it out. Although the dated graphics may be a turn off for some, the sound, art design, and retro feeling make this game a great choice for fans of the genre. Depending how much you explore, this game takes easily 15-20 hours to complete, which dwarfs many DS adventure games. Some may see this as a snail’s pace and will stop playing the game, but for others, like me, a longer game is appreciated. All in all, Theresia – Dear Emile is much underrated, and needs to be played.

Too bad the sequel was a mobile phone game 😦

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The Grindhouse – Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals – A Recap of episode 1

The Grindhouse is a new feature kicking off here on Arcadia Pod. This article is NOT a movie review, but a detailed recap of a film set up in such a way that you really don’t have to watch it. I will watch questionable movies so you don’t have to. As this goes on, expect me to go over dollar bin anime, bad cartoons, and even the occasional TV series! Without further ado, here is the first edition, where will be looking at Final Fantasy – Legend of the Crystals episode 1. The next 4 of these will be about this train wreck of a show.

When I first got into anime, it wasn’t at all like it was today. It wasn’t the wide selection of movies and other merchandise currently available. I can fondly remember going to our crappy little video store in town way back in 1998 and rummaging through tapes looking for something cool to watch. This was before DVD players got really big and the anime market seemed to be old VHS tapes locked away near the “adults only” section. All the titles that this dingy, poorly-lit store had were of the exploitative nature, mainly focusing on nude girls and bloody disembowelments – a real treat for any self-respecting sixteen year old kid.

Aside from classics such as Vampire Hunter D and Akira, my friends and I would ALWAYS rent one movie in particular: Final Fantasy – Legend of the Crystals. In hindsight, I have no idea why we actually rented this movie, as we pretty much mocked the whole thing. It was basically something that we would make jokes about due to some poor choices that the movie seemed to take at almost every turn. That didn’t keep us from watching it over and over again, meaning that some of the horrendous plot and bad writing were hidden directly behind a big old layer of charm.

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The main problem that occurs right from the get-go is that this OVA (direct to video basically) series has very little to do with Final Fantasy despite it purportedly existing as some sort of sequel to Final Fantasy V. It’s almost like some guy that played the games was telling an uninterested writer about the plot over the phone; the writer, while starring at a Ralph Bakshi poster, cranked out what he could, but ended up with this. The tone is all wrong, the music is wrong, and it just really doesn’t feel like a Final Fantasy movie.

The beginning of the film brings a false sense of security for anyone expecting this to be decent, as the main theme from Final Fantasy V, Tour de Japon, plays for a bit here. When I first watched this, I of course had not played Final Fantasy V, but as an older gamer, that was a nice touch. This leads directly into the first scene showing a man sitting on a Cliffside looking at a brewing storm. At this point I’m quite worried as to how this movie is going to be written because this character basically starts repeating every line he says one additional time. In this way we learn that “A storm is coming” not once but twice. I know he’s talking metaphorically about an upcoming battle that this movie will no doubt present, but the storm in the background makes it look like he’s some sort of lonely man that talks to himself all day.

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We learn that this sad old man is in fact the grandfather of the movie’s heroine Linaly, a girl who is supposedly a descendant of Bartz, the Final Fantasy V’s protagonist. Since this takes place hundreds of years after the events in the game, we will sadly not get to see any of those characters, save one that we meet later on. Grandfather announces that it is basically up to him to stop the upcoming storm, one which he can sense because of the “evil winds” and starts rushing out the door. If my grandfather started saying crap like that, it would result in a one way ticket straight to the home. Linaly won’t have that and insists that she needs to go instead or at least tag along with her Grandfather as if to humor him in his senile dementia. It was hard to pay attention to this as my eyes were drawn to Linaly’s ridiculously short miniskirt that seems to be defying some sort of natural law. I wasn’t looking in any sort of sexual way, but looking simply in a sense of sheer wonder.

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Pretty soon we finally get to meet the actual “main character” of this whole ordeal – Prettz. Unlike the usual modern Final Fantasy hero, Prettz is not a douche-bag emo guy covered in zippers and belts that talks in ellipses, but a goofy loud-mouth who won’t mind his own business. When he sees Linaly and grand—you know I’m tired of typing “Grandfather”, from now on his game is Gomez. So anyway Gomez and Linaly are in a boat traveling to one of the temples to see what is going on, and here comes Prettz chasing them around, yelling that “old people and girls should not be alone!”. Since I never had the illusion that this planet was populated by incestuous pedophiles, one can only assume that Prettz is a jerk. When declined as the pair’s bodyguard, he gets mad and insists on going anyway. In fact, he throws such a big tantrum that he collapses a bridge in a “super-comical way”. Aw sweet! Jar Jar Binks is the main character!

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It’s at this point that I want to point out that Prettz has the most true-to-date 90’s attire on that anyone possibly could. Note his shaved-under rat-tail hairstyle, sleeveless T-shirt, and comfy pants. While those aren’t exactly the class of Zubaz pants, they still take me back to a much simpler time; a time when our fantasy heroes did not dress like Lady Gaga when they fight monsters. Seriously, all Prettz needs is a fanny pack and a gym membership and I’d imagine he was an off-duty WWF wrestler.

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This whole plotline gets pretty tiring at this point, and Prettz has only been on screen for a short while. While watching I was basically worried that the movie would consist of Prettz chasing around Linaly and whining the whole time. Prettz gets a huge motorcycle and silly armor to help in his chase, much to the chagrin of Gomez. More slapstick ensues, until we finally get some worthwhile dialog where Gomez relates to Linaly what the “evil wind” is all about. It looks like the wind crystal must be in danger and he could sense the trouble. This is cut short as Gomez comically trips for no reason whatsoever and tumbles a ridiculous distance down a hill, way to take this movie seriously guys. So far the overall tone of this movie is somewhere around a morning children’s show, not the caliber of the games in my opinion.

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Suddenly and literally for no reason at all, a huge demon-like creature with eight eyes leaps from the ground and makes Linaly decide to cast a spell. Since Linaly is speaking as if she is going to summon a creature, I’m at this point wondering what sort of awesome creature will come out. Could it be Ifrit? Shiva? Bahamut? Sadly no, we get this:

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That’s right folks, a stupid looking naked……chicken thing? Please God tell me that isn’t supposed to be a Chocobo!

Gomez apparently shares my opinion of the matters and begins to slam the beast left and right, saying things like “couldn’t you do better?”. Linaly is sad that a half-assed Chocobo is the only thing that her mighty summoning powers can muster, and I can see why, did you see how stupid that thing looked!

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Finally Prettz shows some A-game and rushes the monster on his motorcycle with a huge katana, this not only kills the creature stone dead, but makes Gomez look like a tool for raising such a fuss about him tagging along. After they escape to what appears to be an inn, Gomez lays in bed worried that he is too old to carry on this adventure, this leads Prettz to basically heckle him for being old. Gomez yells at him and tells him to go home. Linaly sets out on her own, only to have Prettz follow her out and along the way. We get a few minutes of glorious dialog where Prettz says he wants to go, and Linaly rejects him. As this pattern has been the majority of the actual spoken dialog of the show so far, my initial worries of the plot of the show may not seem to unfounded. I mean seriously this is basically the movies script up to this point:

Gomez: “A storm is coming”
Gomez: “A storm is coming”
Prettz: “I wanna go!”
Gomez: “NO!”
Prettz: “I wanna go!”
Gomez: “NO!”
Prettz: “I wanna go!”
Gomez: “NO!”
(Repeat infinitely)

Just as with the monster, mere minutes ago, something suddenly leaps out of the ground towards the party, possibly a subtle hint at the random nature of battles in the old games. But this thing isn’t a monster – it’s a huge garishly pink spaceship of some sort. Once it fully lifts out of the ground, we’re told by Prettz that these are in fact sky pirates trying to kill them. A door opens on the ship and what appears to be a dominatrix and her two husky female sex slaves rise from within. Her name is Rouge, and she wants Prettz’s motorcycle apparently. I would too if I had to fly around in a ship as ostentatious as that pirate ship she has. Prettz makes short work of the pirates using some bombs that he apparently carries around at all times, but I doubt that’s the last that we’ve seen of these guys.

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They finally make it to the Wind temple, the first of four that I’m sure we are to encounter in this series, and just as soon as they get there Prettz runs out for no explicable reason leaving Linaly to solve the puzzle of how to enter the temple on her own. We soon find that Prettz has seemingly commandeered the pirate ship we just saw and is holding it hostage with his bandoleer of goofy bombs. By goofy, I don’t mean in a general way, like “oh hey look at those goofy bombs”. These stupid incendiaries actually have smiley faces on them and open up to show the face before they explode. We know this because Prettz insists on clapping them together like a set of garish castanets in order to intimidate the bondage ship’s crew. No doubt Prettz shops at the same weapons shop as the Joker. This of course happens for no reason at all, because Linaly has actually managed to solve the puzzle of how to gain access to the temple all on her own without her jackass buddy.

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Next thing you know Prettz drives the airship through a narrow crack in the surrounding cave and crashes it into the temple. This draws the attention of another person with an equally goofy looking airship by the name of Valkus. Valkus always struck me as the “Cid” character of this show, as not only was he in command of an airship, but he is basically a badass.

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As our heroes walk into the room containing the wind crystal, the scene cuts to someone talking in a robotic gibberish voice, talking about how “the other three crystals are in our hands”. This voice seems to be from a female subordinate of some guy sitting on a huge brain in the middle of the room. That’s right I said brain, as in part of our human anatomy, except this time super-sized. He of course spots a few almost sexual sounding villain catchphrases like “my body aches with excitement”, these are all off-putting.

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What follows is basically the most awkward thing in this entire series, and a scene that would live in infamy for my friends and me. Linaly grasps the crystal only to have it enter her body through the chest.

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She tumbles to the ground looking ill and the camera quickly cuts to her hind-quarters which are now glowing.

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Both turn around and stare at her butt as it radiates a warm golden light.

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Maybe this is why her dress is so unreasonably short, that way we can see her butt glowing whenever she eats too much Mexican food. This is quite possibly the lamest excuse to have fan-service EVER in an anime, and to make it a plot device!

That’s it for episode one, join me again soon as we gaze into the warm golden light that is episode two…


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PTSD or Weakness: Real Experts on Why Samus Didn’t Shoot

Close to a decade ago, I worked for a gaming website called Gamrfeed, sadly the site folded and was absorbed back into it’s parent website VGchartz a long time ago. When I started working at my current job in 2011, I sadly did not have time to continue producing articles on the schedule that was required, so I had to drop it. I was really proud of some of the work I did on there, and do not want it to disappear into the ether as most websites do after a while. I’ve been posting a few of these “rescued articles” recently, and I feel that this one was probably one of my best. Since this article is from 2010, the references are incredibly out of date, but that should not stand in the way of the information presented.


Videogames often get a bad reputation for glorifying war and using it as a sort of exploitation.  Often they are criticized for brushing aside the horrors of war and battle for the sense that fighting is “awesome”, much like a Hollywood film.  An argument could be raised that most gamers don’t care about such things in games, or that they don’t want to see it.  Despite this general feeling, a few companies have been trying to express the bad side of conflict in their games.  These messages include the fact that war is not all about shooting faceless bad guys, and that we should change the way we look at it, but sadly this is lost sometimes.  A clear cut case of a situation such as this occurred a few weeks ago, as an anticipated Wii game called Metroid: Other M hit the store shelves.

Before the game actually hit, videos of the game’s cut-scenes began to scatter to the net much to the dismay of some gamers.  Samus Aran, the games heroic female lead, was seen to be given a lot more emotion and personality than ever before in a Metroid game.  Problem was, Samus has issues apparently, and this angered some fans.  The main offender was a scene in which Samus is seen to become weak and unresponsive in the face of her biggest enemy, a huge creature named Ridley.  I was shocked to see some of the responses that the video had garnered on Youtube, such as these:

(I have censored the curse words, but left the bad punctuation intact)

 

“Is it bad to have an emotional s*** who beat the living hell out of this thing 100s of other times, but breaks down crying this time? Yes. Very bad. They took some strong bad ass character and made them into a wimpy emotional s***. “

 

“[Samus is] a hardened professional bounty hunter, someone who’s been portrayed as a strong, fierce woman, who’s been on countless missions prior, faced much more frightening enemies, and has fought, killed and seen Ridley resurrected multiple times before this suddenly has a mental breakdown a cries in fear at the sight of an enemy she’s killed so many times prior to this? F***, you’re right, it’s just common sense. “

 

This attitude has been a common vibe for the past few weeks, as many felt that the game deviated from the established characterization given to Samus.  Some even went as far as to call the game sexist, as Samus was shown in a “weak way.”  The problem is that in the context of the game, the developers are trying very hard to imply that Samus suffers from some variation of an anxiety disorder, such as PTSD.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the many things that folks do not like talking about when it comes to warfare, which is a shame.  During the Vietnam War the United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that 830,000 Vietnam War veterans suffered symptoms of PTSD.

This is not the first time there has been talk of PTSD in the Metroid series, as one of the canonized mangas (Japanese comic books) written to flesh out the story leading up to the first game showed a similar occurrence:

I was under the impression that the aforementioned scene and the comic pretty much solidified her status as coping with the disorder, but the negative talk online got me thinking about it. My thoughts are that folks do not understand such a disorder, and were saying things like that due to ignorance of the situation instead of sheer malice.  PTSD is one of those sensitive areas many do not want to talk about, so it can be understandable.

The problem is, it was hard for ME to have an opinion on the matter because I do not suffer from a similar disorder nor do I have a close friend or immediate family member that does.  My main question was, “Is Samus’s behavior in the game a true depiction of what PTSD can do to someone, or was the development team going for another angle?”  I set out to actually interview some folks that know what it’s like to be in situations like this, and get their opinions.  I was able to round up a war veteran coping with PTSD, as well as a mental wellness professional.  Here is what they had to say:

 

The Interviewees are:

Darian Koehne – Former Army (rank withheld), suffers from PTSD

John M. Grohol, PsyD.,  founder and CEO of Psych Central.com

 

Q: My questions today are about PTSD, what are your experiences with the disorder?

Koehne: I suffer with the disorder on a daily basis due to the fact that I am a combat vet the served in the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  I can’t even play games that depict the wars anymore.   It’s too real and I find myself dazing off while really into the game.  I have the same kinds of flashbacks because some the games are so real…and I know I am of sound mind, but I wake up and do security checks in the middle of night about 3 times a night.  I sleep in patterns of a couple hours at a time…I really did have to watch my 6 everywhere I went…. and it’s true when you see the death like that… it sticks with you and the smallest things set off some strong emotions… and the ones closest to us vets are the ones who can tell you even more….

Dr.  Grohol: I’m a mental health expert with a doctorate in clinical psychology (from Nova Southeastern University).

 

Q: I’d like you to watch the following video from a recent Videogame called “Metroid: Other M”.

(Clip was shown)

The context of the video is that Samus, the woman in the red and orange armor, has fought and seemingly defeated the creature (Ridley) in the video on two past occasions and assumed he was dead.  Her confrontations with Ridley all stem from it killing her family when she was a small child.  As we see in the video, Samus appears to be horrified to see Ridley after years of assuming he was dead, and simply freezes.  What are your thoughts on the video?

Koehne: That is very much so how PTSD works…. you daze out of it for long stretches and your brain seems to freeze and do its own thing or render you basically useless…

Dr.  Grohol: Mental disorders like PTSD are recognized disorders of brain and behavior that have decades worth of research and are based upon thousands of peer-reviewed studies. It is no different than having a disease like diabetes or Parkinson’s.

Q: This scene has caused a row amongst the gaming community.  Some feel she has PTSD, and others say that she should be able to “get over it” as she has fought him before and won. Can one simply “get over” something if it causes PTSD?

Koehne: A story answers this for my point of view.  I watched a man burn to death and pulled guard on his body so we could retrieve the remains and not let the insurgents disgrace the fallen soldier by dragging his body around the streets.  To this day I have a problem with barbecues which used to be one of my favorite things to do…. I still do BBQ every now and then…. but things have changed!!

Dr.  Grohol: If someone experience a trauma at an early age, such as having someone kill their family, then something like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is indeed a possible reaction. One does not simply “get over” a mental disorder because these are not choices we make in the first place. Who would consciously choose to be depressed, or to have PTSD? It’s an absurd argument.

Q: How realistic would a situation like the above be, or being a work of fiction, was it handled incorrectly?

Koehne: That is a great depiction of PTSD… and just to think soldiers have to deal with that in real life fights…

Dr. Grohol:   Someone who was in a situation where they had something to trigger a flashback, as what appears to occur in the video, could very possibly react in a similar manner — frozen in place, being unable to act or react for a time. Flashbacks themselves can be traumatizing, and different people will experience and react to them differently. The reaction of the character in the video was consistent with the way some people might react to meeting — once again — a murderer they thought they had previously killed.

 

Q: In closing, how do you feel about videogames beginning to handle tough problems like PTSD?

Koehne: Video games are a great way to teach the public… PTSD is very sensitive but people need to know we have alot of young soldiers coming home and families need to know how to recognize it so they can not become a victim of the PTSD but rather help support through the issue… I wish they would take on teaching the younger public that some people are disfigured from war and you shouldnt go around talking about them under you breath… THANKS FOR BRINGING SOME LIGHT TO PTSD…

Dr. Grohol: I think that video games have great potential to help shed some light onto serious concerns, like PTSD. If they can foster debate and discussion like this about a serious mental illness like PTSD, then they’ve done a great job in helping to educate people about these kinds of concerns.

 

While it’s apparent that Samus as a character most likely has PTSD, one can overlook the plight of many of our REAL servicemen and women no matter what country you reside in.  Having the opinion that someone should “get over it” is not only ignorant, but pretty disrespectful to those that have fought for our countries.  I hope these interviews have at least shed some light on something that a large amount of soldiers, rape victims, murder witnesses, and more have to deal with on a day to day basis.  For more information on PTSD and what you can do to help gain understanding or even help with research please check out some sites like Dr. Grohol’s Psych Central website.


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Two new Final Fantasy VII Remake images Revealed at Monaco Anime Game International Conference!

THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

Okay, that’s a bit over the top, but we finally have a glimpse of gameplay footage of the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake. These were apparently revealed today at a convention called The Monaco Anime Game International Conference (MAGIC). As you can see from the images below, the initial bombing raid is in full force as members of AVALANCHE infiltrate the Sector 1 reactor of Shinra Electric Power Company. It’s hard to tell 100%, but the game appears to be running on some version of the Final Fantasy XV engine which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Here’s hoping E3 gives us a new trailer or something this year.

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Kingdom Hearts 3 was also showing off some new screens

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Is the Valkyria Chronicles Franchise Dead in the West?

LONG Before I even decided to get a PlayStation 3, I would check the various recommendation threads and other such things on a lot of gaming forums to see what games were seen as the “killer apps” that I should definitely play. I was honestly sort of cranky with Sony after the PS3 launch, pricing especially. I needed something that stood out, a game that I couldn’t get anywhere else, and one game, more than any other, was constantly touted as being not only one of the most underrated games on the PS3, but one of the best RPGs out there on any system. That game was the first Valkyria Chronicles. I finally got the system, and immediately snagged a copy of it.

I was taken aback by how mature the game was, and no I don’t mean “blood and guts and boobs” mature like the many games that misuse the term today, but an honest mature game done in such a way that most folks of the teenage persuasion, except maybe anime fans, would probably scoff at it. Yes the game deals with war, but in concentrates on the heroics and struggles with fighting rather than the bleak horrors of any battlefield.

valkyria1
The art style alone is worth the purchase

For those that haven’t heard of the series, all of the games follow a fictitious war that somewhat closely resembles World War II if you squint really hard and drop some pixie dust on it. In this fantasy world, a small country called Gallia suddenly comes under attack from a huge land grabbing conglomerate of nations dubbed the East Europan Imperial Alliance. This is a shock because these Nazi analogues (if you equate them to our terms) are at war with another federation of countries that dub themselves the Atlantic Federation, and there is no real reason for such an invasion to occur (other than energy reserves to fuel the war). The game places you in the shoes of a rag-tag group of militia members that are suddenly forced to repel the most powerful army on earth on the verge of world conquest. This is of course the stage for a game that breathed an icy breath of fresh air into a somewhat played out genre – the strategy RPG.

The immediate thing that struck me about both games in the series that I’ve played is that they have some huge balls, and exist as a true asset to the RPG genre, especially in how they portray war. For years we have been playing hundreds of World War II games, and very few of them have actually managed to mention the holocaust or the Jewish people for fear of getting the game banned in some random countries. Here, however, we have a game that revolves around a group of people called the Darcsens that have literally been blamed for just about every bad thing in the world for hundreds of years, and are the targets of ethnic cleansing campaigns (in Valkyria Chronicles 2 most notably) and even forced to work in labor camps. The fact that any series had the cajones to even attempt to have a storyline closely mirroring this sort of world event makes SEGA go up in my books quite a bit.

Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferir people to many people in the game, even protagonist characters.
Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferior people to many in the game, even protagonist characters. In my experience, race politics are rarely seen in JRPGs.

Flash forward just a few years and it seems that a series with such promise, critical acclaim, big sales in Japan, and a cult following in America should be running strong; sadly this is not the case. Valkyria Chronicles may already be dead, especially in the west. A few years back news rang out about the possible release of the third Valkyria Chronicles game in America specifically. SEGA West had been pretty tight lipped about it, and its no-show at E3 that year was amongst about a dozen or so games that seemed absent from localization plans. game journalists apparently talked to some of the SEGA reps at E3 and asked if the new Valkyria Chronicles and Phantasy Star games would be heading to the west and the news wasn’t good.

Valkyria Chronicles III (or pretty much any other Japanese PSP game that year) never came to the west. This was largely because the PSP was on life support when the game released. You see, in their grand wisdom, Sega decided to make a quick buck by churning the games out far too quickly on a completely other system as before (more on that later). Valkyria Chronicles II, a direct sequel to the first PS3 game, was confusingly a now handheld title. Granted, at the time the PSP had a userbase of more than 50 million users (a lot more than the PS3 at the time), but how many outside of Japan would buy it? How many had the first game? Series Producer Shuntaro Tanaka told Famitsu that the second game was being developed for the PSP instead of the PS3, in order “to allow a broader spectrum of users to discover and enjoy what makes Valkyria special.” Tanaka added that the series could return to consoles in the future, though.

valkyria chronicles

There are rumors that SEGA decided to release the games on the PSP in order to capitalize on the TV anime that was running, using it to hock a host of toys and such that were hot on the market. Moving a flagship title for any series across platforms is a tough decision, and especially ludicrous when we have to realize that Valkyria Chronicles II was, not shockingly, only the second game in the series. Usually, handheld spinoff games come well into the lifespan of a series, ala Final Fantasy and it’s numerous side-games. While it did decently well in Japan, the sales were still under that of the first game, but the real story is the American Market. VGchartz has the game listed at an estimated 80k for the American Market. That’s basically an estimated eight times less than what the first game obtained in the same region.

Here are some graphs to speak for themselves, these are old screen-grabs I took when I first published this article but they still stand:

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Please note the scaling difference between the two graphs.

valkyria-3

I’m not going to jump on the anti-piracy bandwagon, but when you have a system that is cheap and easy to develop for, but is plagued with piracy and doesn’t perform well in all areas versus a system that does a bit better in all areas, and isn’t hit hard (until recently) by any sort of hackers, I wonder why you’d choose the former. SEGA obviously wanted a quick buck rather than letting a franchise grow a bit more naturally, and it’s hurt the series pretty bad. Since its release the third game in series had barely cracked 160k units in sales, a far cry from the previous games.

Sadly, Japanese gaming companies really hit a rut about five years ago, and honestly they are still there, they don’t take chances and seemingly have regressed back into a Japan-only mindset that pretty much guarantees failure. Putting anything on the PSP during that time, or the Vita currently, pretty much guarantees a niche game that few will play. But why is this happening? Take, for example, words by Keiji Inafune, the once prominent mind behind many Capcom classics such as Mega Man and Dead Rising:

Keiji Inafune
Keiji Inafune

“The mainstream industry in Japan is like a large tree that’s just begun to wilt. It’s still standing strong, it hasn’t collapsed just yet, but it’s not doing all that well,” Inafune told The Verge at BitSummit, a Kyoto indie-games festival in its second year. Inafune himself went independent in 2010, leaving giant developer Capcom to start his own studio called Comcept. He believes that indie games are the most exciting thing happening within the Japanese industry. “Indies have just sprouted above the ground. There’s still this monolithic large tree over the industry, but indies have popped up. Whether or not the big tree will fall, whether or not the indie scene will grow into a tree itself, I don’t know.”

Inafune is just one of many big name studio guys leaving “wilting trees”, perhaps the most prominent was Hideo Kojima and his epic battles with Konami leading up to the release of the last Metal Gear game. He now works for Sony and Konami is making cellphone and pachinko games.

I wish more of these big Japanese companies with American publishing arms would look at companies like Atlus (owned by SEGA now) and XSeed for how to treat localizations. XSeed, for example, has released a few games in the Record of Agarest War series digitally, that way they could obtain a cheap license and keep costs down. These smaller publishers also set realistic goals for sales of these games, instead of assuming that a niche strategy RPG will be a huge blockbuster, NIS and Atlus both learned a ton about the market, and learned how to market, publicize, and keep costs down on a ton of games like La Pucelle Tactics, Disgaea, and even Phantom Brave. They don’t always sell crazily well, but they have rabid followings that keep buying the games, and keeping them going.

A somewhat new game in the series.
A somewhat new game in the series.

So, where do we stand now? well, there might be a glimmer of hope shining through. While the third installment is still the last game in the series so far, many fans are hoping that a recent HD remaster of Valkyria Chronicles and a new spinoff game will re-ignite interest in the series. The spinoff, Valkyria Revolution, is planned to be released by SEGA in Japan on January 19, 2017, and in North America in early 2017. It is also planned to be released by Deep Silver in Europe in early 2017 as well. For the Western releases, an Xbox One version will also be available.

This shows a big change for SEGA in that they seem to be switching back to home consoles for games like this, and are trusting the west to support more niche games. Namco-Bandai recently did a similar thing and finally got the Tales series back on track over here, so who knows… As for Valkyria Chronicles III? I guess there is always hope that SEGA could do a PSP Remake edition for the PS4, but if they think the game won’t sell well, where is the incentive? Even a digital release with original dialog would be good, but I’m not holding my breath.

If Valkyria Revolution bombs, the fans are not to blame – a decade of poor and largely short-sighted business decisions are. If it does happen, only one thing comes to mind – Sorry SEGA, but you guys ruined your own franchise.

Valkyria Revolution looks promising!
Valkyria Revolution looks promising!

Disclaimer: A version of this article was originally produced for a now-defunct video game website that I worked for in the past. I have decided to rescue some of this stuff so it doesn’t disappear from the internet forever. If you enjoy this, let me know and I might just do more!

 


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Top Ten Most Over-used Japanese RPG Cliches

…Or “Let’s create the most generic RPG out There!”

If one has played a number of Japanese role playing games, definite tropes come to mind for the genre.  In the last twenty years or so, the medium has become further and further specified to the point that many of these tropes have left the realm of patterns and themes to full-blown clichés.  The following is a list of the top ten most over-used Japanese RPG clichés, in no particular order.  To aid in the fun, I have decided to present the list in the form of a plot synopsis for a fictitious game just to show how easily these can be applied.

Youth in Revolt

It seems that every RPG from “The Land of the Rising Sun” uses the same rule that giant robot anime seems to have: “Every hero must be a whiny prepubescent male with goofy hair.”  This was fine with characters such as Cloud (and even Squall to a degree) when these games first started to get big over here, then all of the sudden every RPG starred a similar main character.  After playing a number of RPGs I always long for a war-hardened old grizzled curmudgeon to be the main protagonist of any game I play.  Not because I have a fetish for that sort of thing, but because it might spice up an otherwise bland aspect of these games.

For our game, I’ve come up with an effeminate 13 year old pacifist, because who could be more annoying than a teenager who thinks we need to hear about his political beliefs.  I even drew up a picture using an online character generator program.

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Now we need a sappy name, one that has both a biblical sounding quality and a character trait hidden deep within it.  One could substitute a meteorological term for the biblical name (i.e Cloud, Squall , Lightning), but I think the former will come out better.  For the sake of our demonstration, our hero is named Cherubish Bleak.  This name not only implies that Cherubish has some sort of angelic quality about him, but that he has a depressing demeanor.  Bonus points if he actually is an angel of some sort!

Burn Baby Burn!

So now that we have the whiny main character sorted and ready to go, we need some sort of motivation for him to actually go out and interact with other characters, as well as adventure.  This could go any way really, including a plot that makes the character’s actual profession to be that of an adventurer, but that’s just plain boring.  What we need is some sort of plot device that FORCES the character to step out there and whine all the way to the final boss.

burning-house

I’ve got it, let’s have the bad guys march into his hometown while he is off collecting magical quail eggs or some other random stuff, and burn his home down.  Points will be awarded for every single mother, orphaned sister, or family pet that gets mowed down in the crossfire.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

There has to be an obligatory segment where our character meets an older and somewhat more menacing rival-type character in some way, usually in the woods.  This character is usually the defender for another, usually female, character and is leading her on some sort of pilgrimage, escort mission, or trying to protect her.  Our main character will almost immediately fall in love with the female character and insist on tagging along much to the dismay of our rival.  Once in battle our Rival character, which has a creepy foreboding name like “Seraphimatos”, shows great prowess in magical arts and swordsmanship.  He’s so “badass” that he can dispatch even the darkest of all villains in one mighty sword swipe.  He is usually level 60 or so when our party is only more battle worthy than an acorn, and carries each battle for this segment of the game.

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Suddenly, a swerve in the plot appears, our buddy Seraphimatos isn’t a good guy at all (GASP!), he’s actually an agent for the higher evil power (or secretly IS the evil power!) and is trying to kidnap the girl as a blood sacrifice.  You now have to fight him in a futile battle where your entire party dies, but it’s okay because this is a storyline death.  He spits on your supposedly dead corpse and wanders off pretty girl in tow.

The Luddite Rule

Now that we have not only a quest, but an antagonist to fight; we need some sort of back-story.  You see, in this world technology is bad and everyone in the world resents it.  They insist on living in a manner reminiscent of the Middle Ages due to some sort of past calamity that wiped out the whole world.  This calamity was brought on by an over-use of technology and could be anything from a nuclear holocaust to a robot uprising.  No matter what though, characters don’t talk about what caused the end of the world, they only allude to it in the vaguest of terms.

terminator

In correlation to this, the Evil Empire that you are undoubtedly against is a huge booming technological wonder and stands anachronistically against all other towns in the world.  The hero will have to fight all manner of robot, tank, flying machine, and mech suit until the end of the game.

Laurel and Hardy

Once you are actually adventuring, our character needs a “buddy character” to latch onto.  Since our main character is whiny tormented guy, a character that exists solely as the direct opposite of him needs to pop up.  What we need is a “Chris Tucker” to his “Jackie Chan”, if you will.

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This character will be insanely goofy, never take anything seriously, and dress like a total imbecile for seemingly no reason at all.  Later in the game you will come to hear some sort of depressing back-story that reveals the character’s bumbling attitude is a facade he puts on to keep out memories of sadness, for example the death of his family

Public Storage

One of the more minor clichés, but a cliché none-the-less will always exist in that everyone in the whole world is so trusting of outsiders that they will let them into their homes at any moment of time at all.  To repay their hospitality, our party will repay them by robbing them blindly and slipping out into the darkness.  If anyone has the sense to actually hide any of their belongings, most will settle for stashing them in inconspicuous clay pots or barrels right outside their house.

jar of coins

Maybe these folks would move up a station in life, and not exist as poor commoners if they learned how to hold onto wealth!

Unorthodox travel method

As our party progresses through the game, a situation will occur that makes traveling through a particular area difficult.  Maybe there is a tough monster that attacks those that travel by foot, or a huge desert that takes days to pass, whatever the reason the party eventually needs some sort of “beast of burden” to ride on.  Horses?  Like we’d put any filthy horses in our game; what we need is some sort of cute cuddly animal like a huge baby chicken or a bunny to ride on.  I’ve got it – Ferrets – everyone loves ferrets. In our game people commute by way of giant ferret.

ferret

Persistent Miniboss

As we continue through the game, the Evil Empire will start sending some sort of mercenary after you.  This guy exists as a stereotypical “cool anti-hero” type of guy.  He smokes cigarettes, uses some sort of “cool” weapon such as a revolver or a butterfly knife, and pops up just about every five seconds from here on out.  That is until….

green power ranger

Green Ranger Rule

Remember that show The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers?  In the first few seasons there was a character called the “Green Ranger” that existed as a misunderstood evil analog to the heroes.  Suddenly he had a change of heart and became a good guy out of nowhere.  Our Miniboss character will suddenly do this at some point.  This could be for many reasons, such as finding out the true intentions of the Empire, a show of mercy from our heroes, or even a “truce” so that he may fight the main character “for real” at some point.  This could also be called “The Vegeta Rule”.

Final Boss

So now we come to the end of our hypothetical game, and things are looking bad.  Our party seems to have overtaken Seraphimatos just in time for him to spout something vaguely biblical and turn into an angel-like monster with multiple wings and choir music accompaniment.  A good way to find source material would be for us to get drunk and watch a documentary on a mystical ancient religion such as Gnosticism or Kabbalah and choose buzzwords to allude to.

cherubim

In fact naming a multitude of other monsters, weapons, attacks, cities, and even characters after people and deities from all manner of world religions is a must.

The party has beaten the huge angelic monstrosity, and we are now blessed with the end credits.  And just like many RPGs out today, the gamer will have a distinct feeling of “meh” on their mind.  The bad thing is that many have played a game that follows a similar pattern.

 

Disclaimer: A version of this article was originally produced for a now-defunct video game website that I worked for in the past. I have decided to rescue some of this stuff so it doesn’t disappear from the internet forever. If you enjoy this, let me know and I might just do more!