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A Retrospective on SMT4: Apocalypse

“No longer human. Not angel, not demon. He is my puppet.†  Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse   “First Impressions†Retrospective   It wasn’t too much of a secret that I was really excited for this game when it was first announced. When the release date for the U.S. approached, I saved up as much as I could, and spent nearly 70 dollars for the game and one-day shipping so that I could get the game on the day of launch. Around a week later, I have clocked over sixty hours (not counting the resets), having completed every optional side quest except one, completed my demon compendium to around 92%, and am now blocked to the ending by the final boss, despite the fact that I’m already max level and have the best equipment.   But getting blocked by a boss in Shin Megami Tensei is the beauty of the series for me – especially if the last boss is such a challenge as the one in this game. I’ve been playing on the hard mode from the very beginning, and have conquered pretty much every single boss in the game, except for this last one, who I talk about on discord quite a bit. Am I salty about losing so often? Honestly, no – getting my ass kicked like this shows that I can improve something in my set-up, and the reward of winning will be that much sweeter.         Considering all the above, and despite the fact that I need another route to play through, I think I can give some thoughts about the game as a whole. I am giving a lot of spoilers, so you’re warned.   To start off the retrospective, I checked to see what reviewers scored the game, just to show the numbers.   Next, as far as gameplay is concerned, this is probably the most realized Shin Megami Tensei game. Combat has achieved a level of depth and polish that went past what I thought the Press Turn combat system could accomplish, mainly due to the changes to the smirk mechanic introduced in Shin Megami Tensei IV.           Smirk was essentially a buff that could be gained for exploiting a weakness, having your defenses succeed, scoring a critical, etc. – in IV, Smirk essentially made you invincible for one turn, since enemies will always miss you if you have smirk, but you had to use the bonus damage gained from smirk on that same turn, otherwise the smirk would disappear and be wasted.   In Apocalypse, smirk will stick around for 2-3 turns, and is not as strong as it was in the previous game – your evasion will not be stupidly high, but your weaknesses can no longer be exploited, and the bonus damage is still there. However, because they attached effects such as bonus healing, the ability to ignore certain defenses, and instant kill onto smirk: the infamous Hama and Mudo spells now deal normal damage, and are insanely strong as offensive spells, since having their instant kill effect from previous games being attached to smirk makes it so that the instant kill rate of success can be raised. Essentially, changes in combat make all forms of offensive damage feel reliable, and even healers getting smirk doesn’t feel wasted – even instant kill, which feels very RNG-dependent, can feel fair when it wipes you out.   Because of these changes to smirk and spells, we are introduced to new abilities that remove smirk (which were sorely missing in IV), and enemy resistances have been shifted around to accommodate this – even though Apocalypse naturally treads familiar territory that IV covered, the encounters have remained fresh.         The remade partner system is also fantastic – being able to choose your partners, and each partner having a distinct use, makes for a variety of ways to deal with bosses. Sometimes the key to victory is as simple as switching your partner, and the partner AI is competent enough to make a fight-winning move during an intense battle.   Demon fusion is at its best in this game – the demon search function is incredibly useful in narrowing down a possible demon to fuse for battle, and you can just fuse two demons of your choice to experiment if you don’t feel like using the search function (an option that was also sorely missed in IV).   To tie in with fusion, negotiation is also easier this time around – you can communicate with every demon, instead of requiring an app or skill that would allow you to communicate with otherwise unintelligible demons. The best change is that if the demon you’re negotiating has been in your party before, they might recognize you and join your party for free, eliminating the negotiation in between, which is such a welcome change when you’re trying to fuse certain demons, and require the demons you’ve used in the past. This is compared to spending cash and purchasing the demon you saved in the compendium.           As far as alignment is concerned, since Apocalypse doesn’t follow the traditional law versus neutral versus chaos of previous games, it’s more or less been re-designed to better fit the two endings Apocalypse does have. While your ending is decided by one major decision in the game, your actions and decisions leading up to that moment may result in a penalty (losing all your items or having most of your demons deleted).   As of now, Apocalypse is the best Shin Megami Tensei game as far as gameplay is concerned.   As far as the story and characters are concerned, I think Apocalypse’s cast of characters are more or less better than IV’s cast. The MegaTen community is pretty divided on this, especially since a lot of these characters are “anime†– they often make the comparison to the characters of the newer Persona games, and in a way, I’m inclined to agree with them: A lot of Apocalypse’s, and by extension IV’s, characters are just downgrades from the crew of soldiers trapped in a demonic world in Strange Journey.   I suppose it’s worth saying that Strange Journey is probably the most well-written game in the mainline series (although Digital Devil Saga and Persona 2 have better stories overall in the larger MegaTen universe), but the shame is that Apocalypse had an opportunity to be better than Strange Journey in that department. If I had to list the best characters in Apocalypse, I think Navarre and Gaston are probably the characters with the best development – while I don’t strictly dislike any of the characters in Apocalypse, those two had character arcs that were more or less a joy to watch, especially Navarre.         Navarre played a small role in IV, where he’s more or less an asshole to the protagonist, Flynn. The beauty of Navarre’s role as a main character is mainly divided in two reasons. The first is that Navarre is pretty much the target of jokes all over, and they never get old. He’s just about the funniest character in the entire game, but his development comes around when you look at the sort of person he was prior to Apocalypse. I think one of the biggest things about Navarre is that at first glance, he could never seem like a hero, and indeed, he never does anything really heroic. He’s a coward and arrogant, but the game makes a point that he carries a deep shame about his past actions, and in one of the final dungeons, he comes to terms with this. During a major decision that determines your ending, Navarre will send you a message that encourages his faith in you – the only person to do so amongst all your friends.   It also helps that he’s one of the most useful partners to have. And of course, all I said about Navarre is ultimately an opinion – he has plenty of well-deserved haters.   However, Apocalypse treats certain characters really poorly, as well – mainly the antagonists of IV, God’s Chariot and the Demon Lord. The personalities seemed to have been modified to better fit the narrative, but considering that Apocalypse is meant to branch out from the neutral route in IV, this seems like a very poor decision as far as writing is concerned. There are other moments in the game, mainly in the last two acts, that made me really disappointed with how bad the writing could get. The way they handled characters such as Toki – who was severely underutilized – greatly disappointed me since the “walking Reasons†of Nocturne displayed a more developed personality with their hypocritical actions, amongst many other things.         But really, certain moments of Apocalypse is all that really bothered me. This game is superior to IV in almost every regard, and it’s probably what I consider to be the best RPG on the 3DS as of now. I might be heavily biased, but after having played the 3DS RPG library rather extensively (and I mean I went all over with Etrian Odyssey, Stella Glow, Bravely Default, and Fire Emblem, just to name a few) – I can’t really find anything to top this game.   Atlus usually has a lot of discount sales for their games, and a Europe release is coming in winter – chances are the people who likes this series already owns the game, unless money becomes an issue (and I’m pretty much broke now, gotta save up for Persona 5 for the next five months). Nonetheless, I think that if you can grab the game for a cheaper price, you should do so – although you should also play IV, it gives a lot of context to Apocalypse and makes the latter much more enjoyable to play. You can also import your save file of IV for extra bonuses in Apocalypse. IV is also relatively cheap, and gets cheaper due to sales rather often.   I’m gushing though. I’m gushing fountains because this game has been fantastic, although definitely not for everyone. I am also attaching the official trailer on the Nintendo channel, in case you want to see some footage and hear the voices:       "My Godslayer will kill every last god and demon out there!"

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Personal Standards for Anime

So this is just a two-part article – this first part is just going to detail my “objective†criteria in how I usually rate anime. I suppose it could be applied to a lot of other mediums, but I pretty much use it exclusively for the anime medium – I consider myself to be somewhat well versed with anime in general, even if it’s not something I should be proud of. Nonetheless, having grown up watching the stuff, I think it’s safe to say that anime is unfortunately a large part of my life – it’s what my parents make fun of me about, what I talk to my peers about assuming they have similar hobbies, and something I consider myself to more or less be an expert on, alongside the movie industry (but they go hand-in-hand at times).   So when I look at an anime, I split the score into ten possible categories – one point if the anime successfully accomplishes this consistently. This means that I must be able to break down this anime objectively and conclude that the anime has earned that point, no contest. This stems from my own viewing experience, but I also do my research in other reviews or mass opinions to try and weed out any possible subjective thoughts I may have had. I also do not give extra credit as far as scoring is concerned, but I usually make my recommendations based on standout qualities. It’s also important that I’ve been using more recent anime as a baseline (namely anime between 2005-2014), since I feel like older anime can feel too dated to measure some of these categories on.   The categories are as such.   Animation: It’s important to note that anime in general tends to drop in their quality of animation very often. This is more or less a production issue, so I tend to rate animation by determining if the anime can meet acceptable animation standards (I use Gundam 00 as more or less being a baseline here) around half the time or so. I also consider whether or not the drop in animation quality really affects the viewing experience – an anime with lower need of incredible fluidity such as a slice-of-life series wouldn’t suffer nearly as much here as an action anime would.   Presentation: I guess this is more or less direction of the anime. Anime should be clever in how they present each frame – nothing should feel too bland, pointless, or wasted. Very few anime meets this with every episode, so I’m also more lenient with how I approach this: I’ve recently been using Zankyou no Terror as a baseline, although in the past I’ve used To Aru Majutsu no Index as the baseline.   Music: Music doesn’t necessarily have to be amazing track-by-track – I think it’s more important for the music to fit the anime well, and feel fitting. Even if the songs are generic, I think that’s also a very subjective way to look at the music, so it’s more fair to see how the music adds up to the overall experience: does it lend itself well to the scene we are currently viewing? Does the music complement the anime rather than detract from it? To measure this, I use Guilty Crown as a baseline.   Character Design: The characters don’t necessarily have to be the most believable, but they should have personality. A generic character design is acceptable, as long as we can look at the character and understand what sort of characters they are. They should look the part – in a lot of ways, like with movies, a lot of characters do not necessarily look their part. This is from a purely visual standpoint – how the characters are handled in the context of storytelling is its own category entirely. I use Sword Art Online as the baseline – previously, I have used Clannad.   Engagement: A very, very simple category, and also pretty easy to score in for most anime – is the anime fun? Even if the anime suffered from various problems, did I still enjoy the experience? This one is the most subjective, and therefore the easiest one to score in. Because of how subjective this one is, despite my own research into other people’s enjoyment of an anime series, I don’t really have a baseline for this one.   Characterization: It’s not difficult to make an interesting or memorable character. Even if the character doesn’t necessarily have compelling character development arcs, I think that as long as the cast of characters is given personality outside of their mold, regardless of the amount of actual character development each one has, I can give the point here. I use Neon Genesis Evangelion as the baseline. Note that this applies to both the main and supporting cast – I look at them as a whole.   Story: The story doesn’t have to be complicating, but it should be engrossing, and more or less keep us interested until the very end. Anime as a whole have featured stories that you never really see anywhere else – stories that work exclusively for anime are more or less outliers here though, since those stories tend to be really, really good. I wouldn’t say they’re like that one hundred percent of the time, but the story should be trying to tell the audience something, and make good use of the anime medium. I use Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann as the baseline.   Pacing: We don’t need an overarching plot – shows like Space Dandy are excellent because there is so many stories to be told in that universe, even if the main “plot†takes a backseat most of the time. And sometimes, that’s what it should – the plot ultimately shouldn’t take over depending on the type of storytelling the anime wishes to use. The plot doesn’t necessarily have to drive the pacing, although it’s important for things to happen in the show so that we as viewers don’t get bored of it. Of course, Space Dandy is more or less a fringe case of an episodic story done right, so I use Gankutsuou as the baseline – I want to see anime match their story and storytelling techniques, as this is what avoids filler, and what ultimately ruins pacing.   Setting: Anime as a visual style is already unique in itself – it’s distinctive and more or less captures a genre all its own. The world should be interesting – we should want to know more about this world. The world should also match the situation the story places it in, and if the atmosphere is not captured well, then the anime will not get a point here. I use The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya here.   Appeal: Probably the most difficult category for anime to score in, this is what separates a 9/10 or a 10/10 for a lot of series. Is this anime easy for me to recommend to just about everyone? Do I feel like this anime is worth seeing for even one of the most disinterested in viewers? A good anime may not necessarily get a score here, because maybe there’s a mediocre anime that manages to have something so outstanding about it that I can’t help but tell someone else to watch it. I use Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as the baseline.   The article after this one will be some anime recommendations and the score I give them, but I should list an example of an anime that matches a certain score, so that you have a better idea of how I view these anime critically.   0/10 – Hametsu no Mars   This is a piece of shit that didn’t score any points anywhere. This is about as Ed Wood as anime gets – this pretty much set the standard for bottom of the barrel, critically, and I urge you to see this name and memorize it as something that should never be googled – it doesn’t deserve the clicks.   1/10 – Kuusen Madoushi Kouhosei no Kyoukan   I gave it a point because I thought the setting was pretty acceptable – even if the animations used to show people flying are just CGI, and just about everything else about this anime pretty much tells me that the team working on this gave absolutely no shits about this project, it still managed to be a little more interesting than my 0/10, even if it was only with the promise of surfing in the clouds.   2/10 – Gakusen Toshi Asterisk   This is about generic as it gets, really – I gave it a point in music and engagement, which is hilarious considering that it failed to get a point in setting, unlike the previous anime I listed. I guess if you wanted cute girls with swords, with some okay music that more or less matches what we have in the show, and if you’re also willing to turn your brain off while watching this, then no problem, you’ll get a good waste of time.   3/10 – Fairy Tail   I can’t fault this anime for not trying. The manga it was based off is already subpar, as it’s basically an inferior version to One Piece in just about every way, but when they decided to make the anime feel more like a kid’s show, with the magic circles that were not present in the manga, the presentation went into a whole new direction that absolutely ruined this anime even further – if they have since changed that style, that would be good to know, because I don’t think I can ever take the show seriously, even at the parts where it wants me to.   I gave it points on music, character design, and setting, although I feel like I’m being super generous with the character design aspect – the design of the characters did match their given personalities, although I can never shake off the fact that everything about the cast feels like a combination of every shounen cast I’ve seen in my time viewing anime and reading manga. It doesn’t help that this show only has one idea: the nakama theme, and my god is it used to a disgusting amount.   4/10 – Guilty Crown   The animation is stunning, with some terrific music that fits what is happening on the screen, with some pretty cool (albeit mostly generic) character designs, and the setting is more or less solid on a visual level, if not a narrative level. But my god does this anime absolutely fail at everything else. I remember watching this every week while it ran, hoping that it would get better, and I was willing to forgive it if it had a great conclusion. Well, you can guess on whether or not I forgave it, but it’s basically a really bad version of Code Geass. Let this anime be a reminder about anime that continues to fail on almost all aspects (although there’s some qualities to the anime that are really fantastic, such as the animation and the use of its music. I really wanted to like this anime).   5/10 – Sword Art Online   Sword Art Online is pretty solid on the first five categories – animation is really fluid, especially in the action scenes, the anime is presented very well, with some really outstanding shots that shows what this team can do with competent direction, the music is really terrific and appropriate (sometimes I feel like the music didn’t deserve to be in this anime), the character designs aren’t anything standout but they’re serviceable, and most importantly, this anime is really fun to watch, when there’s action happening in the scene. However, Sword Art Online will never rise about its status of mediocrity because it really flunked in the other five categories. The Aincrad and Gun Gale Online arcs probably had the best chance of making a really tense setting because of the constant presence of death, but the show has some really corny moments, and the awful pacing dissolved any sense of tension that could’ve been present in this anime. It stopped being an experience because of it, and it will never really rise above it. Hopefully the Alicization arc does a good job of addressing these issues: I’m always willing to forgive Sword Art Online the moment it works to fix its flaws.   6/10 – Berserk (1997)   Outside of the fact that the first episode probably didn’t have to be in the anime (since it did little to fuel the story, as it took place in an entirely different time in the story), this anime didn’t really have too many pacing issues. It mainly loses points in animation, presentation, engagement, and appeal because visually, calling this anime dated would be really generous. The archaic animation is charming for me, but I’m certain it’s not charming for others. Hell, this show is missing shadows in a lot of its scenes, and the characters sometime feel separated from the rest of the environment. However, this anime is brutal – it has some of the strongest characterization and epic storytelling in the medium, and the manga is often regarded as a masterpiece to many. This is still the best adaptation of the famous Golden Age arc, and I don’t think the movies really matched up to this version. Nonetheless, it’s a very flawed anime.   7/10 – Re: Cutie Honey   The manga of Cutie Honey more or less pioneered the mahou shoujo genre, having been around nearly two decades before Sailor Moon did, and even then, Cutie Honey is unique amongst its ilk. Re: Cutie Honey is the Gainax adaptation of slightly older adaptations of this 1970’s manga series, directed by Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame. It lost points in the pacing, story, and appeal, because this anime doesn’t have much of a plot to begin with, and the pacing is awkward because to some degree, this short OVA series expects the viewer to know some stuff regarding Cutie Honey – they do explain some aspects of the setting, but it’s not much information. It’s also super heavy in fanservice.   Nonetheless, I don’t think anyone is going to look at this and think “damn, this show looks boringâ€, because fuck you, it’s anything but boring. If nothing else, this show is just a humongous bundle of fun. I don’t know if I’m ever going to watch it again, but damn if I wasn’t smiling while watching the show.   8/10 – Steins;Gate   Although someone has cleared it up with me about some elements in the plot that I had issues with, I don’t think it addresses some of the poor pacing problems this anime has in the middle of the second half. It also takes nearly half of the series for the plot to really get rolling, although it should be noted that it’s a very interesting time travel story – its usage of real life events and involvements in the study of time travel also serves to create a much more compelling setting and world for the audience, and I think Steins;Gate is almost unmatched in that department: rather than enforcing the fantasy with more fantasy, it uses events and other elements from reality to bolster its fantastical plot even further. Nonetheless, the character designs for a lot of the supporting cast aren’t as up to par as the main cast. I think it’s worth noting that this anime’s current rating for me is also fairly subjective, because I hold this anime to a higher standard than I would with something like Sword Art Online. Nonetheless, I use Steins;Gate as a gatekeeper anime for true greatness, something to weed out the true 9’s and 10’s.   9/10 – Kara no Kyoukai   Probably my favorite anime of all-time, this series loses points in the Appeal factor because of its weird characterization and anachronological storytelling. Nonetheless, despite its interesting episodic mysteries, and the fact that it encourages the viewer to view this entire anime series as a meta-mystery in itself, I often find myself wavering between 8 to 10 depending on the individual movies. As such, a composite score of 9/10 seems really fair for me.   10/10 – Cowboy Bebop   I have little to say about this anime, except that it’s absolutely perfect, and that everyone needs to jump on this shit and watch it. You’re doing yourself a disservice missing it.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

The second (and probably last) Top Ten: RPGs

Since I’m positive the majority of us are indeed fans of the RPG genre, I’m also sure that a lot of us have a list of favorite RPGs that we have played. That being said, how often do we share them publicly (the answer is “plentyâ€). Since I’m having fun writing these sorts of articles right now, I’m going to prolong the enjoyment and discuss my top ten personal favorites – again, like my top ten anime article, these are my personal favorites and not necessarily the most universally-loved nor critically acclaimed. However, if I like multiple games in the same franchise, I’ll probably include all of those titles in the list. For example, Shin Megami Tensei and Persona are part of the same franchise, but not the same series, so I can (and will) include a game from both. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, however, are of the same series, so I will not include both (if it was Bloodborne and Dark Souls, then I would’ve).   That being said, my list probably isn’t anything special, as it’s filled with fairly familiar titles, the likes you’ve definitely seen before. I didn’t put in more obscure stuff like Legend of Legaia, The Legend of Dragoon, Xenogears, or Skies of Arcadia because frankly, I just didn’t like them as much as these ten games. This is less of me introducing good games to people, and more of me telling my life history in an abstract way. Anyways, here’s my top ten!   10. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King   9. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines   8. Radiant Historia   7. Persona 3 Portable   6. Final Fantasy IX   5. Suikoden II   4. Planescape: Torment   3. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne   2. Demon’s Souls   1. Chrono Trigger   I’m curious as to what games in your lives really stand out as favorites to you. If you want, feel free to let me know – if I haven’t played them, I would like to, and I would like to see if there’s a game I don’t know about that could find itself in this list.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

That Personal List of Top Ten Anime (because why not)?

So you might’ve remembered that I made a list of top ten recommended anime. Well, this list is going to be a little long, because I want to include RPGs in here as well – that means a two-part list of twenty titles for you to go out there and enjoy. I guess my only two rules going into these lists is that one, these are my personal favorites – they didn’t have to necessarily be good, and two, if I liked multiple anime from the same direction team and/or source, then I’m just going to pick the one that sticks out to me the most and roll with that. First off, counting down from ten, I present to you my personal list of my top ten favorite anime of all time (chances are, you guys saw a lot of these titles already)!   10. Grisaia no Kajitsu     9. Rurouni Kenshin     8. Kizumonogatari: Tekketsu     7. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders     6. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun     5. Serial Experiments Lain     4. Neon Genesis Evangelion     3. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex     2. Space Dandy     1. Kara no Kyoukai     The link to my previous anime-related article can be found in the bottom. The next article I will probably do is a list of my top ten favorite RPGs of all times, before I return to my usual Shin Megami Tensei articles.     http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1829-some-anime-for-you-guys-to-watch/

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

No Mercy for Undertale (Spoilers!)

So let me just start off by saying that I’m not an expert in the lore of Undertale whatsoever, nor am I really familiar with fan theories or anything like that since I kind of choose not to associate myself with a large fandom unless I have anything to offer – in the case of Undertale, I really do not. All I have for this article is my own experience, as well as some words from developer Toby Fox that I read a while back. For those who haven’t played the game yet and somehow managed to be spoiled, I’ll say it now: massive spoilers ahead!   So why am I writing an article on this game during my purported Shin Megami Tensei month (which is way longer than a month by the time it ends)? Well, mainly because one of Undertale’s most acclaimed mechanics, the conversation system, was more or less inspired by my beloved franchise. Of course, the direction of the conversation was more or less altered to fit the mold that Undertale made for itself – while we still retain the basic idea of conversing with our opponents in order to bring about a peaceful conclusion to the battle, Shin Megami Tensei’s demons are much more sinister and violent than the relatively peaceful monsters of the Underground. Toby Fox adjusted the conversation mechanic such that we delve more into the personalities of these monsters – each random encounter features a unique creature, which is something I will delve into later.     To explain what I personally found great and awful about Undertale, the writing and world building is absolutely fantastic. The fictional setting of the Underground has a lot of lore to explore, and although the place itself isn’t super expansive nor is the game long, more of the story reveals itself with each subsequent playthrough, with different dialogue options as we replay the same events over and over. Undertale is undoubtedly a very meta-heavy experience, relying on its clever writing and delivery to really sell the game as memorable, and it nails its atmospheric roots from Earthbound incredibly well. The music is also a very strong point of the game – for something that could more or less be completed in its entirety in under twenty-five hours, we have a soundtrack of around a hundred tracks, some unique and others remixed to better fit the mood. It also helps that the art direction more or less nailed what it was going for.   The gameplay is very engaging – regardless of which route you pick, it’s going to be punishing. That being said, I personally found the Neutral route to be the easiest, with the True Pacifist route being the most difficult overall (I did the True Pacifist run on my first playthrough, which might explain why I found it so hard). The Genocide route has two really difficult battles though, trumping anything the rest of the game has to throw at you – that being said, everything else should just die in one hit. The game expects you to learn the bullet hell patterns of the enemy’s attacks, while figuring out how to get the Mercy option during combat. Conversations can be interesting – I found it relatively simple to figure out how to get the yellow-colored names in the Mercy option to pop up in my first playthrough (True Pacifist). Once you figure out enemy patterns, the game becomes incredibly predictable, which can be good or bad, depending on your tastes.   Is Undertale fun? Definitely, but I still don’t believe it’s anywhere close to being a top ten game I’ve ever played. I’m really unsure how to put this in words, but Undertale wasn’t nearly as charming to me as it seemed to be to most people. I think it was pretty much everything it wanted to be, which is the biggest shame: I can’t think of anything super major that I would improve on, meaning that as far as the potential of Undertale is concerned, I’m convinced that it pretty much peaked.   Maybe it’s because I’ve been surrounded by a lot of anime, manga, and other video games that tries to emulate meta-commentary into its narrative, but Undertale just falls into that same big cesspool. That being said, Undertale is definitely in the higher echelons of those types of fiction, alongside works of other medium like the Monogatari series and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (just to name two famous works that I find to be of similar ilk). Its biggest weakness is that Undertale just won’t get any better than it can right now. Really, that’s about the only thing I really disliked about Undertale – despite that, I can’t consider it a stellar game either. Maybe the game itself doesn’t fit my tastes? That’s probably possible, since I can’t seem to stop considering this game a solid 7/10, after having played it around three times in a row.     From my understanding, Undertale is a game that explores a lot of things that Toby Fox disliked in video games, and wanted to make better. There is a noticeable lack of fetch quests, which involves backtracking, the first of many things the developer dislikes in video games. The character Toriel is meant to be an amalgamation of a tutorial-spouting person and the lack of “mother†figure in video game. Hell, I’m convinced her name has something do with the word “tutorial†alone.   Just as an example, the design of the Ruins alone pokes fun about how some more recent games would solve these beginner puzzles for the player. Yet, in both Toriel and the Ruins, Toby Fox manages to avoid adding the very things he dislikes, in that the battle against Toriel really introduces what a boss fight is going to be like in the game, and the Ruins still gives puzzles that must be solved by the player that manage to be fairly simple yet intuitive, setting the stage for future puzzles in the adventure.     The double-edged sword of Undertale is the world itself – I mentioned before how fantastic the writing is, but I probably should’ve mentioned that what made the setting such an imaginative piece of work is in its coherency: the culture of the monsters makes sense, the characters themselves really fill their place in this setting, and generally speaking, the main characters of Undertale are very interesting.   That said, while I admire the writing, I still can’t bring myself to like it on a personal level. I attribute this to personal tastes, but I just don’t care for any of the minor characters in this game, and a good handful of the major ones as well. In fact, the only characters I find legitimately interesting are Sans, Chara, Papyrus, and Flowey. I could argue that I also liked Undyne, but rather than her being interesting, it had more to do with the template of her personality, and how much I like her types of characters. It also helped that she helped sell the Genocide route to me. In fact, I think I like those five particular characters because the Genocide route is honestly my favorite ending to shoot for in Undertale.   A good part of the reason why I like that particular ending is because it’s the only route where the game does two things: make a very impactful consequence to completing the game, as well as being the only ending that made me think about myself as a person. I know I’m neither violent nor cruel, but I am also driven to complete things the way it should be. It also helped that the Genocide ending was the route I felt most emotionally invested in, because of the events that occur with the five characters I mentioned earlier. In fact, I should probably make most of this article be about the No Mercy Ending as a whole, because even as a game mechanic, this route has a lot to talk about.     However, let’s make it more interesting by presenting it as a narrative! This narrative will pretty much describe everything I feel about Undertale, so this is the last part. I’ll say “thank you†for reading right now, and enjoy the following story:   The Genocide ending requires you to kill every monster you encounter, to the point where even if you enter a random battle, no monsters will appear. I mentioned very early into this article that each monster is more or less a unique personality, and even though I can meet Shyren multiple times, I’m convinced I’m meeting the same Shyren over and over. The Genocide ending really opened my eyes that yes, these were just individual monsters: not a race, nor type, nor clan. In all my prior runs of Undertale, it had never truly occurred to me that I was encountering the exact same monster (although a lot of dialogue in these routes actually suggested as such).   However, the Genocide ending is more or less locked in after you kill Papyrus in cold blood – I say this is the lock-in point because outside of difficult boss battles, you shouldn’t have any trouble slaughtering monsters emotionally. Papyrus is perhaps the most loveable character in the entire game: he is naïve and kind to a fault, and while he is super confident in himself, he’s never arrogant about it, and even seeks to spread his goodwill to others. As a personality, Papyrus is unbelievably solid – he’s incompetent, partly due to his childish nature, but the skeleton is so damn endearing. He believes in Santa Claus, needs his older brother to read him bedtime stories, and for that matter, the frame of his bed is that of a sports car – he one day dreams of being able to cruise in such a car in the outside world. He loves spaghetti to a fault, he’s incredibly honorable, and despite his egocentric tendencies, Papyrus has all the qualities of a perfect friend. In fact, with these traits alone, I don’t think there’s anyone who actually dislikes Papyrus, within the game and outside of it.     The biggest decision for the Genocide ending definitely comes in the form of Papyrus – despite seeing all the atrocities and horrors you committed, Papyrus confronts you not with violence, but with love: he offers to become your friend and mentor, and to turn your life around. He believes that within the monster that the player has become, there is still good inside of it, and as we approach the skeleton, he offers to give us a hug.   Of course, it was there that I cut him down right on the spot. I had to, for the sake of seeing the completing what would be my final playthrough of Undertale! I don’t shed tears, but it was haunting to see Papyrus’s head land on the floor of the battle screen, smiling at me, telling me that if I truly wished for it, I could become good. To think that this would be my, the player’s, final interaction with Papyrus is incredibly sad. The only thought that ran through my head was that Papyrus was only a dozen away from having double-digit followers.   We move onto the next major battle, the first of two aneurysm-inducing battles within Undertale: that against Undyne’s most powerful form, Undyne the Undying.   Undyne was the hot-blooded hero archetype I really admire personally, because they, and by extension she, are very enjoyable to watch. This battle was also a lot more personal, because Papyrus was like a younger brother to her, and I ruthlessly killed him.   One of Undyne’s defining characteristics is her massive dislike of humans in general – let me tell you that it takes a lot of convincing on both mine and Papyrus’s end to get her to even try and befriend me in the True Pacifist Ending. Yet, Undyne suffers a massive wound defending a young monster boy who stood in my path, and as she began to perish, Undyne realized the threat that I had become: after I destroyed the monsters, I would destroy the humans as well. It was here that I realized how big of a heart Undyne had, and her capacity for justice: she was willing to fight for even her despised humans, knowing that I had become an even greater threat.     In a sequence very much like those of a shounen anime, Undyne receives the powers of the combined hearts of all the monsters in the Underground, all praying for my defeat. With these powers, she becomes Undyne the Undying, and we duke it out in a very brutal battle. I’ll just say that it took me multiple tries, probably around fifteen times at most, since I’m no good at incredibly fast-paced bullet hell combat. This battle was tougher than the steel balls of Joseph Joestar, but I eventually cut her down as well. Watching Undyne’s body and armor begin to melt, and hearing her confident words that her friend Alphys will have evacuated the rest of the Underground, I think back to the awkwardness of Undyne when it came to romance, and how she believed anime was real (to the point where she thought humans have been swinging oversized swords throughout history).   This, too, would be the last time I see Undyne.   As I traverse the land, nearing the castle of the king, Asgore Dreemur, intent on slaying him, the world has already become much more bleak. Killing all those in my path, the only constant thought in my head was that nobody really stood a chance against me: the child has become violence incarnate. Of course, I think about the opponents that stand before me: experience from my previous runs makes me think that I am fighting Asgore and Flowey/Asriel at some point. As I stepped into the halls of the castle, I am greeted by a familiar face: Sans, the brother of Papyrus, who would read his younger brother bedtime stories to help him sleep, and the lazy skeleton with a bunch of bad jokes. This was the always smiling figure who would tell me to be good friends with his younger brother, and I would comply.   …Why did he suddenly reappear now?   It was here that the meat of the theme present in the No Mercy Ending really appears: Sans speaks a lot more than I am used to hearing from him, as he judges me for my actions. He goes on to explain what EXP and LOVE (the term Flowey used to describe LV in the very beginning of the game) truly are: EXP are the EXecution Points I racked up for mercilessly putting an end to many lives, including that of Sans’s brother, and LOVE stands for Level Of ViolencE. This is stuff I have heard before, and yet, when I look at the fact that I was my LOVE was at 19, I understood what was going on. In the Neutral route, Sans had told me the same thing, except he told me that in exchange for LOVE, I had found something else, and that he appreciated what kindness I did have in my heart.   There was going to be none of that here. 20 was the level cap, and Sans was going to be my final obstacle.     In a way, I did expect this. Flowey had told me that Sans was somebody I didn’t want to fuck with, and that he was responsible for a lot of Flowey’s resets. The Neutral ending showed me that Flowey once held the power to make a SAVE file and restart the game, before I had arrived. In essence, I stole the ability to play this game from Flowey. I had spent most of my time in this route going through different pieces of dialogue, not thinking much about it because I knew that it would eventually click, and it fucking clicked at that moment.   Sans was somebody with a dark and mysterious past - that much was certain. I wasn’t really sure anyone, even Papyrus, truly knew what Sans was experiencing…but I did. Sans was just like Flowey and myself: he was aware of the existence of save states, and he had defeated Flowey multiple times in the past, thwarting the “player†before myself from accomplishing a true genocide of the monsters. All those books on quantum physics, Sans’s ability to randomly use “shortcuts†to appear in places ahead of me ever since my first playthrough, I understood that the being that stood in front of me was unfathomably more dangerous than anyone I ever fought before.   In other words, to this foul and evil player, he was most worthy final opponent I could’ve ever hoped for. To this ever-smiling skeleton, he holds any hatred for my very being: in my first playthrough, Sans told me that he had faith in me to make the right decision. Now, two cycles later, I have completely betrayed him, tore away his happy ending, and murdered his younger brother in cold blood. My mind races to the first words Sans said to me when we first met once more in this cycle: that he didn’t recognize me as a human. I think back once more to Undyne, who also declared me as something that was neither a monster nor human.   Sans asks me if even the worst person can become a better one if they just tried, mirroring the words of Papyrus. Of course, afterwards, he threatens me, telling me not to step any closer. Like the little monster I am, I ignored him.   He apologizes to someone for breaking his promise – I didn’t need to know who it was. I knew it was Toriel; Sans stood behind me when I walked away from the Ruins, and I finally understood that Sans had probably been keeping tabs on me from the start. In previous cycles, he must’ve been protecting me, but now he was just witnessing my evolution into a monstrous being. In a way, he was much like his deceased brother: Sans had hoped to make the “anomaly†(that is, me, not the protagonist Frisk) happy and prevent all of this from happening. The skeleton only stepped into action because I had reached the end, and he couldn’t afford not to do anything anymore.   I’m sure the protagonist was already cackling at the irony of this situation. I sure wasn’t. As the battle begins, Sans suddenly breaks out into a monologue:     And it was here that I realized something was wrong. Sans immediately attacked me, and I died instantly. I was shocked – I didn’t even have a turn, and my invincibility frames should’ve triggered. I also had nowhere to run, as Sans’s moves pretty much covered my screen save for very small pockets of free space, and he moved unbelievably fast. It was here that I understood that Sans might be even more powerful than I imagined: he was literally breaking the mechanics of the game, and was free to do what he wanted.   As I return to the battle, Sans taunts me, remarking about how he was doing his job well at making me, the player, angry. Thankfully, the only person being frustrated was Frisk – I was more concerned with observing what other tricks Sans had in his hand. I had managed to survive his barrage of attacks, in which he remarks that he always wondered why nobody used their strongest attacks first. Thankfully, this meant that I survived the worst of it, and I thought I figured the battle out. I checked his stats, and was met with absolute shock: 1 in both offense and defense.   This meant statistically, Sans was the weakest opponent I would ever fight.   Thinking about how easy it should be to handle him now, I somehow survived the next barrage of attack, although at this point, I noticed my health bar looking like it was poisoned – I had never seen that before, and I didn’t understand what was going on. Rushed to finish the battle quickly, I went in for the strike…only for Sans to dodge it.   The worst part was that he taunts me there as well, stating that he would never stand still to take the hit like everyone else before him. He kills me right afterwards.   Upon my return, Sans mentions that I have the face of somebody who died twice: he was literally counting my deaths. I have finally attached myself from the protagonist at this point, and yet, the skeleton was wrong – I was not angry at Sans, but rather, I was thrilled that this would be my final challenge in this game. What sat in that chair was not the player, but the gamer that wished to complete the game for good.     As I threw myself at Sans, just for him to continually dodge my moves and absolutely destroy me in combat, I found myself thinking that this skeleton was the Allant, Artorias, Alonne, and Gehrman of Undertale. Going even further, he was the Asura, Satan, Lucifer, Demiurge, and Masakado’s Shadow of this game. As a bunch of stellar, challenging, and memorable boss battles from Shin Megami Tensei and Souls began to pop into mind, I felt my determination rise, and it was here that I realized why my invincibility frames never triggered: Sans truly was only dealing one damage to me, which wouldn’t trigger any invincibility – the problem was that he was dealing one damage per frame, and it began to add up, especially, when my highest health pool only went up to the mid-90s.   It had been a long time since this confrontation started. Sans had stopped counting the amount of times I died by this point. As he continued to dodge my attacks, Sans confirms what I suspected – that he really only wanted to be Frisk’s friend, and to make me, the player, happy, such that I would stop this crusade of death. For every single save state I load, Sans experiences a new timeline – much like how gamers would get bored with no objective in a game, Sans found himself unable to work for anything if it was all going to be reset anyways. The actions of the players before me (including myself, for that matter) have created the Sans we know today.   It was here that Sans stopped fighting. We had reached a point of Mercy, and I was reminded of the first time I fought Papyrus in my first playthrough. Perhaps it was here that I could redeem myself, and end the violence.     …Like fucking hell that was going to happen. What a joke. I already destroyed the source of kindness in this route, and I wasn’t going to fall for any tricks (it turned out that if I had accepted the mercy, I would’ve gotten dunked). The fight resumes. Sans is beginning to sweat – it’s just a matter of time before I slice into Sans and kill him. This had been the longest battle I’ve had to endure in this game, but I was going to win.   Sans is beginning to show signs of his desperation – his stamina isn’t keeping up, but I am somehow surviving his powerful onslaught of attacks. At this point, he is even attacking me in the middle of my turn, so I had to be quick, and most importantly, proactive – playing from the reacting side will mean I have almost no opportunities to push the fight forward. As he grows more tired, Sans tells me (the player, I assume) that I am the sort of person that will always be unhappy.   Those words absolutely stung. I had no idea who he was directing it to, either, but it made me think about what happiness is defined as in science: meaningful connections with others, personal satisfaction, a sense of intrinsic reward. As if I could give two fucks about that sort of stuff now.   It is here that Sans unleashes his most furious attack: he begins to slam my corrupted yet powerful human soul into different parts of the box, in quick succession – I can do nothing but watch, and yet, I survive. At this point, Sans has made it clear that he thinks I should stop what I’ve been doing. He also made it clear to me that he probably did remember the events of the past cycles, and that he most definitely lost faith in me.   …I probably deserved this sort of eternal punishment though, and I waited in anticipation for his special attack. Except it never came – his tactic was to make sure that he never did anything while it was his turn so that my turn never came. What a clever son of a bitch. However, the moment he began to yawn, I knew what I had to do. I was patient – I had my Ritalin to keep me awake, and Sans was a skeleton who likes to nap a little too much. I was unable to move outside of the box, but as soon as Sans began to snore, I started to move the box closer and closer to the FIGHT button.   I was determined, yes – I was determined to win, and to destroy Asgore, and the world after him. No one was safe from the combined power of my wrath and lust for destruction. Neither man nor monster, death no longer holds a grip on me – I walk on this terrible path of my own volition.   My first slash missed, as Sans had woken up just in time, but I cut him mid-sentence. As the skeleton began to bleed the ketchup he loved so much from the Grillby’s. Watching the red coat his clothes gave me flashbacks of the time he took me out to that restaurant, where we had fries and I allowed him to have all the ketchup. I’m sure a similar thought went through Sans’s mind – his shocked face returned back to his grin, and he shrugged, unable to stop me. He walks away from my vision, dragging his slowly dying body away from where my eyes could see. The skeleton declares that he is going to the aforementioned restaurant, but after a few moments of silence, I see the words pop up:     “papyrus, do you want anything?†  The value of my LOVE then turned to 20. I walk forward, not looking back. I had achieved the ultimate strength – I had gotten further than any player before me: Flowey claimed that even when he managed to beat Sans, he could not defeat Asgore. I was severely wounded, even if my face didn’t show it.   I could see the gigantic monster, Asgore Dreemur, standing ahead of me. I’m sure he said some words, but those are totally irrelevant – they might’ve just been static noises to me. Without even bothering to listen to what he has to say, I swing my weapon and slash him right across the torso. The great king of the Underground collapses on his knees. I’m sure he might’ve mentioned something like a peaceful solution: as if the great hypocrite could even bother speaking about such a thing.     I see familiar white bullets surround the wounded monster, and they strike him and his precious soul down. A familiar flower pops up from nowhere, and with a fearful look on his face, he tells me that he was always on my side.   What. A. LOSER.   Perhaps the flower could see what was written on my face. As the ugly face of that flower began to transform into a face that I knew so well, the tear-streaked visage of Asriel Dreemur begged me not to kill him. That friend of mine, whose true form was brought back because he was simply overwhelmed with fear. Was this perhaps the face that many monsters had on their face when they saw me walk towards them?   How stupid. Perhaps Asriel as a flower could feel fear, but I recall that in a previous cycle, Asriel has told me that as Flowey, he is unable to feel compassion. There’s no loyalty in his actions, just self-interest, as if it wasn’t evident enough by all the crying. No matter, this is simply the law of this place.   Because didn’t Asriel say it himself? In this world, it’s kill or be killed.     I gaze into the darkness that is ahead of me. It is here that I understood what my entire journey had been for. To feel myself grow stronger, to be so terrifying to those around me, there truly is no greater sense of accomplishment. Perhaps this is who I have always been – in a world where I had experienced love from characters of fiction, I would throw it all away, because it is all just so worthless.   Playing the villain seems a lot more interesting. Or perhaps I’m just a violent entity at this point? Even the residents of the Underground seem reluctant to label me as either human or monster. Have I moved beyond the conventional definitions of good and evil?   No, it’s not that complicating. I have simply fallen so far into this pool of sin I have created that I simply cannot be measured on the typical scale of morality anymore. And what is that in the distance…?     That figure in the darkness whispers words that bring me a carnal form of excitement. I cannot wait to move forward, to slay more, and more, and more, and more. Perhaps I will not return to the Underground, but in other worlds, in other, distant lands, the violence will return, and with it, the version of myself that had transcended everything this fictitious setting had to offer me. But what is the name of that figure who beckons so sweetly with such poetic words?   Ah, it is Chara. Or should I say, myself?  

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Devil Summoner: A Lighter-Toned Shin Megami Tensei

I had originally wanted to stream the original Devil Survivor and leave it at that, but I guess that won’t be possible today. Love is dead. Also, in writing this article, I actually had a lot of difficulty – despite having played and beaten three of the four Devil Summoner games, I honestly don’t feel too familiarized with the spin-off. Regardless, I do have an opinion, and I’ll try to be as unbiased as possible.   Anyways, we are back!     To say the least, there isn’t much point to the Devil Summoner series. The games there are undoubtedly great, but at its core, the idea of a Devil Summoner game is a less consequential Shin Megami Tensei mainline game. That is to say that, even considering the fact that the Raidou Kuzunoha games are action RPGs, Devil Summoner is perhaps truest spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei games – Devil Summoner is a less heavy form of what the franchise can take. That being said, the characters of Devil Summoner are some of the best the series ever had to offer. I must give credit where it's due.   Taking place within the same timeline and universe as Shin Megami Tensei: If… and the Persona series, the characters of Devil Summoner rarely had to deal with an apocalyptic world, quite unlike the main series (minus Strange Journey). In fact, the Devil Summoner games can be seen as something more akin to a traditional RPG, in terms of theme – we’re off to stop some humongous pending disaster, although the Devil Summoner games do have cases where the disaster ends up happening anyways. We’re just there to make sure it doesn’t get worse.   Another draw for the Devil Summoner games is that similar to Pokemon, demons have natures – however, the nature plays mostly with the loyalty system. Although the nature mechanic is mainly important in Soul Hackers, the loyalty of your demons is pretty much the staple mechanic of the Devil Summoner series, where certain combat effects become available when a demon’s loyalty is high. Although nature doesn’t play too big of a role in the Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha games, it is important to describe both special mechanics of the spin-off.     To better explain how loyalty and nature works, it’s important to remember that demons, within the universe of Shin Megami Tensei, are unreserved in personality – most demons will undoubtedly act how they wish to act, as their respective mythologies would often depict them to be: creatures who separate themselves from the norms of what we as humans consider to be “normal†or “properâ€. This idea is played straight into a mechanic with the demon’s nature – a demon is more likely to gain loyalty points if you order them to act how they wish to act. For example, a demon with a “Dumb†nature might want to just attack their opponents instead of using supportive and healing abilities. This is important because if your demon doesn’t have high loyalty, especially in Soul Hackers, they will often disobey your orders and engage in different actions. Having especially low loyalty amongst your demons would even inspire them to just outright leave your party.   Loyalty grows the more you use demons, and the more you play into their personality types. Although important in Soul Hackers, the Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha games places even more importance to the loyalty mechanic, especially in Soulless Army, because you cannot fuse new demons without having maxed the loyalty of your current demons. That said, loyalty is easy to grind in the Raidou Kuzunoha games, as you only have to fight and win battles using those particular demons. This was later adjusted in the second Raidou Kuzunoha game, as you no longer had to max a demon’s loyalty in order to fuse them – however, you would lose access to the number of skills the resulting demon can have, as well as greatly diminishing the power of the skill pool in which said demon could also tap into. Grinding loyalty also adds into a pool similar to experience points that Raidou also owns – when loyalty reaches certain thresholds, after speaking with a certain NPC, Raidou gains a title change. Some of these titles can seem badass, and others super silly (the game knows this too), but raising loyalty does two things for Raidou: it raises his fame and notoriety amongst demons, which is important for negotiation in King Abaddon, and it also grants Raidou the capacity to carry and use more demons.     Also unique to Soulless Army is the capture mechanic – although all other Devil Summoner game before and after this particular title would use the negotiation system (the sequel to Soulless Army would return to this system as well), this particular title had the player capturing demons within their summoning tubes, similar to a Pokeball. The catch is that one, you’re limited to the amount of demons you’re allowed to carry. This is why it’s important to grind loyalty in King Abaddon anyways, even if you don’t need to max loyalty to fuse your demons.   The loyalty mechanic is fairly neat in practice, and encourages players to make good use of demons that they manage to capture. However, the gameplay can feel incredibly tiresome because of it – if you want to get through the game without too much of a hitch, expect to grind certain areas a lot, regardless of whether it’s the turn-based Soul Hackers or the action-based Raidou Kuzunoha. That being said, while the dungeon-crawling gameplay of Soul Hackers (I never played the original Devil Summoner) is fairly decent, the action gameplay of Raidou Kuzunoha is far from stellar. Soulless Army was incredibly bare-boned as an action RPG, and while King Abaddon really picked up the action RPG mechanics, such as allowing two demon companions in combat instead of one, and touching up the battle environment so it’s not frustrating to play in the arena-style combat of Raidou Kuzunoha, it’s very far from what I would call “goodâ€. The sad thing is that I’m not really sure how to fix it either – the mess doesn’t come from a single individual part, but more or less the fact that nothing in the combat meshes well together. However, it would also be incredibly difficult to play the game like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, given the variety of demons we have at our disposal.     That being said, the games don’t play amazingly well – they’re not special, and they’re certainly not presented at top-notch levels, but these games have some amazing ideas going through them that I really have to appreciate. From what I know about the original Devil Summoner, we have something of a mystery and supernatural drama taking place in modern times, which is a staple to the series. However, the cyberpunk world of Soul Hackers and the noire style of Raidou Kuzunoha are absolutely gorgeous to look at, and really stand out within the Shin Megami Tensei games. Hell, the Devil Summoner games have some of the most stellar soundtracks in the entire series, and around half of them aren’t even Shoji Meguro’s.   If anything though, the jazz style of Raidou Kuzunoha feels like a much better version of the Persona 3 and Persona 4 soundtracks. They’re definitely Meguro’s best.   I remember one presentation that they tried to do in the Raidou Kuzunoha games specifically was to make the city seem alive. You would walk through the streets of the Taisho-era capital in Japan, and you’d see all of these people walking through the streets, standing in different places, conversing with one another. I suppose it got old quickly, because the models of the residents were the same amongst the crowd, and you had to wonder if all Japanese men and women dressed and appeared the exact same, all the way to the face. However, the idea of having a city that was seemingly vibrant felt very new to me at the time – I didn’t see a lot of games, especially a game using 3D assets, try to emulate this before.     As I type this article in a plane that is currently experiencing turbulence, with what I think is Sheena Easton playing in my ear, I only have this to say: the stories of the Devil Summoner games are relatively goofy, but especially in the Raidou Kuzunoha games, it makes them stand-outs. In fact, for all the faults of Soulless Army as a game, the story (especially the last third of the game) was something I had never seen before. It somehow managed to touch on many things I really liked: giant robots, kaijuus, the supernatural, space, time travel, androids, mad science, zombies, a strong noir style, and humor all around. The fact that all of those elements and more came together so well is why Soulless Army, specifically, is a game that always somehow manages to stay in my mind. And the final boss of that game? Easily one of the best, if not the best, in the entire Shin Megami Tensei franchise, and that’s saying a lot, considering all the gameplay faults of Soulless Army.   That was what makes the plot of King Abaddon feel somewhat disappointing, in comparison. Plus, the inclusion to include alignment in the sequel title is neat in the sense that you can easily change alignments, and the alignment lock only comes in during the last hour of the game (this is important because certain sidequests, or “casesâ€, were only playable on certain alignments), but again, it was so inconsequential because outside of the side material, it really only played into which pair of bosses you’d fight before the final boss. The one thing King Abaddon did right though was that it molded the story and the gameplay super well, with the use of Luck Locusts to deal with the curse of bad luck so prevalent in the story.     I don’t think much of the Devil Summoner games outside of the music and the plot of Soulless Army. However, they’re not bad games, and they have flavors that will definitely appeal to those who find the mainline games too dark to enjoy. While I prefer the darker titles, because I’m clearly edgy as fuck, and listen to “Crawling†when other music isn’t playing, I don’t doubt the enjoyment I had for playing the Devil Summoner games. They are inconsequential, with some major decisions that only really affects how the story plays out leading to the same ending. These games are also fairly short when compared to other Shin Megami Tensei games – it would take me around fifty to sixty hours to beat a mainline game, or Persona 3 and Persona 4, but it would take around half the time to beat a Devil Summoner game. These games, despite the loyalty mechanics feeling seemingly complicating at first, are also much easier than most titles in the franchise.   That being said, Devil Summoner still doesn’t feel like an amazing gateway game to the franchise. Perhaps Soul Hackers for the 3DS is the best place to start, but unless you’re really tolerant of the outdated gameplay (I certainly was, I love dungeon crawling in its many forms), it could be difficult to enjoy the game. It would be so much better to start with something like Shin Megami Tensei IV (which was made to be accessible by the general crowd anyways), or the Devil Survivor games (which plays like Fire Emblem except with Shin Megami Tensei style) on your 3DS.       However, I do think you should at least check out Soul Hackers at some point, but probably after you know for sure you’re going to enjoy it. The voice work is actually one of the best the franchise has to offer (losing to a few games like Shin Megami Tensei IV), if that says anything. Soul Hackers is also easy enough to pick up and play, while teaching other mechanics outside of Press Turn (which isn’t featured in the game, since the original version of Soul Hackers predates Nocturne by at least five years) that are somewhat prominent in the franchise. In a way, it could be a breath of fresh air, a way to enjoy the series for what it was before Devil Survivor and Persona. Plus, the cyberpunk story isn’t super bad, although it could be confusing for some since a lot of the plot elements come directly from the original Devil Summoner game, so you need to do your research before playing it.   And returning to Raidou Kuzunoha, despite being filled with my hopes and dreams as to featuring some of the coolest ideas and assets in the entire franchise, aren’t super great to play, and I only really recommend playing them when you’re a big fan of MegaTen, because otherwise you probably can’t tolerate the poorly designed gameplay. However, Raidou Kuzunoha is certainly filled with determination, featuring one of the standout protagonists in a realm of silent heroes, a colorful cast of characters, a really neat story in Soulless Army, and some of the best music in the entire franchise. Really, if it wasn’t for the gameplay, the Raidou Kuzunoha games could’ve really took off.   And yes, I only wrote that entire paragraph because the playlist randomed into a song from Undertale. I’m a fucking loser.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Demon Design: Jack Frost

This article is late because life has been busy. Also, I’m going to be a little slow with these until next week, again, life has been busy.   Anyways, Jack Frost – the famous mascot for our lovable Atlus, and definitely the face of the MegaTen demons. Much like Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, Jack Frost continues to be a promotional figure for everything related to Atlus, and for good reason:   Just fucking look him. And he even has a catchphrase, “Hee-ho!†Like, he’s so adorable, it’s almost criminal. He’s as cute as Jibanyan from Youkai Watch, and just like the red cat, he has a bunch of different forms such such as King Frost, Black Frost, Frost Ace, etc. I wouldn’t even be embarrassed if I filled my room with a bunch of Frost plushies, I would even say that he’s one of the big reasons I like the series so much. He’s so. Damn. CUTE.     I mean, he’s basically a walking snowman – he’s even wearing Santa elf clothing! The developers of MegaTen recognize how adorable he is; Jack Frost is pretty much an integral part of the series. Usually, he appears as a low-level demon in the game – he actually just outright sucks – but fuck it, we’re not here to discuss Jack Frost like we would with other demons! Oh no, we focus on what makes Jack Frost so adorable. Raiho, Frost Ace, Pyro Jack, Jack Ripper, Black Frost, King Frost, Hee-ho-kun, Demonee-ho, Lucifroz, you name it.   I suppose this article will have little do with the actual demon himself, so before continuing on, I’ll describe him in a nutshell – he absorbs ice damage, dies to fire attacks, and has low-level ice spells. Within the game canon, whenever a Frost is defeated, he or she actually melts. Also, Jack Frost is typically of the fairy race, which is fitting because he is the English winter fairy, representative of the cold season. He also likes to drown people with his snow if he dislikes them, so he can be a bit of an asshole.     But all of the Jack Frost appearance gives him one of two personalities: a demon interested in power and gaining strength to become a dangerous individual, or a curious fairy who is willing to be friendly with humans because he or she is genuinely interested in them. Often times, Jack Frost or any of his variations is more or less the first personality, especially his more named variations.   His reasons for wanting power changes between these games, which brings around a different Jack Frost for each title. Therefore, let’s examine Hee-Ho, Raiho, Frost Ace, and Demonee-ho which are the more established names for Jack Frost. Hee-ho-kun has been called “Raiho†in the English release of Megami Ibunroku Persona – for the sake of consistency, Raiho refers to the Jack Frost variation appearing exclusively in the Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha games.     Hee-Ho has had three major appearances, most notable in If…, Megami Ibunroku Persona, and Nocturne. Hee-Ho-kun is more or less the same between If… and Megami Ibunroku Persona – he appears as a Jack Frost who is interested in befriending humans, and in Megami Ibunroku Persona, he is accompanied by his girlfriend, a female Jack Frost named Hee-Ho-chan. In If… he is dressed up in this adorable school uniform, although the question is how he managed to acquire one for his size. His role in Megami Ibunroku Persona is a little bit more important, as he and Hee-Ho-Chan are responsible for sending the party to the final battle in the Snow Queen route. The pair also trade away items needed to summon certain Ultimate Personae. His role in Nocturne is a little more interesting, and I shall also make the story a little fun to read (hopefully), since it’s my favorite version of Hee-Ho. Ahem.       Once upon a time, a young Jack Frost named Hee-Ho ran a store in Shibuya. A demon resembling a young boy walks in, and the Jack Frost sells him an insect-like demon that he found around the shop. Hee-Ho, feeling that he could talk to this demon, states that he is saving up to go on a quest so that he could become as strong as the “king†(which probably refers to King Frost).         After he gains enough macca, Hee-Ho sells the store to a fabulous manikin (these are dolls filled with collective human souls made into one personality) that honestly scared him, and goes off to Ikebukuro, which is the capital of the Mantra, an organization holding the doctrine of might. However, Hee-Ho is too afraid to go inside because the Mantra leader Gozu-Tennoh and his demons are powerful and formidable, so he stays around the entrance to their headquarters. Eventually, Hee-Ho has to leave, because the entrance has pillars of fire near the entrance, and it was too hot for Jack Frost.         Dejected, Hee-Ho heads to the nearby Kabukicho Prison in search of magatsuhi, a valuable resource for demons looking to become powerful. After the protagonist of Nocturne, the Demi-Fiend, defeated the demon ruling the prison (a water snake called Mizuchi), Hee-Ho stumbles upon a magatama, similar to the ones he once sold to the Demi-Fiend in Shibuya (assumably, you should buy all the magatama as early as you can, so we’re using that as a narrative), and deciding it might be worth his while, decides to ingest the demonic insect.       What power came from this magatama that called itself Satan! Hee-Ho felt his eyes turn red and his skin black, and his body began to grow. Realizing that he had finally become powerful, he established himself as the Emperor of Kabukicho, becoming the new boss of the prison. As other Jack Frosts began to flock to the prison, Hee-Ho began to create a reign of winter, until that same young demon he met in Shibuya an eternity ago walked in. Deciding to test his powers against the Demi-Fiend, Hee-Ho was defeated, and like all Jack Frosts who meet their end, Hee-Ho melted, leaving behind that magatama that gave him power.       Yet, Hee-Ho was resilient. The Jack Frost should’ve perished, and yet he survived, only being reduced in size. Finding himself within the depths of the demonic Labyrinth of Amala, a world infested with more demons than Hee-Ho had ever seen before, the Jack Frost knew that this place was where the Demi-Fiend had become strong, and waited to meet that boy once more.       The Demi-Fiend, upon being spared by a white-haired demon hunter with a gigantic sword and a kickass trench coat, would walk back to the entrance of the Kalpa, only to be stopped by the Emperor of Kabukicho. Hee-Ho, wishing to grow in strength, decides to join the Demi-Fiend, asking the boy not to ask how he managed to stay alive. Even if the Demi-Fiend had a full party, Hee-Ho will wait for him. However, if the Demi-Fiend already had another Black Frost in his party…       Moral of the story: After you beat Dante, make sure to have room in your party, and don’t have another Black Frost.       The other three named Jack Frosts, Raiho, Frost Ace, and Demonee-Ho, are technically their own demons, but all of them were born from a single Jack Frost. For one, Raiho was a Jack Frost with the power to simultaneously see the past, present, and future all at once, and was also capable of breaking the fourth wall. Admiring the hero Raidou Kuzunoha the XIV, this little Jack Frost most definitely traveled back in time to meet his hero, and for being an adorable fan, he was rewarded (he actually just plain stole the item) with a uniform similar to Raidou’s.   This Jack Frost would then threaten the master of the Gouma-den, Victor, to fuse him with the uniform, and thus, Raiho Kuzunoha was born. Of course, Raiho wished to become Raidou Kuzunoha XV, and also thought Raidou wasn’t as cool anymore – he fights the predecessor when Raidou calls him “Raiheeâ€, and promptly loses. Upset at the loss, Raiho apologizes for his behavior, and ultimately becomes a kickass companion.       Frost Ace is a sadder story. A lone Jack Frost whose family was murdered during the events of Strange Journey, he begs a wandering soldier (our protagonist) to give him an Ice Vest so that he may become powerful and seek revenge for his suffering. Upon receiving the item, the Jack Frost transforms into a superhero named Frost Ace. The dark hero will thank the protagonist, giving him access to the Frost Ace special fusion and the Frost Cannon before leaving to seek vengeance.   For Frost Ace, his heart continues to be frozen with sorrow, although his body burns with anger. As the world continues to torture Frost Ace, will he become a figure of mercy or vengeance? Unable to answer that question, he continues to fight, hiding his adorable and cool face behind the mask.   In reality, though, I’m pretty sure Frost Ace was actually designed to be an event demon in IMAGINE, and who else to turn into a superhero in a Shin Megami Tensei MMO besides Jack Frost? He also appeared in the DemiKids anime, so I really do wonder where his origins really lie.       Demonee-Ho is the most powerful form of Jack Frost, at least in-game. A typically high-leveled demon, he was designed to resemble the protagonist of Strange Journey, wearing the exact same armor (a mini-Demonica) to the minute details. His skills are also incredibly unique, and are difficult to transfer to other demons. But really, who the fuck would want to fuse this guy away?   In the Strange Journey description, Demonee-Ho is said to be a Jack Frost whose seen action all over the world, with a 100% success rate, making him one of the greatest soldiers in history. Shin Megami Tensei IV goes even deeper with this, stating that a Jack Frost originally wore the Demonica armor because he admired it, but after training, he emerged as the perfect soldier. In the latter game, he appears as a mini-boss in an optional dungeon, as well as a central figure in a quest involving virtual training. His dialogue in the sidequest implied that he was once part of the Counter Demon Force, a government organization that protected Tokyo from the demon threat. Upon completing the quest, Demonee-Ho departs with heartwarming words, saying that even if Flynn dies he will live forever as part of the Counter Demon Force.       Jack Frost has made numerous more appearances, mainly to serve as a source of the humor of the franchise. For example, in Raidou Kuzunoha v.s. King Abaddon, Jack Frost appears as Raiho, but his funniest appearance is in the Frost Five: a group of four Black Frosts and one Jack Frost in the center, all of them interested in singing and dancing.   Take a guess what that’s supposed to refer to.       His most dangerous role is in Digital Devil Saga 2 as an end-game boss – prior to this, he appeared as a random encounter who never fought, instead asking around twenty quiz questions to the characters before running off (he stops if the character either answers all of them correctly, or one of them wrong). If the character answers all 100 questions correctly, Serph receives a certificate congratulating him, as well as a set of data to increase stats. After that, Jack Frost will give you random items before running off. Completing this “sidequest†unlocks his boss fight, and defeating him nets decent equipment. He then returns to giving the party random items each time you encounter him.       Hell, Jack Frost also has versions of him resembling other demons, like Lucifroz (Lucifrost). He’s basically pure promotion material, and indeed, Jack Frost appears in a variety of games – he even has his own spin-off called Jack Bros., which you can guess that was based off of. He also appears in various other Atlus titles such as Etrian Odyssey, mostly as part of a character’s design (like a pin). I don’t think he appears in Genei Ibun Roku #FE, but that’s basically a Fire Emblem game anyways. Indeed, Jack Frost is no doubt the most popular figure of any MegaTen demon, and for good reason.   I really want a plushie of him.    

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Genei Ibun Roku #FE: We Didn't Ask For This

So it was announced in yesterday’s Nintendo Direct that Genei Ibun Roku #FE was going to be localized and released in June 24 of this year in the West, following its poor sales in Japan – the game is also going to be released in its original Japanese dub, which is great, because I think an English dub for this game would be a bad idea.   I’m going to go ahead and say this: officially, and by all sources including the developers, Genei Ibun Roku #FE (or as of yesterday, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE) is a Fire Emblem game made in the gameplay style of Shin Megami Tensei. Originally announced as Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, and upon seeing the original release trailer which featured arts and concepts from both series that was going to make this game awesome, Genei Ibun Roku #FE could’ve been the game to sell the Wii-U alongside SSB4, but what we ultimately got was a massive disappointment to both the fans and the developers (in terms of sale).       That’s not to say the game is bad though, and note that I only speak from what I saw out of gameplay videos: however, I’m decent enough at analysis so I think I can at least write about what I think about this game.   First off, the game was supposedly conceived when Nintendo producer Kaori Ando decided he wanted to cross over Fire Emblem and Pokemon – this was initially thrown out the window, as Pokemon Conquest was being developed at the time, but the woman was a trooper, and in a week, changed the proposal to become a cross between Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei. The final product was probably nothing he envisioned: we already had Devil Survivor, so the project had no choice but to become a traditional RPG. But how did we arrive in the premise of idols fighting off evil, otherworld spirits?     My answer: I really don’t know, but I suspect it might have to do with that story of the Fire Emblem writer suddenly having a dream about a Pegasus flying in the skies of Tokyo.   Were fans of both series betrayed by this unexpected turn of direction in this anticipated title? I don’t know for Fire Emblem fans, since I don’t consider myself a big fan of the series (I played five games in Fire Emblem and had a great time, but I still don’t care enough to go out and buy Fates at this moment), I shall speak for the Shin Megami Tensei community: Yeah, we were pretty betrayed.   For me personally, this game became proof for the side of the community that whispers in our ears at night that Persona 4 singlehandedly changed the direction of the franchise as a whole. Although the team that develops Persona is separate from the team that usually develops Shin Megami Tensei (much like Kingdom Hearts to Final Fantasy), it’s hard to ignore the fact that Persona was still originally a MegaTen game, and the public will probably view it as such.       The premise of Genei Ibun Roku #FE is that everyone in the world has an energy called Performa, which allows each individual to pursue his or her dreams. In the words of a certain actor, these people go and “just do itâ€. This energy attracts entities called Mirages from another plane of existence known as the Idolosphere, and although some Mirages are villainous and like to harvest Performa, therefore shattering dreams and making many unable to follow the words of Shia LaBeouf, there are Mirages who befriend humans, granting them power and turning the human into a Mirage Master. Another thing to note is that these Mirages are almost exclusively from Fire Emblem – I’ve yet to see a single Shin Megami Tensei Mirage, and I don’t think there is one.   The talent agency we’re working for? It turns out Fortuna Entertainment is actually a front that gathers Mirage Masters to go and protect the city of Tokyo. Yes, our cast of characters are all employees and staff of this particular business, and it is here that our story takes place. Oh, and Tiki is the universe’s parallel of a vocaloid – yes, she is the new Miku Hatsune, a Singaloid that takes the form of Tiki’s younger form from Shadow Dragon. She also likes our hero, Itsuki Aoi, so much as to sing a song about him. That's about as anime as Tiki gets.     All-in-all, the basic idea of the premise is like a story worthy of being found in a Dengeki Bunko light novel, and it’s no surprise that the online subscription for the company, Dengeki Online, hails this game as a “masterpieceâ€, even giving it a “Game of the Year†award for 2015. In other words, the plot seems really boring, and it probably is going to be really uninteresting as a whole.   So maybe the characters might be what makes this game work, right? I doubt that, too. Outside of the Mirages, the human characters feel like common anime characters: the protagonist, Itsuki Aoi is a neutral personality who is fairly aloof in his job in becoming an idol despite being interested at first, and is more there to help facilitate the dreams of his friends. Tsubasa Oribe is our ditzy, clumsy, childhood friend who really wants to become an idol. And then from there, we got our hot-blooded male best friend who wants to be a superhero, a cold girl who secretly loves cute things, a sexy female boss who loves alcohol a little too much, a half-Japanese, half-white foreigner, an elementary school girl who loves classical things, and that totally hot young model who is our enemy at first, but will totally become our friend.   Like…seriously, those are all anime archetypes.   That said, there are two ways to make this cast of characters work: you either take a super interesting angle on the archetype, or you make the archetype fit the mold of the character really well. I see no signs of the former, so I hope that the latter holds true, because otherwise, the characters (barring their designs, those look fantastic, but I’m basically a weeb anyways, so take that comment with a grain of salt) would be completely and utterly boring to see – unless you just don’t care about that sort of thing.     So what about elements like the gameplay, the presentation, and the music? Well, the music is its own super important element for this game, but the gameplay and the presentation go hand-in-hand here. Really, my only verdict is this: the gameplay looks like a terrific 3D dungeon crawler, with the assets of the game being used really well, and the overall presentation is really pleasing aesthetically.   I mean, just look at the menu background in the image right before the previous paragraph. And in the actual game, those characters move, and would be missing if they are not present with your party at the time. That’s really neat.   I’m serious – I could hate everything else about this game, but from what I see, outside of fairly long loading times, the game itself runs very well, and the gameplay is developed well. I mean, let’s look at the exploration:     The above image is the world map, that is, the one outside of the dungeon. Look at those bright colors, and I really like how that instead of showing a detailed model for every single walking NPC, we just have colored placeholder. Some would argue that this was more of a sign of laziness, but I’m inclined to disagree on this, for what most would consider a pretty funny reason.   You, just from this alone, I’m reminded of what it was probably like to develop an older Silent Hill game. The engine itself could not render 3D models past a certain distance from the player, so the solution was to use the fog to obscure vision, such that the game didn’t have to render any other figures in the game until it was absolutely needed. That’s really ingenious, and I feel a similar vibe here: perhaps this was the result of a limitation to what the game could already run within the Wii-U’s specs. However, this doesn’t even take anything away from Genei Ibun Roku #FE: in fact, it actually adds to the style this game is already going for, in a way that I’m finding difficult to explain (which means I’m just going to go straight to the next thing).     This image here is a dungeon. Designed to resemble the real-life location of Shibuya, the amount of attention to detail just shown in this image alone is really impressive, and it’s probably like this for the entire game, based on other videos and images I saw. I mean, look at how clean all the images in the billboards and signs appear in the screenshot: between where Itsuki is standing and the Shibua 106 building, there are a bunch of images alongside an entrance that holds an interesting shape. The details on all of these images, from a distance, is actually really clear for the signs that are located closer to Itsuki, and it’s easy to count and observe the different shades of pink right above that “entranceâ€.   Not only that, there are also signs indicating where the stairs are, and which direction the stairs go. Ascending and descending is incredibly important in a dungeon crawler – it’s how we get any feeling of progression playing through these games. The signs themselves are a nice toss to the dungeon crawling roots this game was ultimately designed upon, and those are just the first of many more clever things the designers have done when creating these dungeons.   While in the dungeon, your character is holding a weapon (like Itsuki would be holding a sword, in a really funny way), and if they spot an enemy in the dungeon and strike it before the enemy attacks, they stun the enemy, allowing them touch the enemy and start the battle with an advantage, or just run away from the enemy while the party still has a chance to do so.       If we were to discuss the combat, these are also presented very neatly. With the exception of boss battles, as shown above (bet you guys can recognize who that boss is, too), the game usually shows the character whose turn it is to act, his or her expressions, what they do standing still while waiting for your orders, and how they are reacting to the current flow of the battle. Some people may dislike this sort of thing – it seems to emphasize looking at the well-rendered models of the party members, but you rarely see the enemy’s models as closely. Bosses, of course, are a different story: you get to see those in their full glory.   Combat is a marriage between the skirmish mechanics of Fire Emblem and the basic system of Shin Megami Tensei. Weapons and other equipment follow both the rock-paper-scissor weapons type from Fire Emblem and the resistance spreads of Shin Megami Tensei. This is where most of the Shin Megami Tensei elements really come into play, as most of the spells and abilities the characters learn are from the MegaTen franchise. For example, Kiria Kurono, who is typically going to be a mage as her Mirage is Tharja, uses a variety of magic spells like Agi and Bufu, both spell names from Shin Megami Tensei. Pretty much all types of spells from the MegaTen franchise are present, although we are without Press Turns: instead, combat plays out similarly to Strange Journey, where striking weaknesses can bring about a blitz type attack. However, in Genei Ibun Roku #FE, these are called Session Attacks, and are mainly activated by using certain spells and abilities.     To put it simply – this is the part I hate the most about the combat of Genei Ibun Roku #FE. We enter something of a live performance scene, where the characters perform and create a powerful damaging effect after finishing a “sessionâ€. On a very fundamental level, this sort of thing bothers me because I already dislike the idol premise that this game touts: to have it become a part of the gameplay is already a given, but it really douses a lot of the excitement I had about the gameplay for this game. Yes, I’m a hater – sue me for disliking this!   That said, these scenes are also presented really well, I’ll grudgingly give Session Attacks that one concession.     The game itself sold poorly in Japan, selling around 23,000 units in the first week. After a month, the game only managed to sell nearly 33,000 units by the end of January 2016. The critical reception of the game was fairly solid – a lot of reviewers seemed to like the premise, so maybe the West might enjoy the game as well. A lot of reviewers agreed that the dungeon-crawling experience was well-designed, which is almost expected from a company like Atlus, whose Shin Megami Tensei and Etrian Odyssey titles are already big names in the modern dungeon crawling genre.   The music is your typical J-pop stuff. It’s even more blatantly J-pop than Devil Survivor 2, but I think that’s fine, because the whole premise has to do with idols anyways. I haven’t heard too much of the ambient soundtrack outside of gameplay videos, but from what I heard, it’s not anything too special – I didn’t really pay close attention to the music, especially when there was a commentator talking about the game and explaining certain parts of the game. The character songs aren’t too bad – I don’t care for most of them, but “Dream☆Catcher†and “Reincarnation†are pretty decent songs, I think. The latter has the infamous “KUWASHITE†in it, at least, so that particular song is nothing else but memorable.     With the localization coming, there are two things to say: the Japanese release of the game was already somewhat censored after the first trailer, where they changed the skimpy outfit of Kiria as she is singing “Reincarnation†into a less skimpy outfit, and that’s just one of the censoring efforts seen so far. The game might not be censored at all, and that might not change when it is released here in the West: that said, don’t get your hopes up.   The decision to keep the voices in Japanese is the correct decision – the game involves a lot of singing, and it would be asking a lot to find a good cast of voice actors who can sing, and rewriting the songs with English lyrics and having these VAs perform them seems like a humongous hassle; the songs may also not translate very well outside of Japanese. Simply translating the dialogue into English and keeping the original voices (which are anime quality, meaning that they’re of a passable standard) seems to be the most efficient choice here.     It’s disappointing that we see this game before Shin Megami Tensei IV: FINAL, and it seems more likely that we won’t be seeing FINAL for a very long time, with Fall 2016 looking to be the earliest release time for the title. Chances are, FINAL will be the last game to be localized from the three MegaTen titles released this year, probably coming after Persona 5. It’s a shame, but the reality is that there are priorities for Atlus, and the localization announcement for Genei Ibun Roku #FE was released a long time – we just gotten the release date yesterday and news of how the localization will be handled.   Also, a wise reddit post once said that the game was called Tokyo Mirage Sessions because its initials, TMS, is SMT spelled backwards, and it was the exact opposite of what we wanted. I’ve already spoiled enough about this game for me to know that the story isn’t going to interest me too much – I wonder how many of us have seen the “Super Saiyan Marth†video?   …   FIAAAAAAAA EMBUREEEEMMMMMM.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Breaking Down Devil Survivor: Part Two

…Man, that was a lot regarding gameplay. There’s not nearly as much for the story, don’t worry...I think.   Both Devil Survivor games involve the same idea: your cast of characters is stuck in a trial for humanity, taking place in Japan, lasting over a span of a around week (seven to eight days). The 3DS remakes for both games, Overclocked and Record Breaker, added extra content past the initial week, depending on which route you have entered. Just note that the games don’t have anything to do with each other, timeline-wise, and it’s probably best explained by the Amala Network from Nocturne, in that there are multiple worlds connected together by singular and powerful events. The basic plots for the two games are summarized as seen below:       In the original Devil Survivor, Tokyo has entered a lockdown for officially unknown reasons, and you and your friends are given a COMP (the usual tool for demon summoning, except here they resemble a DS), which allows you to fight against the demonic forces surrounding you since the lockdown began. Receiving a mysterious email known as Laplace Mail, which predicts the future, at the beginning of each new day, the hero and his friends are faced with changing the destinies against what was written, effectively defeating the words of the Laplace Mail. However, as society begins to crumble, with the JSDF refusing to allow any citizens to leave Tokyo, the hero is caught up in a war involving the Shomonkai, a mysterious organization claiming that the lockdown is a trial from God, and powerful demons seeking to become the new demon lord.   In Devil Survivor 2, humanity also receives a trial, except it’s not so mysterious this time: a figure resembling Kagutsuchi from Nocturne sees humanity as waste of space, and seeks to destroy the world and rebuild it anew, allowing one person who survives the trial to decide the future of humanity. This time, your demon-summoning app is on your hero’s phone, alongside an app called Nicaea, which sends a video clip of the rapidly approaching death of an acquaintance – based off the time stamp and the purported location in which the video takes place, this new hero (which the anime named Hibiki Kuze) seeks to prevent unnecessary deaths while surviving in the wasteland that was once Japan. Oh, and he also needs to stop those gigantic alien beings called Septentriones, which appear with each passing day, by assisting a government organization known as JIP’s, lead by the cold yet capable Yamato Hotsuin.   There are way too many characters to discuss, so I’ll pick a few notable ones from each game: The Hero, Naoya, Gin, and Amane from Devil Survivor, Hibiki Kuze, Ronaldo Kuriki, Daichi Shijima, and Yamato Hotsuin from Devil Survivor 2. Before I go into those eight in more detail, just note that generally speaking, I think the cast of characters from the Devil Survivor games are very likeable. I’ve seen way too much anime, and a lot of characters suffer for being in those anime tropes, but that doesn’t mean they’re not handled correctly, and make it work for themselves. I think Devil Survivor had more interesting characters than Devil Survivor 2, but the sequel has a much more likeable cast than its predecessor. The designs and illustrations from Suzuhito Yasuda (he recently did the art for Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, and is most famous for his light novel illustrations and the manga Yozakura Quartet) are fantastic, although some may argue it comes off as too “anime†as well.       Starting off, if we compare the Hero and Hibiki Kuze, well, the first thing anyone is going to notice is that both of them have a slight animal motif: the Hero’s headphones makes him look like a really cute bug, and Hibiki’s jacket has rabbit ears on them. Through dialogue choices, it’s easy to say which one is the superior protagonist: Hibiki, by far. Not only is he one of the most likeable and funniest protagonists within the MegaTen universe, he also comes across as a better leader and friend. The Hero has very courageous traits, to the point where he may seem to be too brave – his messianic tendencies would challenge the protagonist from Persona 3. Their color schemes are pretty much the exact opposite as well: the Hero has a black and red palette while Hibiki has a white and blue one. Canonically, these two are probably very different people, but their concerns and goals are still the same – to put an end to the trial.   Now why did I pick the other six characters?   Because they are the closest to being representative of a “Chaos Heroâ€, “Neutral Heroâ€, and “Law Heroâ€, respectively. If I had to pick my favorites from the two games though, well, it’d be Atsuro from Devil Survivor and Fumi from Devil Survivor 2. That said, those two characters don’t play as strongly to the point I wish to make.   Devil Survivor, as a franchise, is really no different from Majin Tensei: both games are essentially a Shin Megami Tensei game with strategy gameplay. Unlike Persona, which ended up creating its own direction in terms of endings, Devil Survivor still features routes that are distinctively Chaotic, Neutral, and Lawful – there are other endings, but they have break free from the formula of universal conflict, and really just have their own flavor, which means they have no place in the next couple of pages.       For the “Chaos Heroâ€, we have Naoya from the first game and Ronaldo from the second. Naoya is distinctly chaotic – you kind of figure out really early on that Naoya might’ve had something to do with the demons attacking Tokyo, and his goals are purely of chaos: to win the struggle of power, and get revenge for the wrongs done against him in the past. I mean, Naoya’s appearance is basically a more snake-like version of the protagonists, and when the nature of their connection appears during his route, it really isn’t that surprising either. However, Naoya also just looks like your typical villain, so how the hell could I see the man as anything else but a warrior for chaos since the beginning?         On the other hand, Ronaldo Kuriki is fairly interesting in that while his methods and personality resemble those who follow the road of Chaos, his ultimate goal is essentially a world with Lawful tendencies, where everyone is essentially equal. Idealistic and prone to violence, Ronaldo is basically a rebel against the ongoing revolution of Japan, and really, he’s basically the closest the franchise has to a superhero in terms of perspective. He always seems to be fighting a losing battle, but he believes in his victory, and that makes Ronaldo all the more endearing.       Gin (or Eiji Kamiya) is a simple barman, with the typical look of a bartender. Like, seriously, you think of the sexy male bartender look, and you got Gin. The thing about this character is that it’s astonishing what his ultimate role ultimately is: the ending to his route is basically the closest thing the original Devil Survivor had to a neutral ending, although this notion is probably challenged with one of the Eighth Day endings in Overclocked. The old boy has romance problems, trust issues, and overall, Gin’s not very interesting, one of the more dull characters in the cast.       On the other side, for Devil Survivor 2, we have Daichi Shijima, the best friend of Hibiki Kuze – the two of them have known each other growing up, and their friendship is one that is similar to the one shared between Yu Narukami and Yosuke Hanamura from Persona 4. In fact, everything about Daichi seems to scream that he’s basically a Yosuke clone, with a little bit of Junpei from Persona 3 – the dude seems like he’s just going to be the sidekick. However, Daichi’s attitude towards the danger of his surroundings and his reluctance to turn to violence, as well as his ability to be truly courageous, already separates him from his “prototypesâ€. If anything, Daichi is probably the most dynamic character in Devil Survivor 2. In a lot of ways, he would’ve been the main character had Devil Survivor 2 stuck with a more hackneyed formula for jRPGs. His ending is basically the exact same conclusion as the Neutral ending for Nocturne – I won’t spoil it here, but it’s about as neutral as any ending in a MegaTen game gets.       For the Lawful Heroes, we first look at Amane from Devil Survivor, the only female character representative of a path in this list. An emotionless girl who serves as the Maiden of the Shomonkai, Amane is basically the token Law Heroine for any MegaTen game, as she embodies both the best and the worst of a Lawful world – she is a naturally kind and strong girl, but she is poor at expressing herself due to circumstances in her life, and she works towards a goal that she agrees with, not one she necessarily thought of herself.         On the other side of the Lawful spectrum is Yamato Hotsuin, the young and mysterious leader of JIP’s, a government organization dedicated to fighting the supernatural and maintaining order in cases like a demonic apocalypse. A cold and calculating person, Yamato Hotsuin features tendencies in his personality that would prescribe to a Lawful character, with his cruel yet logical mind that determines the useful and the worthless amongst the survivors – Yamato finds Hibiki Kuze to be a person worthy of his attention and respect, as Yamato wouldn’t even punish those he deemed incapable of change. These are aspects of the character that show Yamato is most definitely a Law-aligned figure, but like his “rivalâ€, Ronaldo Kuriki, Yamato wishes to create a world that is conceptually chaotic, and ultimately, Yamato is just as idealistic as his enemies.   Overall, the characters don’t detract from the story – every single member of the cast is worth finding more about, and their struggles can seem really mundane when you consider the fact that they are currently fighting in the middle of an apocalypse: Airi Ban from Devil Survivor 2 struggles on abandoning her dreams of becoming a professional pianist, which seems odd to think about when she is being attacked by demons and crazed humans alike almost all day. However, surprisingly, these sorts of worries don’t detract from the story at all, only adding in more personality to this cast, which is remarkable in and of itself. It makes me wonder if I would worry about the “small†things during the middle of the apocalypse.       Ultimately, the writing for both the story and the characters are not bad at all – some of the scenes in the game, especially in Devil Survivor 2, are legitimately more light-hearted, and that always helps make the experience more memorable. The story for the first Devil Survivor is infinitely more interesting than Devil Survivor 2’s, whose story is essentially a cross-fiction of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s still enjoyable though.   The last aspects of the games to cover are probably the music and presentation. The music for the Devil Survivor is very polarizing, in my opinion. The tracks themselves aren’t strictly bad, but especially in the original Devil Survivor, they tend to blend together and none of them really stick out. This time, it was not Shoji Meguro who composed these songs, but Takami Asano, and while they’re enjoyable to listen to in the game, I personally can’t be bothered to look for individual tracks like I would for Digital Devil Saga or Nocturne. Maybe it’s because there’s too many guitars – while the guitar is an integral part of a composition from Meguro, and Takami replicates the style of his predecessor well, it ultimately detracted from my personal enjoyment the soundtrack of the original Devil Survivor. However, I don’t claim that the music wouldn’t be to your liking, so go knock yourself out.   The OST for Devil Survivor 2 has more elements of J-pop in it, with some more varied songs to fit the mood, such as the marching theme for whenever Yamato appears. The guitars are a little more subdued, and the overall quality of the tracks composed by Kenji Ito impress itself over Asano’s work from the previous game. However, that’s speaking objectively – while I like some J-Pop songs, I don’t like a lot of what the genre encompasses, and the music for Devil Survivor 2 contains a lot of things I dislike in those songs. While I personally consider the music to be sort of weak for the Devil Survivor games, many people like those styles – it’s why I believe the soundtrack to be fairly polarizing in and of itself, but despite how unmemorable I find those songs, there’s no doubt the music has identity to it. Any fan of the songs could listen to a track and recognize it, and for them, it probably didn’t melt away into one big medley that sounded the same.       The game is presented well enough, with the 3DS remakes enhancing the experience of both Devil Survivor games to an extreme. However, Overclocked features very little 3D assets, and overall makes little use of the 3DS system’s functionality – while the remake itself is solid in gameplay, and addresses both the problems of the original Devil Survivor and the improvements Devil Survivor 2 brought to the formula, the end result was that Overclocked pretty disappointing for many fans who expected a newer experience. The Eighth Day content isn’t too interesting, but it does add a lot more to the original story, from all sorts of directions – filling in potential holes, making the characters have more personality, etc. However, Record Breaker, the 3DS remake for Devil Survivor 2, is really fucking good. The extra content it includes, the Triangulum Arc, is basically enough content to be its own game: this is what Devil Survivor 3 could’ve been, and we got both the original game plus the potential sequel in one big package. The endings are much more satisfying, and the extra content has a plot that is wholly original in the context of Devil Survivor 2 (no longer does it follow Nocturne’s formula). Indeed, Record Breaker is probably the way to experience the Devil Survivor 2 story.   That said, the localization for both of Overclocked and Record Breaker are really bad. Like, super bad. Record Breaker is probably worse than Overclocked in terms of the quality of the voice-acting: while the voice of Daichi was done well, and the VAs were generally competent, it feels like half the time, the poor inflection and delivery makes listening to the characters talk feel like a grinding experience. I heard of some homebrew rip of Record Breaker that removed the English voices with Japanese (as you don’t have an option to play the game in Japanese dub), so if you have a homebrewed 3DS and are looking to play Record Breaker, that is probably the best way to enjoy the game.       I can’t say much for Overclocked though, since I’m not sure if there’s a similar rip out there floating around in the internet. The localization is much better than when compared to Record Breaker, so Overclocked has that going for it.   Since these games are essentially stand-alone, and having nothing to do with each other, you’re free to pick whichever one you want to play first. It’s not difficult to emulate the game on your computer, although you wouldn’t be able to play the 3DS versions like that. In terms of difficulty, Devil Survivor holds a constant rise in difficulty, most noticeably spiking in the 3rd Day and 7th Day, while Devil Survivor 2 is fairly easy (except for like the Megrez boss battle, but it’s simple once you figure out a good strategy and leveled up appropriately) until the 5th Day, where the difficulty spikes tremendously.   …If my opinion really matters, I think Devil Survivor 2 is the better game, but I do not dictate your choices in life. If I did, my life would be really easy.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Breaking Down Devil Survivor: Part One

While Devil Survivor is not the first foray into the strategy role-playing genre that Shin Megami Tensei has entered upon, with 1994’s Majin Tensei being the first strategy game in the franchise, Devil Survivor is certainly one of the most recognizable titles today in Shin Megami Tensei, with the popularity that both games and their remakes generated alongside the anime adaptation for Devil Survivor 2. The anime itself as awful, and was barely representative of Devil Survivor 2, with its own original and largely inferior plot, alongside the poor handling of the protagonist,, but the anime brought around exposure for the games, and as they, all press is good press.   The gameplay section in Devil Survivor is going to be long, because it’s very unique in and of itself, even when compared to other MegaTen games and jRPGs.       The gameplays for either of the Devil Survivor games is much like Fire Emblem: it has a focus on skirmishes taking place throughout a gridded map with various obstacles and enemies getting in the way – there are also several objectives outside of clearing the map from the likes of the opposing forces, and in a few missions spread throughout both games, we often see missions that involve escaping, or making sure an enemy does not run away from the battle. The skirmishes themselves is like a quick version of the “One More!†mechanic from Persona 3 and Persona 4: by exploiting weaknesses, units in the skirmish may get an extra turn, and there are some skills that may also remove the “Extra Turn†from a unit. This makes agility an excellent stat especially in Devil Survivor 2, as it allows you to control the pace of the skirmish more reliably. During a skirmish, each side in combat that turn has up to three units: the leader in the center and the two demons flanking both sides of their boss. The skirmish is won if the leader or the entire enemy team is wiped – the leader has boosted defenses, and you only gain experience for killing demons, not engaging in a battle like in Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics.   Unique to the Devil Survivor games, the enemy’s resistance spread is often displayed on the top screen with other information such as their skills and/or stats, especially during battle. The game is more or less balanced around that, often by mixing different resistance spreads amongst the enemy teams during a mission (although there are plenty of teams that share a weakness across the board). The skirmish gameplay also introduced some spells unique to the Devil Survivor brand, with elemental “Dances†that randomly deal between 2-5 bursts of damage, and the use of auto skills such as Tailwind that are reminiscent of Sukukaja (often, the effects of spells such as the –kaja and –nda abilities were split up into their own unique support abilities). New abilities are gained by “cracking†the ability, which involved targeting a specific enemy with a specific party member, and defeating the enemy with said party member in order to gain the skill.   Cracking was made more convenient in Devil Survivor 2, since cracked skills now mainly have one stat requirement as opposed to two stat requirements from the previous game. Another function that was included in the second game that the original Devil Survivor did not have was the Demon Compendium, although the 3DS remake, Devil Survivor Overclocked, does include this function. Of course, lacking a Demon Compendium only meant that you were less likely to fuse away a demon that acquired an excellent skillset due to fusion, since you couldn’t buy it back.         Devil Survivor skill spreads are separated into three command spells, three passive abilities, and one auto spell (or racial skill for a demon). The active spells are just what you expected – healing spells can be used outside of a skirmish, as revive spells can be used in the square adjacent to the healing team, and certain racial skills (especially for Fairy race demons) often display this as well. Passive abilities mainly influenced combat through stat bonuses and/or resistances – certain skills such as Life Stream and Mana Stream would raise a character’s maximum health and/or mana, while skills such as Null, Repel, and Drain also find their way here. The auto spell for a human character are the proverbial support skills, and serve as buffs and debuffs for that particular skirmish – it would be a waste of a turn to buff and debuff, when there are limited turns (at most, 9 turns between both forces), so it makes sense to put those as skills that automatically occur in the beginning of the skirmish.   There are some support skills found only in the Devil Survivor series, such as Revive (which brings back dead units as long as the leader is still alive) that would be absolutely broken in a regular Shin Megami Tensei game, but they find a place as great late-game abilities in this strategy role-playing game. That said, some support spells do have a cost, especially the ones with a healing effect, and can often be a humongous drain on your character’s mana pool – this is often how these auto spells are balanced out.       For demons, their racial skills can make or break the team. Depending on the race (Tyrant, Fairy, etc.), we have different abilities. For example, demons of the Tyrant clan restore mana to everyone in their team at the end of the skirmish, making them very good for sustain during a long battle, while Fairies have a long-range healing spell that allows them to heal a team moderately somewhere on the map, outside of a skirmish. Other racial skills allows you to literally teleport across the map, giving great mobility during a mission. Planning and organizing your team based on racial skills is incredibly important, and will probably decide whether or not you can even beat a certain mission.   Cracked spells can be equipped on certain characters, given that they meet the stat requirements to use the ability, similar in concept to the skill assignment system found in Digital Devil Saga. There are four stats in the Devil Survivor games: Strength, Magic, Vitality, and Agility. Interestingly enough, you don’t necessarily need to raise strength or magic to deal damage – a lot of abilities have damage that scale off the Vitality or Agility stat, giving the games a fair amount of freedom. That said, most skills that deal damage scale off Strength and Magic, and Strength adds onto the normal attack damage, which can be important when considering a build for the hero in the Devil Survivor titles.   Raising stats like Vitality can increase overall resistance to physical and magic damage – however, in the original Devil Survivor, Vitality only increased resistance to physical damage, and Magic increased resistance to magic damage, which is a mechanic that had appeared often in previous Shin Megami Tensei games; the problem here is that it doesn’t lend itself well in the original Devil Survivor, where running anything else but a magic build would be a bad idea, for two reasons. The first reason is that although physical damage is generally higher, it’s much easier to exploit elemental weaknesses, gaining extra turns during a skirmish, and therefore gaining more reliable damage per turn. The second reason is because most enemies use spell damage as well, raising the magic stat allows higher defense values against those spells, as well as raising your character’s own damage and mana pool.   Of course, this was fixed in Devil Survivor 2, where physical skills were pretty godlike, although it’s generally accepted that one should still run a magic build during the first playthrough, because a physical build is very reliant on the passive skill Pierce, which deals full damage despite resistances except against enemies with Repel Physical (in which there are only a handful). So while a physical build has the potential to do way more damage due to critical hits, magic is more reliable in the Devil Survivor games.   Speed in turn order is not affected by any of the stats – it is instead determined by the number of skirmishes your team engaged in the previous cycle of turns, whether or not your character skipped a turn, and the order of teams being deployed on the battle (the character you want to go first is the one you deploy).   As the characters level up, everyone outside of the hero automatically puts a point into one of two predefined stats for their growth – there are some more balanced spreads amongst certain characters, but the grand rule of combat in Shin Megami Tensei is that unless you have access to a plethora of abilities and resistances like the protagonists of Persona 3 and Persona 4, it’s almost always better to specialize. The hero of either Devil Survivor games have the option to put a point into a stat whenever they level up, with the stat capping at 40, another staple of the MegaTen franchise. However, like everyone else, it’s pretty important to heavily invest in one stat (typically magic or strength), while partially investing in another stat (usually agility or vitality), because you’re not going to gain enough stat points to cap all four stats.   Magic and Agility go hand-in-hand because certain spells like Bufu (ice) and Zio (thunder) can induce temporary status effects in freeze and shock, like in previous Shin Megami Tensei games, and if you need to use a healing or reflect spell, you’d also want to cast those before the enemy strikes. Strength and Vitality go together because physical skills typically use a percentage of a character’s health as a cost for use, so having a high health pool is important to simultaneously deal damage and survive the skirmish. There are some exceptions, like the hero of Devil Survivor 2 may invest heavily into Agility as a damage stat, because Multi-Strike (a 2-7 hit multi-targeting spell that scales off agility) combined with Pierce equates to massive fucking damage.       After the first Devil Survivor game, builds are more varied, so it’s ultimately up to preference of the player. Hell, a physical build in the first game isn’t impossible – I did it, and really only had trouble at the last part of the game, but by that point, I had my massive demons help carry the weight until my build reached the threshold for slaughter. That said…I couldn’t beat the secret boss with that build, so go figure.   Outside of the main character, other human units have “classes†as determined by their automatic stat growth. For example, a character that automatically raises Strength and Magic would be classified as a “magic knightâ€, due to their ability to use both magic and physical skills, at the cost of being slow units in a skirmish and having relatively low health pools. This is where passive skills come into play: one could get rid of exploitive weaknesses on their human characters by selecting the right combination of passives. The winning strategy to Devil Survivor is to cover all weaknesses, while emphasizing your power as much as possible.   Introduced in Devil Survivor 2 are the Titles and Reward System, and the Fate System. The latter mostly plays into New Game Plus, where the game awards you with how well you completed your previous cycle with a number of points. Being granted a certain number of points, you can “purchase†rewards such as removing the level limit when fusing (meaning you can fuse demons of higher level), allowing you to retain your money, keeping certain demons in your party, etc. In the original Devil Survivor, as far as I know, the only benefit you kept automatically were the demons you had in your party after the final battle and your macca.       The Fate system in Devil Survivor 2 is like a 5-ranked instead of 10-ranked Social Link system from Persona 3 and Persona 4. By spending time with a character, you learn more about them, and like a Social Link, you can lead them to the ideal conclusion. By ranking up Fate, certain demons are unlocked for fusion, these characters gain special resistances for free, and most importantly, can share special interactions with the protagonist during combat. For example, upon unlocking this function, the hero and one of his party members can exchange demons so that one of them have the ideal demon for a bad situation. The other function is that they can share a target to crack a skill from, making it much easier and flexible to crack skills. The Fate system was also incredibly important because depending on how high the protagonist’s Fate was would determine which party members joined him in the final part of the game.       Outside of combat, the game plays like a visual novel, with choices that affect the overall gameplay. Based around menu exploration, you are given at least twelve hours to engage in the day’s events (which happen in specific windows of time), or attend an optional event that would be integral to future gameplay. Often, going to one of these events makes thirty minutes in-game time pass, so managing your time efficiently is also key to Devil Survivor. There are also “free†battles, where you can fight enemies, to grind experience, macca, and skills – these battles have no consequence on the time, and you can choose to flee the battle anytime it is one of your character’s turns, retaining any rewards you have acquired up to that point.   You can save at any time outside of combat by opening up your menu: also in your menu, you’re allowed to build up to four teams (one human leader and two demons, although the hero must always be deployed) and equip skills on them. The Cathedral of Shadows function allows you to fuse any two demons into a shiny, awesome one – another trademark of MegaTen. However, unlike previous titles, you purchase demons through auctions: you can either outbid other demon tamers (it’s easy to figure out how to outbid your opponents by a marginal amount) or purchase the demon for the full price – unless you’re rolling in macca, I’d say go bid. You’re going to lose a few of them, but win most of them, and you can savescum like crazy to get the demons you want. This system is perfect for Devil Survivor because unlike other MegaTen games, as conversation is not a thing, a team can consist of two exact demons (two Pixies, with a human leader, as an example), which is great for a strategy game – there’s more versatility. However, there are demons with a “Unique†marking – this means there cannot be more than one in each team, and these are generally special demons to begin with.       Finally, there is a large cast of playable characters in Devil Survivor, with multiple endings. It’s much easier to achieve a desired ending in Devil Survivor 2, as it didn’t feature the modified alignment system that the original game had that would determine which endings you were allowed to have – the Fate system ended up taking that place for the second game. Depending on your choices in the game, certain characters who should’ve been playable may become unplayable, mainly due to their death.   And this is by far going to be the longest article I write for this project – next part has to do with the characters, plot, and pretty much everything else about Devil Survivor, so stay tuned!

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Demon Design: Varuna/Varnani

Despite being a mythological figure that has plenty of reasons to be featured heavily in the Shin Megami Tensei universe, Varuna has actually had little appearance within any of the games, minus a very prominent role in the Digital Devil Saga titles – as far as I know, he was just a Persona of the Magician and Hierophant arcana from the first two Persona games respectively, with a somewhat lame design. I certainly wasn’t a fan of using him, although in Persona 2, he had a kickass fusion spell – that said, I still didn’t use that fusion spell all too much; by that point, I just had Personas I preferred to use.   Although he is the god of the ocean in Hindu lore, his name roughly translates to “he who covers†– one could assume that this refers to the fact that the ocean could blanket the earth underneath it, but the more popular interpretation was that this name instead referred to the sky, which covers the entire world. In pre-Vedic works prior to the beginning of Hinduism, Varuna was the supreme being, fulfilling the role of an omnipotent and omniscient lord, as well as the keeper of a cosmic force known as the rta, which makes the universe run the way it should.   However, because Varuna is an old god that precedes Hinduism, and those guys are all about the hip and new heroic beings, he was replaced by Indra as the king of the gods, who had defeated the evil dragon Vritra and returned all the water of the universe back to its rightful place. Varuna ended up being worshipped as a god who governed the oceans and the rivers: those who drowned would appear in front of him, and the Nagas were his servants. This would end up becoming his ultimate role in Hindu mythology.   Varuna would end up being seen as an asura, who would punish mortals that did not uphold their word, an aspect that he held since his days as a supreme being, where he would govern contracts made between man. He was also the hangman, and his favorite way of capturing evil-doers was through the use of a noose – much like how he judges the souls of those who drowns, Varuna is another lord of the dead, a position he shared with Yama, the first man who died (and ended up becoming the dude that judges all the dead souls that came after him). Varuna was also capable of bestowing immortality, if he so wished. Varuna was also a guardian of the four directions, standing for the West.   He was seen as a parallel of Ahura Mazda, the supreme being that governed good in Zoroastrianism, who stood opposite of the vile Angra Mainya, also known as Ahriman. Much like Ahura Mazda, Varuna would ultimately fade away from the hearts of the people, following the ascension of Vishnu and Shiva – he is only remembered in Japanese Buddhism as Suiten.   In the Persona series, especially in Persona 2, Varuna was one of four Personas needed to use the fusion spell “4 Shura Slash†– he represented the West, and the other three Personas required were Indra, Bishamonten, and Yama, who stood for the other directions of the land. Outside of that, he has some pretty good ice spells, especially in Megami Ibunroku Persona, where he serves as a Persona for Ayase. I’m not a fan of Varuna in Persona 2 – his spells are actually pretty good, with Spinning Shot and Malaquadyne being decent damage abilities, and his status effect/defensive spells are also excellent. That said, I abhor the design, and that’s reason enough for me not to use him.     However, in Digital Devil Saga, Varuna is the demonic form of the protagonist Serph, and he looks amazing. If they had used this design in Persona, I would’ve had a very different opinion for Varuna, to say the least. Of course, minus the armor on his shoulder, head, and forearms, Varuna more or less has a similar color scheme to Serph – the body somewhat resembles the user’s clothing. The armor, on the other hand, have a motif that bears a resemblance to the fins and bones of a fish, which may be a nod to Varuna’s nature as a god of the ocean. Also, we have scales lining the armor on the forearm, which may also refer to the MegaTen design of a Naga – a snake-man with some fish-like qualities, especially as a Raja Naga. Oh, and the blades coming out of Varuna’s arm? That’s really badass, but outside of having a sword located on the demon, there’s not much reason for it to be there, legend-wise.   In-game, Varuna is an Ice demon, with a weakness to Fire abilities. However, that is simply only what Varuna begins with – whatever spells he ultimately learns, what kind of strengths the demon will eventually attain, all of those are determined by the player – stat points are distributed for Serph, and this in turn effects Varuna. As such, Varuna can be anything the player wishes to be.     Varuna has several different faces, which ties into the story of who Serph truly is. I’ll go on to say that this story is easily my favorite part of Digital Devil Saga 2: one, because before this, I had just enjoyed playing the game where Gale was the hero, and two, because the backstory is incredibly interesting, and it made me like Heat, in a totally unexpected way (I still think the concept of Heat is kind of boring, but the story and character of Heat O’Brien is fantastic). Varuna was the demonic representation of Serph long before our silent protagonist gained the curse to become a demon. Without spoiling too much, you end up fighting a white-skinned and black-skinned Varuna in a somewhat easy battle – it’s meant to be a bit of a throwaway battle for experience reasons, but the battle itself showcases that the white-skinned Varuna (the first rendition of “fake†Serph) has Expel spells, and the black-skinned Varuna (the original Serph and Varuna) has Death spells. It also shows how much of a badass Heat O’Brien is.   That said, if you haven’t played the game, or got a single inkling of the plot of Digital Devil Saga, then the above paragraph probably made no sense to you, and I apologize. It would be way too much to type, and I would be spoiling a really unique and fantastic plot, even within the MegaTen universe.     Varuna also has a female version, in the form of Varnani, the demon form of Sera, our female lead. Varnani is more or less what you would expect from a genderbent Varuna – although Sera doesn’t really have pink anywhere on her body, the pink color scheme is probably because she’s female. I mean, Argilla has pink hair, but nowhere on Argilla’s demon form is pink – the palette seems so messed up here.   The armor on Varnani is just a female replicate of Varuna’s arm – the skirt is probably there because, again, Varnani is female (again, Argilla’s demon form, Prithivi, doesn’t even have a skirt, and instead has a chest with mouths on it), and also because Sera wears a skirt as well. Outside of the fact that Varnani is really toned, with that six-pack, the demon design itself is resembles Varuna quite a bit – this is probably because Sera inherited Serph’s Atma Brand, which probably contained data of Varuna within it. The legend of Varnani does have two different relationships to Varuna within it: one story states she is just a consort of Varuna, acting as the goddess of wine, liquor, and nectar, while another story adds that she is also considered the daughter of Varuna, born from the churning of amrita. Her true identity is that of Vajravarahi, a goddess of wisdom that drives away evil spirits and is representative of the purifying form of amrita.   Depending on how you wish to look at the relationship between Serph and Sera in its entirety, the connection between Varuna and Varnani makes a lot of sense. The inheritance of the Atma Brand could imply the father-daughter connection of Varuna and Varnani (since its gods we’re talking about, the consort relationship isn’t so weird), for example.   Digital Devil Saga, much like the rest of MegaTen, has demon designs that mix both the game’s narrative and the actual legend of the demon together – most of this accredits Kazuma Kaneko’s knowledge on the research material in his designs, and all this does is leave me wishing his talents could be passed onto another person entirely, so that we may continue to receive designs that speak to the level of imagination that Kaneko has for a good while longer.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Digital Devil Saga: The "traditional" jRPG experience for MegaTen

Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner is the unique game out of a pool of already somewhat unique jRPGs. However, that is only within the confines of any MegaTen game, because when compared to other jRPG franchises such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, Digital Devil Saga would feel right at home for many fans of those games. Even though the premise isn’t necessarily one you would find in a typical jRPG game, since when did Shin Megami Tensei ever offer anything outside of its own universal clichés?   Well, never.         The concept of Digital Devil Saga was conceived by Kazuma Kaneko when he wanted Chaos Hero to transform between his demonic and human form as you encountered the character throughout Shin Megami Tensei. This idea was ultimately never implanted in the game, but it was brought up later as a mechanic for what would become Digital Devil Saga.   Much like the other MegaTen duology of Persona 2, Digital Devil Saga offers perhaps one of the most powerful stories in the entire franchise; originally penned by a novelist named Yu Godai, the script was ultimately finished by trademark Atlus writer Tadashi Satomi when the former had to leave the project due to health concerns. Featuring some of Tadashi’s beloved psychological elements, the premise of the game in a nutshell can be summarized in two sentences: a group of emotionless people who are constantly at war with other tribes in the area end becoming infected by a virus, which awakens their basic emotions as well as turning them into demons, and they find that in their demon forms, each of them will succumb to hunger unless they go and eat other demons, which is basically cannibalism. They end up protecting a young woman who can calm down their cannibalistic urges through the power of singing, and thus they go on one wild adventure which involve general mindfuckery, the world plotting against them (literally), and an awesome villain who really should’ve had more screen time.   That’s just the first game.         Going into the story of the second game would just outright spoil the first Digital Devil Saga, so I won’t be going too deeply into that, but note that in addition to the five party members we had in the original game, we welcome two more party members for Digital Devil Saga…and technically an eighth, because of events in the story.   Digital Devil Saga plays like a traditional jRPG, just with the Shin Megami Tensei flair –we are limited to three party members, and the Mantra Grid that is used to purchase Mantra and ultimately learn skills is a little reminiscent of the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, in the sense that you really only learn skills by putting special points separate from experience points into the Mantra to learn skills. Skills are equipped in Digital Devil Saga, although certain characters specialize in different types of abilities, and the maximum number of abilities any one character can learn is eight. If characters in battle equip certain abilities, they may end up performing a combo attack.         Unique to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise is the Press Turn Battle System, which is touched upon in previous articles. To recap, we are given a certain number of icons (three, in this case), and these icons may disappear completely if we use a turn, or light up if we pass the turn to another character, attack an enemy’s weakness, or score a critical. Also unique to Digital Devil Saga 2 is the berserk mode, where a character loses access to their abilities and defenses, but have higher attack values as a result.   Characters are usually in combat in their devil form, but they are allowed to fight in human forms as well, capable of equipping ammunition – even in human form, they may perform a combo with another party member who is in demon form. The main advantage in human form is the fact that they can use gun skills, which certain enemies are weak to, and are also immune to Expel attacks, a usual staple in older games of MegaTen. However, that said, using the Demon form is usually preferable, because of the overall higher damage (Expel can be dealt with using certain abilities).         Also unique to the Digital Devil Saga duology is the fact that you can devour the enemy demons you encounter – you gain more Atma points (points needed to learn skills) by doing this, and if the demons are afraid of you before you nom them to death, you get even more Atma points! However, if you overeat, you end up being inflicted with status ailments, which sucks. So, like in any game that involves grinding, balance is key.         Now then, let’s talk about the characters: unlike most protagonists in MegaTen, Serph is one who has a fairly established background. You may not know it yet, but his history is dark, and the meaning of his existence is really brought into question during the course of the second game. Serph is also unique amongst jRPG protagonists because his element of choice is ice: in a world where the heroes of the world are fire, wind, or lightning, we finally got a Frosty. The main female lead, Sera, who is also pretty much a protagonist in Digital Devil Saga 2 alongside Gale and Serph, is integral to the story – she really becomes her own character in the second Digital Devil Saga, but I found her pretty boring in the first game.   Heat’s entire concept is that he’s a hot-tempered, chaotic young man, driven by feelings that are probably not his own. It’s a shame, because his history is really excellent; probably the most interesting character in terms of background, but he’s also super boring in concept – he’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s the same with Argilla – as much as I like her, she’s also a pretty boring concept in and of herself. However, Digital Devil Saga likes to surprise me, bringing in moments where I really wonder if the characters of Heat and Argilla were really as tripe as I saw them.   Cielo is either offensive or just weird. He has a Jamaican accent, and has dreadlocks. He’s also kind of annoying – maybe he was written with the “boy next door†image in mind, but he reminds me too much of Masao/Mark from Megami Ibrunoku Persona, except worse. He’s also the weakest character in the first Digital Devil Saga, because he was weak to status ailments – that’s really awful in MegaTen, especially when almost every enemy has a status effect in their kit. They fixed this in Digital Devil Saga 2, and he’s not bad there – Cielo’s actually pretty good. Didn’t make him any less likeable in my book though.   And then we reach Gale – my man Gale. Easily one of the coolest characters in the MegaTen franchise (and that’s a lot of characters to beat out), Gale is love, Gale is life. His “I do not comprehend†moments are so…I’m literally having a fangasm right now, to the point where it’s actually difficult to find the right words for Gale. I’ll put it this way – He's like Tatsuya Suou level of cool, and I thank Tadashi Satomi for putting this masterpiece of a character (I am really being excessive here, he’s certainly not on that level, but fuck it), and I also commend Yu Godai for putting Gale into her Quantum Devil Saga novels (she was allowed to write her original scripts after the games were released), recognizing just how cool Gale is. One could argue that Gale can come off as boring – the fan inside me will just have to say this: “fuck you, dude, you don’t know what you’re talking about…although I don’t either.†        Honestly, Gale just might be one of my favorite characters in the entire franchise, and the fact that he ends up taking something of a protagonist role in the second Digital Devil Saga made me giddier than a fat kid looking at a box of chocolate bars that his parents are willing to buy. I would just say this: Digital Devil Saga has some interesting characters (Gale and Jenna Angel especially, the latter who I will cover in an article about the villains of MegaTen).   Oh, and the music is pretty kickass too – many people agree that Divine Identity is one of the best songs ever in a MegaTen game. I think that’s ultimately up to taste, but Shoji Meguro always manages to succeed in making music that always seems appropriate for the game in mind.   To conclude, Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner is the marriage between the traditional jRPG and the experience that is Shin Megami Tensei. Even after removing demon negotiation and fusion, two very integral mechanics in the franchise, the game holds itself up incredibly well, showing just how well the turn-based mechanics pioneered by Nocturne are just as excellent in a different game outside of Shin Megami Tensei. I personally didn’t find the game too challenging – I almost never find any Shin Megami Tensei game challenging anymore (except Strange Journey), but even when I was somewhat new the series, I remembered Digital Devil Saga as being much easier than Nocturne to play through.         Except the ultimate bosses of both Digital Devil Saga games. Oh my god. Those are some fucking difficult fights – perhaps the most difficult boss fights in RPG history, and that is an incredibly broad history of RPG fights. The point is that yes, those particular bosses (their names being Hito-Shura/Demi-Fiend and Satan) are so fucking difficult that I’ll actually bet on them being the most difficult bosses ever.         No real cheese strategy works – if you don’t fight fairly, the game is going to pound you at turn one. Satan is a little easier than the monster that is Demi-Fiend, but the feeling of success I felt after I managed to topple both of them from their thrones was incredible. It was definitely the most rewarding feeling in terms of bragging rights (although no one really cared about what I did in a video game).   An interesting to note about Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner is its relationship to the larger MegaTen universe – although I did not mention this before, to play Digital Devil Saga and invest yourself in the plot is to bring yourself to the events of Shin Megami Tensei II, and the “horrifying†(depends on your level of disdain for humanity) events that could’ve possibly transpired. In many ways, Digital Devil Saga is indeed the sequel of events to Shin Megami Tensei II, as well as the ending of the timeline where Tokyo got bombed by ICBMS due the actions of a fake ambassador.   The timeline thing is a fan theory anyways, although Digital Devil Saga’s relationship with Shin Megami Tensei II (the presence of Satan and the words of the Archangels when you encounter all of them in Digital Devil Saga 2 is enough to prove this) may very well be the only canon thing we get from Atlus and the interconnections between the mainline games and the spin-off.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Demon Design: Seimen Kongou/Amon Ra/"Persona" Vishnu

The original title in the Persona franchise, Megami Ibunroku Persona, is a project that is strange when compared to other titles in its own series and even in the wider MegaTen setting. Despite the strong psychological elements, the concept of a Persona, design-wise, was not easily established nor handled. Although characters from Megami Ibunroku Persona do return as playable characters in Persona 2, the new characters from the duology had Personas that came from a set mythology (Greek/Roman), and every other Persona game afterwards at least following this trend.   Megami Ibunroku Persona didn’t seem to want to decide what mythologies where to get their Personas from, and in a way, this makes much more sense: it would be absurd to think that the Personas from a randomly assorted group of students would all happen to share the same mythology. The protagonist alone, if we were to think of the Personas that most likely defined his characters, had three different Personas from two different mythologies: Seimen Kongou, Amon Ra, and Vishnu. Yes, all three of them just look like demons.     Seimen Kongou has such an amazing appearance as an initial Persona, with its demonic appearance – the three monkeys in its concept artwork to represent the three mantras: see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. The crosses are located on the eyes, mouth, and ears, depending on the monkey we’re looking at. Originally a Rakshasa that spread disease and suffering in Hindu lore, Seimen Kongou is a redeemed deity in Japanese Buddhism that would instead protect against the very things it once caused. Described as a blue-skinned god with a coiled rope, the overall design of Seimen Kongou is a monstrous being that can protect others, hinting at its origins and final position: the tail it has possibly reflects its affinities with the monkeys that are a part of its design, but I think it also refers to the coiled rope, which is a symbol of power over evil in Japanese Buddhism.   Seimen Kongou is also a unique initial Persona – with its measly wind spells in Garu and Magaru, it follows with its legend of being a monster who spreads disease, specializing in spells that cause different status effects: the three status effects it does cause are blind, mute, and panic, reflecting “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evilâ€. The resistance spread in Megami Ibunroku Persona is gigantic, and to somewhat basic elements like fire, ice, and wind, Seimen Kongou has decent resistances (with 50% chance to repel wind). However, against five different damage types, four of them magic, and one of them gun, Seimen Kongou just plain dies to. Also, in the Persona games, status effects are not nearly as useful – to top it off, none of the status effects Seimen Kongou uses are particularly useful in any game within MegaTen. While the concept of Seimen Kongou is excellent, and handled really well within the confines of the game, it’s ultimately a pretty worthless Persona.       The Ultimate Persona of the protagonist, Amon Ra, isn’t interesting design-wise. Resembling its older artwork, which is shown above, Amon Ra has a garb that has tons of stripes on it. Otherwise, it’s visually not any different than its previous works. The King of the Gods in Egyptian lore, Amon Ra is defined by the fact that he created himself, having been born without any parents. His name is defined by Amon (the essential part of the being that remains hidden) and Ra (divinity that is revealed to all).   In other words, how exactly does this figure of Amon Ra really tie into the protagonist of Megami Ibunroku Persona? The answer is simple: it doesn’t. The sole existence of Amon Ra has to do with the strongest spell in the game, Hieroglyphein, which is so powerful that is has its own damage type. The name of the spell plus the identity of the Persona are pretty much just there to justify the existence of Hieroglyphein and why anyone in the game would have such a monstrous ability. Amon’s Ra resistances more or less resemble Seimen Kongou, except it drains nuclear (Nuclear is its main element type) spells. Amon Ra is very good for the final boss of the SEBEC route, but I’m not a fan of it personally – I see little reason for it to be there, and it doesn’t tie in well with Seimen Kongou in design or anything.     On the other hand, we have Vishnu. While holding no resemblance whatsoever to the actual Vishnu (or even to any of Kaneko’s other designs for the demon, for that matter), Vishnu’s design could be seen as a more evolved Seimen Kongou – dressed in the garbs of royalty, Vishnu resembles a seventeenth century king from England. However, it’s not difficult to imagine this being Seimen Kongou if it decided to dress up. Kaneko’s idea for this version of Vishnu is the “King of Persona-usersâ€, because Vishnu has had numerous avatars in Hindu lore, much like how a Persona user could switch Personas in Megami Ibunroku Persona. The mask it wears is a nice touch to the overall idea of what a Persona is: the mask we wear to protect our true self from others.   Vishnu himself is featured on the cover of the original release of the game, and for good reason. Even if the Ultimate Persona of the protagonist is Amon Ra, Vishnu is representative of the ultimate power to be obtained from the Emperor Arcana, the main arcana of the protagonist. Vishnu’s overall damage is very high, and his level compared to Amon Ra (level 62 to 86) is absurd in power. Vishnu’s main weaknesses are all types of gun skills – he dies to those pretty quickly. He also has a weakness to Electricity, Nuclear, and Gravity, but he resists/nullifies all sorts of other damage pretty well, making Vishnu surprisingly solid.   That said, I won’t be going any further into the demon Vishnu – the Persona is really its own entity from this game, and I probably will do a separate write up for Vishnu in a different article.   And how do any of these Personas tie into who the Protagonist of Megami Ibunroku Persona is? Well, in a way, all of them do. If you had picked the absolute best dialogue choices for the True Ending of the game, the Protagonist is shown to be a natural leader, compassionate, while having a blunt side of him, interested in finding his true self while discouraging any attempts to hide the truth. Seimen Kongou does not necessarily reflect these qualities as well, but it could be assumed that as an initial Persona, Seimen Kongou shows the protagonist before he grew to be his “canonical†self. Amon Ra reflects his wish to find the truth, looking to find what is essential, and Vishnu reflects his position as a leader, who is also compassionate.   All-in-all, Persona design in Megami Ibunroku Persona was a plain mess, and this was vastly improved upon in Persona 2. Nonetheless, the Personas here still hold a connection to their users – however, the existence of Yamaoka as a Persona always proved that a Persona coming from mythology isn’t a set rule in the university, but truly does reflect what is in the user’s soul.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Demon Design: Vulcanus/Maia and Apollo/Artemis

I suppose it would be impossible to do a separate article on the Personas named Vulcanus and Maia – the first two Persona stories featured designs from Kazuma Kaneko instead of Shigenori Soejima, and unlike the man he would later give the position of character designer for Persona, Kaneko didn’t really seem to focus on giving any themes to the Persona design themselves. However, that isn’t to say that he didn’t give each Persona similarities, but I think it’s more true to think of each Persona design in the earlier Persona titles to be more intrinsic to the identity of the Persona and the users, versus a theme like the superhero-esque Personas of Persona 4.     Vulcanus’s design scheme has two parts to it that are fairly obvious for me to look at, but if there’s anything else to its visual scheme, I have no idea what those are. For what I do know, there are a lot of spikes on this Persona, mainly around the hip and the shoulders. The spikes could mean anything, really – I think those are meant to be a more styled design for the exhaust pipes of a motorcycle. The gas tubes, gas pump, and the pressure gauge located right above where the heart is are all important pieces that make up a motorcycle. Couple those elements with the jumpsuit that Vulcanus wears (it’s probably a motorcycle jumpsuit, although not the same kind Tatsuya usually wears), it’s pretty obvious that Vulcanus is meant to reflect the biker image that Tatsuya owns. However, the bronze schemes of the spike and the mask, as well as the design of the Personas face, are not that obvious to me. I still wonder why the Persona has a crown, except it might go hand-to-hand with the design of Maia.   Maia’s design is a little easier to understand – Vulcanus reflects more of what Tatsuya’s character actually is, but Maia’s concept was generated upon two relationships: the relationship of the Atlas’s seven daughters (the Pleiades, in which Maia is a part of) and the Chinese Jade Emperor’s seven nymphs, as well as the relationship between Maya Amano and Jun Kurosu.       The visual concept of Maia holds more oriental characteristics when compared to the other Personas in Persona 2, which is a nod towards the story of the seven nymphs of the Chinese Jade Emperor. The circlet it wears around its eyes could be interpreted to be a visor, although I’d like to think it must go hand-to-hand with the crown on Vulcanus’s mask. Although it would be a bit more obvious to pick a figure that had a strong connection with Vulcanus, given the nature of Tatsuya and Maya’s relationship with the Persona 2 duology, but the character of Maia was selected because she was the mother of Hermes, the figure that would become the Persona of Jun Kurosu. Again, this is significant because Jun Kurosu held a friendship with Maya Amano that was like a son to his mother, partly because of his strained relationship with his own mother, and at one point, he even wished for Maya to become his true mother.   Maia appears in Eternal Punishment, the second half of the Persona 2 duology, while Vulcanus does not appear for story purposes. In this game, Maia’s circlet obtains more spikes located on the back of the head, but more or less appears to be the same. Perhaps the slight change in design is meant to reflect Eternal Punishment’s version of Maya Amano, which is not the same as the Maya from Innocent Sin.   Much like Orpheus from Persona 3, Vulcanus and Maia also obtain evolved forms in Vulcanus Prime and Maia Prime. The basic designs of Vulcanus and Maia are still the same in their Prime form, although Vulcanus Prime has more spikes on its body, and holds something that I think is a spear, while Maia Prime has even more defined sleeves on the dress and a stronger red scheme. The design for Maia Prime is completely different in Eternal Punishment, where it’s simply a duller palette swap of the original Maia design.   Megami Ibunroku Persona and Persona 2 differ from Persona 3 and Persona 4 in that any party member is technically a “wild cardâ€, instead dealing with the affinity of the Personas and the users, while also eliminating the Fool Arcana as a necessity for any of the protagonists. Vulcanus and Maia are of the Sun and Moon arcana, respectively, which is also a strong indicator that in the story of Persona 2, Tatsuya Suou and Maya Amano share a connection than what is first shown in the game. Although Vulcanus and Maia share little background together, the ultimate Personas of Tatsuya and Maya are Apollo and Artemis.   How about that for a symbolic relationship in a video game?     Apollo’s design isn’t anything special save for one characteristic: the mask. The rest of the body is similar to that of a clown’s, which could be a toss towards JOKER, an antagonist within the Persona 2 story. However, the mask is amazing – with the basic concept of a man’s face on fire, the intricacies of the mask speaks out nothing more than badass, and it’s hard not to admire that face of Apollo.   Artemis, on the other hand, is far more interesting, mainly because I really do believe that the appearance of the Persona also shows the overall in-combat properties. For example, Artemis is characterized by the luster found all over its body: there are gems on the elbows, thighs, hip, chest, and head. In Persona 2, Artemis reflects all sorts of magical power, but is fragile in the face of physical attacks. That’s incredibly interesting, but also not too unsurprising: much of Kaneko’s design often reflects both the legend and in-combat characteristics of demons and Personas alike. Within Eternal Punishment, unlike Apollo, Artemis has a much different color scheme, with a overall darker palette.   Within the game, Maia is so much superior to Vulcanus, it’s almost absurd. While it’s acceptable that Vulcanus has weaknesses to Water and Ice spells, it strikes me as strange that Maia has no actual weaknesses. In-game, it would seem that Maia should technically have a fire weakness, especially with Maya’s pyrophobia, but given the character’s background in Innocent Sin, I can also see why the Persona of Maia wouldn’t have a weakness to Fire. That said, I still think Maia needed a weakness.   Vulcanus and Maia specialized in Fire and Ice spells, respectively. In Eternal Punishment, this was changed with Vulcanus not making an appearance and Maia specializing in the Water element. Again, the change in elements for Maia is probably a reflection of Eternal Punishment and Innocent Sin’s versions of Maya Amano.   Apollo and Artemis are what you expected: the former specializes in Fire and Nuclear spells, and is probably the strongest hitting Persona in the game, while being immune to Fire, Nuclear, Light, and Dark spells (although its weak to water and ice spells). Artemis, on the other hand, has healing, Ice, and Almighty spells, with the occasional Light damage in spells like Crescent Mirror; its also reflects every single kind of magic attacks, but is weak to all kinds of physical attacks.   Seriously, why is Artemis more interesting than Apollo in almost every aspect? It feels like Apollo’s only saving grace is its mask and the high damage it deals.   Indeed, Artemis appeared in IMAGINE, the only game for Shin Megami Tensei (it’s not that good, but I digress), while both brother and sister appear in the special version of Megami Tensei II (Artemis was level 55 and had comparable stats to Vishnu, while Apollo was level 61 and more comparable to Ahura Mazda, especially in skills). Artemis’s design in IMAGINE is a palette-swap of Diana’s appearance, with the colors of the Persona Artemis (white and blue). That said, I still think both Artemis and Diana look really freaky outside of Persona, mainly because of all the naked breasts around their body. It makes me shudder.   Also, another thing to note of interest are the color schemes of Apollo and Artemis: red and black are the typical colors of Chaos-aligned characters, and white and blue are worn by those who are Law-aligned. This also surprisingly reflects the canon characters of Tatsuya Suou (who is wild yet caring, representing both the bad and good of Chaos) and Maya Amano (who is kind-hearted yet prone to being too optimistic, characteristic of many Law characters). Just food for thought.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Demon Design: Izanagi

Izanagi is a surprisingly established figure in the MegaTen universe, despite having only small appearances throughout the setting until Persona 4. Izanagi was an important figure in the original Digital Devil Story novel, where the main character, Akemi Nakajima, was revealed to be the reincarnation of Izanagi, alongside the female lead, Yumiko Shirasagi, who is the reincarnation of Izanami. The character of Izanagi would go on to appear in a few more titles, most notably Megami Tensei II as the deity who would lead you to the final battle, Devil Children as the ultimate boss, and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, where he would reward the player on a new cycle with an extra Press Turn icon if they had completed the Burial Chambers challenge in their old cycle.   Prior to his role in Persona 4, Izanagi was often portrayed with the typical Kunitsu demon appearance: long, dark hair that was often tied with buns, a Japanese-style garb, with bands around the knees and upper arm. Often times, he was dressed in white, and in a lot of ways, he resembled Okuninushi without the armor. In other words, he wasn’t super distinctive in his appearance – his original appearance from the novel was the exact same as Nakajima’s, which is appropriate since those two are technically the same person. One could argue that his Kunitsu appearance could be the reason why that specific design was used for that race at all – the Kunitsu themselves were probably descendants of Izanagi to begin with.         Of course, if we were to discuss the Persona 4 design of Izanagi, I would summarize it like this: it really makes no fucking sense.   On one hand, the Personas of Persona 4 all have their own thematic element – they resemble superheroes, and Izanagi, for better or worse, looks like a badass banchou superhero figure. Like, Izanagi’s design is cool – you take the Thanatos meter and you crank it up to fucking eleven, and you get Izanagi. However, unlike Orpheus, Izanagi doesn’t really resemble the Persona 4 protagonist (in who we will now call Yu Narukami, because that’s his canon name) outside of maybe the color scheme of silver and black.         If you consider the story significance Izanagi has to the story of Persona 4, it makes sense why the Persona wouldn’t resemble Yu Narukami in any capacity – it isn’t necessarily a Persona born from his psyche. If I had to name what Izanagi was, it is probably a “parasitic Personaâ€. In a lot of ways, I think Izanagi is more similar to Thanatos than to Orpheus, if we were to compare the Personas of Persona 3 and Persona 4. Much like the protagonist of Persona 3 (whether it be the male or female one), the Fool Arcana is pretty much their default Arcana because of gameplay purposes – the Death Arcana was more representative of the Persona 3 protagonist, and the Star Arcana is much more representative of the Persona 4 protagonist.   And a lot of what Persona 4’s story supports that thought.   For example, the Death Arcana in Persona 3 is maxed automatically, much like how the Star Arcana in Persona 4 is maxed automatically. Much like how Pharos and the Persona 3 protagonist are very similar figures in concept, Teddie and Yu Narukami are alike in many elements as well: in fact, I would go as far as to say that Teddie’s affinity for the Star Arcana is probably a result of his friendship with Yu. Another example comes from what is revealed about the Izanagi Persona near the end of the game – in this event, it is implied that Yu’s Izanagi is a manifestation of “Hope†for mankind. The concept of Hope is a major ideal in the Star Arcana, which is represented by one’s feelings of hope and joy for the present and the future.         In a very ironic sense, I would like to bring up the anime as well, Persona 4: The Animation. If I were to make the assumption that the staff of the original game played a big part in making the anime of Persona 4 happen, then I would also like to point to the scene where Yu obtains the Persona of Lucifer. Even though one would assume Lucifer is just there because he’s the strongest Persona in terms of base level (you can only fuse Lucifer at level 93), I think it’s interesting to consider that the ultimate Persona for the Star Arcana, Helel, was the identity of Lucifer prior to his fall from grace. In the Persona 3 and Persona 4 games especially, they split Lucifer’s angelic and demonic appearance into two different Personas, respectively named Helel and Lucifer, and perhaps Helel himself is fairly representative of Yu Narukami, much like how Thanatos was for the Persona 3 protagonist.   Really, I think the visual design for Izanagi is meant to reflect that this is a Persona that doesn’t necessarily belong to Yu Narukami. In all seriousness, I also think that a big part of the inspiration for the design of Izanagi was probably from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 3: Stardust Crusaders: in more ways than one, Izanagi resembles Jotaro Kujo, whose Stand was a manifestation of the Star Arcana as well. In fact, there’s a lot of things about Persona 4 that reminds me about Stardust Crusaders, although I can’t recall (and do doubt) Soejima ever really took inspiration from the manga series.   If he did, I wouldn’t be surprised. A lot of things in the Japanese entertainment industry can find traces of Jojo in it.   In the game itself, Izanagi is actually a pretty good Persona – unlike Orpheus, whose terrible resistance and purely balanced stat spread (not specializing in a stat isn’t good in any Shin Megami Tensei title), Izanagi actually has a 3 in Strength and Agility, while having 2 in everything else. Even if you don’t consider the two extra points Izanagi has over Orpheus, the slightly more specialized stat spread, alongside the excellent resistances Izanagi has for an Initial Persona, makes Izanagi useful to around levels thirteen to fifteen. Also, unlike Orpheus, Izanagi has some really good moves in Tarukaja and Rakukaja, which while not as strong in Shin Megami Tensei games, are still valuable skills to have. Orpheus’s main use until his fate as fusion fodder mainly comes from the Cadenza ability he can use when you have both Orpheus and Apsaras, which is pretty useful as it raises evasion and heals your party for a significant amount, but also uses 20% of your spirit points.   I suppose Izanagi feels so much superior to Orpheus because Personas don’t have combination skills in Persona 4.         However, much like Orpheus becoming Orpheus Telos/Messiah, Izanagi does have an ultimate form as well: Izanagi-no-Okami. I have a lot of thoughts on Izanagi-no-Okami. Despite my earlier statement on how Izanagi was not truly Yu Narukami’s Persona, I think Izanagi’s evolution into Izanagi-no-Okami is probably something of a marriage between the Izanagi Persona and the Star Arcana representative of Yu Narukami, as the creation of Izanagi-no-Okami is the result of a few people’s hopes for humanity, not unlike Persona 3 when the protagonist acquires the power of the Universe Arcana. Even if Izanagi-no-Okami still doesn’t bear too much resemblance to Yu (not even color scheme anymore, I like to think that Izanagi-no-Okami is the true appearance of the Izanagi Persona, attaining power because of Yu Narukami.   In a way, my imagination gives me the image of Izanagi-no-Okami tearing itself out of the Izanagi Persona, much like how Thanatos did the first time Orpheus was summoned in Persona 3.   In any of the releases of Persona 4, Izanagi-no-Okami was unlocked for fusion by beating the story in its True Ending, and then starting a new cycle on that save file. Izanagi-no-Okami is a very unique Persona – it is the sole Persona of the World Arcana, and unlike Orpheus Telos, it learns a bunch of magic skills such as Megidoloan, all the single-hit dyne spells, Mind Charge, and a bunch of Amp abilities. In other words, it’s a very powerful offensive mage Persona, with strong resistances across the board. You can choose to specialize the Persona into specific elements, or make it a jack of all trade. Although the Persona has balanced stats, the stats are the absolute highest any Persona will ever get (Izanagi-no-Okami has easily 50 stat points over Lucifer, who would be the next best Persona in terms of stats) with 80 across the board. Thus, the weakness of being “too general†is just eliminated off of pure numbers. That’s absurd.   In the original Persona 4, Izanagi-no-Okami was also unique in that you could not fuse any spells from the Personas in its fusion recipe: it had a fixed skillset, and only attained new moves through leveling. It also could not be fused away, and it did not have a place in the Compendium, meaning you cannot buy it back – this made sense since you couldn’t fuse the Persona to begin with, but it’s sad that you have to fuse the Persona again for future cycles. This was changed in Persona 4 Golden, where you can fuse Izanagi-no-Okami and also have it learn moves from its predecessors, making it a truly malleable Persona (and some of the Personas you fuse to create Izanagi-no-Okami have some kickass abilities). However, even in Persona 4 Golden, it does not have a spot in the Compendium, meaning you would have to refuse it.   Izanagi-no-Okami’s final unique quality is that it holds the largest fusion recipe in the entire Persona series, if not the entire Megami Tensei franchise. You need a total of twelve different Personas to create Izanagi-no-Okami in what is called a Dodecagon Spread Fusion; in the game, you’re only allowed to hold up to twelve Personas max, and to fuse Izanagi-no-Okami, you need to fuse all twelve Personas at once. The recipe of Izanagi-no-Okami is also interesting – in the Japanese release of the game, the first character in each of the Personas name spells out the phrase “create Izanagi-no-Okami†in the game: specifically, Izanagi, Sandman, Nata Taishi, Girimehkala, Norn, Okuninushi, Kartikeya, Mithra, Tzitzmitl, Cu Chulainn, and Legion.   Man, Izanagi-no-Okami is a special snowflake, isn’t it?   Much of Izanagi’s current popularity within the MegaTen franchise comes from its role in the most popular game, Persona 4. The cool and sleek appearance, combined with the fan favorite Yu Narukami, makes Izanagi a very iconic figure within the Persona and MegaTen brands. Even then, Izanagi already had a history as one of the most important figures within the MegaTen universe, even if he didn’t necessarily appear in too many of the titles.           …I brought up Lucifer/Helel in this article too often (this was more like a discussion of Yu Narukami than Izanagi), but it’s also interesting to note that Lucifer and Izanagi do have a very strong connection within the MegaTen universe, although Shin Megami Tensei did dumb this down in most of the games, with Masakado taking Izanagi’s place as the representative demon of the Neutral route. However, Izanagi probably remains an interesting parallel to Lucifer within the universe, and I do hope that relationship is revisited in future titles.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Demon Design: Orpheus

It would only be appropriate to do an article on the design of a Persona right after the discussion on the Persona project. I also have time, and this article is going to be relatively short – here, I want to discuss the artistic angle that Shigenori Soejima took, the relevance of the design as a whole, and what the inclusion of this Persona brought to the game. I opted to select the initial Persona of the Persona 3 protagonist, Orpheus, whose design differs in Persona 3 Portable depending on if you selected the male or female protagonist. Heavy spoiler alert by the way.   Out of the nearly 500 unique demons/personas (perhaps even more, but that’s the number I’m currently aware of), Orpheus stands out because its one of maybe around ten to twenty designs that was specifically made to be a Persona. While a lot of Personas from Persona 3 and Persona 4 are like that, never appearing in any other MegaTen title, Orpheus is also exceptional because, alongside Messiah and Orpheus Telos (which is basically just a stronger version of Orpheus anyways), Orpheus is everything a Persona should be: a non-human entity that exists to protect its user, but also a being that is a manifestation of the user’s psyche.     In other words, because Orpheus actually looks like the Persona 3 protagonist, he’s pretty much the ideal Persona design, visually-speaking. While I still think the decision to include Orpheus (specifically) had a lot to do with the designer’s wanting to have a somewhat non-heroic legend be the initial Persona for Persona 3, I really admire what Soejima did with the design, especially when you think of Orpheus’s ultimate relevance to the plot: absolutely zero.   If anything, I feel that the acquisition of Orpheus is more of a result of the protagonist’s relationship to the Velvet Room, because seriously: Hermes become Trismegistus makes sense from a literary angle, but intuitively speaking, how does Orpheus become Messiah? Well, the question is answered in the angle the writers took for Orpheus – that he too, like the Messiah described in the tales of old, is a figure of sacrifice as well.   Except in the game, the protagonist has little relation to the Hanged Man arcana outside of the gameplay mechanics behind it, and is more attuned to his Fool arcana (also a result of Persona 3’s gameplay) and the Death arcana (for story purposes). In a way, I even suspect that Thanatos is more a representation of who the protagonist actually is, but only takes the shape it does as a response to the figure of Death.     Despite all this, Orpheus remains what many people see the protagonist’s Persona to be. Even though Messiah also resembles the protagonist, the game begins with Orpheus, and despite Orpheus lacking many of the written perspectives that would make it a more appropriate choice, minus the sacrifice element. Ultimately, because the legend of Orpheus has to do with the foolishness of lacking faith, the Persona itself is relevant to the Fool Arcana, and I think that one element plus the Messianic sacrifice tendencies of the Persona 3 protagonist is really all it took for the writers to agree to make Orpheus the initial Persona.   And how does the visual design of Orpheus reflect any of these qualities? Well, surprisingly a lot – it has the somewhat robotic design shown in the Persona 3 personas, so it’s part of that group. It has the protagonist’s face and hair, significant in that the Persona is meant to be the manifestation of one’s true self anyways. Oh, and it has a lyre, like the legendary Orpheus had before he was sadly ripped apart (at least his head and lyre remained, and maybe that plays in the design as well, with the protagonist’s head being used for Orpheus’s design). Soejima really succeeded in mixing both the important elements of the legend of Orpheus, as well as bringing in the general Persona 3 designs that we remember today.   If nothing else, Orpheus really is the quintessential Persona design, and I really adore what Shigenori Soejima decided to go with at the end. I can’t say the same for what the game designers decided to do for Orpheus in Persona 3 though.   Even the game makes a point about how weak Orpheus is. Compared to most initial Personas in the franchise, Orpheus is exceptionally weak because of his weak stat spread even for an initial Persona (a balanced stat spread with 2’s across the board is god awful) and the fact that he has two weaknesses, with no resistances to make up for it. Essentially, the game is telling you to just get rid of Orpheus as soon as you can, although there are many who are willing to keep the Persona and tweak with it to make it a very powerful Persona (although it has little to do with Orpheus and more to do with the skills you place on him) through fusion.   Orpheus Telos, of course, is the game’s “ultimate†form of Orpheus, obtainable only in Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable. A result of what happens when you max out all the Social Links, Orpheus Telos is the pinnacle of what the original Orpheus could’ve been, boasting extremely good resistances, a decent stat spread, and skill Victory Cry, which is one of the best passive abilities in the game. The beauty of Orpheus Telos is in that its actual skill set outside of Victory Cry is determined only by what you fused into him – the Persona doesn’t learn anything else, a representation of “infinite possibilitiesâ€.       From a gameplay perspective, Orpheus was initially just meant to be a weak Persona that you will get rid of really quickly, but in the future re-releases of Persona 3, Orpheus is also the subject of evolution, with his becoming of Orpheus Telos (who has similar fusion recipes to Thanatos and Messiah, making it clear that all three of those Personas are extremely representative of the Persona 3 protagonist). If you managed to level up the initial Orpheus, his stat spread improves somewhat, although the terrible resistances it sports still makes it a liability unless you did some kick-ass fusions and made sure it lose those weaknesses.   I guess if I wanted to look at Orpheus’s inclusion, I suppose the legend of Orpheus had the most pros to being used for a weak starting Persona. Orpheus was not a warrior, only his head and lyre were buried, he is a representation of both a fool and a man willing to sacrifice himself, and he’s from Greek mythology, which was the central sets of stories that Persona 3 employs for its immediate setting. I still can’t agree with that stretch of Orpheus becoming Messiah, but that’s probably being really nitpicky.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

The Persona Project with and without Tadashi Satomi

Tadashi Satomi was a scenario writer for Atlus between the years of 1996 and 2005 – he was responsible mainly for Megami Ibunroku Persona, a game that was being developed with “demon guardian†mechanic from Shin Megami Tensei: If… in mind. He would go on to author the Persona 2 duology of Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment, both of which combines into what many fans agree to be the strongest story in the entire Shin Megami Tensei franchise. His final work as an Atlus employee was to finish the Digital Devil Saga scenario after the initial writer, novelist Yu Godai, had to leave the project due to health issues. However, despite not being employed by Atlus by this point, Satomi also participated in the PSP remakes of his Persona titles, the first one one aptly renamed to Shin Megami Tensei: Persona.   Tadashi Satomi is often characterized by heavy use of psychological elements in his stories, which is shown in the works he had contributed: Persona’s entire story revolved around strong Jungian influence, with Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment being built on that same framework. Even Digital Devil Saga featured powerful psychological moments, where the protagonists are confronted with their ability to transform into demons, and that they must cannibalize other demons if they wish to survive. Satomi, alongside Kazuma Kaneko, could be seen as the heads of the Persona project, whereas their work essentially determined the direction of the series until they left the project at the hands of people such as Shigenori Soejima, who subsequently took Persona 3 and future titles of the franchise into a totally new angle.     So what did removing Tadashi Satomi from the equation do the series? Fucking. Everything.   Granted, he resigned on his own. I don’t think Atlus laid him off or anything, I think Satomi left on his own terms for whatever reason, and that’s something I have little knowledge on. However, with Satomi gone, and Kaneko handing the art design to Soejima for their then upcoming Persona 3 project, we were with new leaders as to what direction the game would go on for now.   Persona 3 retained the same dark tone that its predecessors had, whereas Persona 4 was much more light-hearted and generally easier for the masses to really get behind – regardless, the psychological elements were more focused on the specifics behind the concepts of Personas versus Shadows, that is, the concept of the conflict itself. Shadows would become their own enemies, replacing the demons we had before, and Persona 3 made changes to how one would become stronger in the game, with the inclusion of Social Links and focus on the protagonist housing multiple partners instead of the entire party – in a way, this resembled previous Shin Megami Tensei titles, where the protagonist was capable of summoning demons in order to provide a variety of skills to the team, and the human members often specialized in specific skills.     The end result, of course, was that the simulation and narrative of Persona 3 and Persona 4 are fantastic: a lot of MegaTen fans despise Persona 4 because its popularity single-handedly changed the general perception of the audience as to how the franchise really is, and there was a lot of criticism directed towards Shin Megami Tensei IV because it didn’t resembled Persona 3 and Persona 4 at all. The funniest part about this debacle was when fans of Persona 4 accused Shin Megami Tensei IV of “ripping personas from the Persona franchiseâ€. That’s a minority of people, I think, but seeing that makes me laugh and cry at the same time.   The combination of Satomi and Kaneko was what kept the Persona franchise close to its origins as Shin Megami Tensei games: negotiations were still a function (albeit handled rather poorly in both Persona and Persona 2), demons were still relevant outside of being the protagonists’ Personas, and the stories retained strong elements that were integral to the Shin Megami Tensei setting, such as the inclusion of a world full of demons (the Expanse, although not necessarily named as such in Persona). Hell, Persona and Persona 3 featured a powerful antagonist in Nyx, who alongside Nyarlathotep and Izanami, make up the trio of “big bads†in the Persona series, which is a distances away from Shin Megami Tensei: If… and its antagonists in Hazama, Zurvan, and Lucifer.     Although he did not participate in Shin Megami Tensei: If…, Satomi did something really funny as a writer: he modeled and named a character after himself for the Persona titles, who had a romantic relationship with the female protagonist of Shin Megami Tensei: If… (more of a cameo in Megami Ibunroku Persona, who also explains how to kick the asses of demons because she has done it before). The female protagonist of If… was in turn modeled after Yuki Uchida, a popular actress in the 1990’s who Satomi admired – a lot of fans hated this self-insert as some form of masturbatory fan-fiction that Satomi did, but I would personally say that the inclusion of such a thing isn’t even too relevant to the story to begin with, and didn’t harm the product one bit.   Now where is the Persona project with Satomi gone, taking Kaneko with him? Honestly, probably in the right direction – maybe I don’t admire the story for Persona 4 too much, but as a video game, Persona 4 is excellent, and really does deserve the praise it gets. A lot of the fans enjoy the game for what I think would be the wrong reasons, but I have no power over what people enjoy, nor should I. In fact, I think from a pure gameplay perspective, Persona 4 Golden is probably one of the best games in the entire MegaTen franchise, spin-offs and other games included.       What Satomi brought to the table was the ability to focus on the dark aspects of the human mind, and put them into a story – the poor gameplay of Megami Ibunroku Persona and the Persona 2 duology has little to do with Satomi did, and the change and massive improvements in Persona 3 and then on shows massive improvements in the staff’s ability to develop a game. Satomi’s writing is perhaps the best the Persona series has ever gotten, and he created a concept and accompanying universe that MegaTen’s most popular titles could use repeatedly. If nothing else, I would even say that Tadashi Satomi has proven himself as one of the strongest writers for Atlus to date; Kazuma Kaneko’s scenario for Shin Megami Tensei IV felt weak at times, and much of the latter’s best contributions to the franchise has been in his demon designs (this will be discussed upon in the future).   Satomi’s Persona is nothing like the modern Persona we have been enjoying today – most people would think of the franchise and think of what excellent games Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, and Satomi’s contributions are mostly going to be left in the dark. Certainly, we see elements of what he brought to the table, especially from his story in Persona 2, where the concepts of Shadows really played a vital element during the course of Persona 2. Shin Megami Tensei: If… provided the skeleton, and Satomi applied everything else to make the Persona universe into what it had been.   I don’t dislike the Persona 3 and Persona 4 games at all, if I haven’t been clear enough. However, I still think it’s tragic that we all will be left with the feeling that Satomi might’ve left too early: what could the Persona series have been had he stayed, and penned the scenario for Persona 3 and Persona 4, with their current improvements to gameplay? The shift from a pure dungeon crawler into a unique adventure simulation game is probably what charmed most Persona fans, and while many people praise the story and characters, I think Satomi could’ve done even more if he had worked with Soejima on these projects.   If I had one thing I wished Satomi would’ve worked upon, it would probably be the human antagonists of Persona 3 and Persona 4. In the past, most of the human antagonists from Megami Ibunroku Persona and Persona 2 resembled the character of Ideo Hazama from Shin Megami Tensei: If… (I should probably state now that I think Hazama is one of the greatest villains in the franchise) – we’ve had megalomaniacs in Kandori Takahisa and in a way, Jun Kurosu from the Masked Circle organization bears a lot of resemblance to Ideo Hazama – a young man who suffers, and who ended up retaliating in a fatalistic way, but someone who is ultimately redeemable. It seems Satomi really piggybacked on the template of Hazama, but he made some fantastic villains for the MegaTen franchise as a result.     But, when I look at human antagonists of Persona 3 and Persona 4, they’re not very exciting, to say the least. They are nihilistic to a fault, and seem to be working towards a goal that is ultimately not their own. At least the Persona 4 antagonist is redeemable (I think I enjoy this quality in antagonists because I enjoy the idea of the capacity of others to forgive even the worst villains), but honestly, he wasn’t much of a villain to me to begin with. In a way, since Satomi left, the franchise has seen some really weak villains in their games (we still have our modern gems, but I write for a general trend).   Depending on how one wants to see the Persona project today, Satomi’s departure could either be a blessing or a powerful loss. Satomi was what helped the project in retaining its MegaTen qualities, but without him, the games have become their own entity, with their own fandom and spin-offs that seemingly separate Persona 3 and Persona 4 from the rest of the MegaTen franchise, when it shouldn’t need to. I’m part of that group that still considers those two particular Persona titles to still be a part of the MegaTen franchise – even if Japan no longer markets those games under the Shin Megami Tensei moniker due to the massive differences the games now have, I choose not to ignore the roots of these games.   Of course, Persona 3 and Persona 4 are massively different from the rest of the franchise, even in their difficulties – they are incredibly easy games when compared to the rest of the franchise, and I have little to no trouble getting through the games, whereas I would still die a lot in games like Strange Journey. Satomi probably had nothing to do with the gameplays of Persona 3 and Persona 4, although he probably scripted and edited the story with the gameplay in mind. However, Satomi has penned the most powerful stories in MegaTen to date with Persona 2 and Digital Devil Saga (finishing what Yu Godai could not), and the loss of his talents is evident in today’s games.   That said, I still think all the Persona games are pretty weak dungeon crawling experiences, and although I am glad negotiation disappeared for Persona 3 and Persona 4 (they were really bad in Megami Ibunroku Persona and Persona 2, and Shuffle Time is a much more bearable way to gather Persona cards rather than grind to get them in battle, especially in a game where dungeon crawling isn’t the primary focus), I do hope we seem return of major MegaTen elements in Persona 5.   Except with what Genei Ibunroku #FE basically is, I’m actually unsure about the future of Persona and MegaTen together.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Shin Megami Tensei: iOS or SNES?

Of course, what extended discussion about Shin Megami Tensei should start without the original game of the title? And by original, I mean the first of the Shin titles, which I consider to be the start of Atlus’s writer’s team passion project – the first Megami Tensei and its sequel were a result of Aya Nishitani’s novel trilogy, and while they provided the basework of what the series would become, Shin Megami Tensei is what started the franchise’s time in the spotlight, and essentially solidified the series as Atlus’s mainstay title.   Around the middle of 2014, Atlus USA decided to finally localize the game, a good 22 years after its initial release, although to the disappointment of many fans, they chose the iOS as their platform. One could argue that the game itself was perfect for a device like an iPhone or an iTouch – a lot of people owned an iOS device (and most of the people disappointed were Android users), for one. The iOS port was a combination of the GameBoy and PSX re-release, featuring assets from the former and music from the latter. Although the interface itself was fairly clunky, and the controls awkward, this version of the game featured enormous amounts of improvement over its previous iterations, such as less bugs, adjusted encounter rates, and new gameplay features to make the game more interesting.   If given the choice, I would pick the iOS version over the previous versions (most notably the SNES version) for several reasons, a lot of which have to do with the overall functionality of the SNES version and the Aeon Genesis English patch. While the SNES version I played was a ROM played on a SNES emulator, this is currently the only version other than the iOS release that can be played in English. And let me tell you that the SNES version of Shin Megami Tensei, alongside the Aeon Genesis English patch, is super glitch: the game also pushes you into one of a game-breaking bug if you want to do everything available (you lose out on ten to fifteen precious levels if you avoid these stuff). The encounter rate of the game is also beyond ridiculous – 3 waves of enemies every step you take, especially in some areas of the final part of the game.   You can imagine how frustrating the game can seem, and after I slogged through the game the first time, I never touched the SNES ROM again.   So what did the iOS version bring to the table? Well, let’s begin with the visual aspect. In the image below, what do you see?         Exactly: the SNES version of the opening area of the game on the left and the iOS version on the right. You can imagine that the more distinctive city look of the iOS world map is so much easier to navigate than the clumps of geometry that the SNES version is. The dungeons and towns also have updated walls, and the environment as a whole in the iOS version is simply much prettier to look at when compared to the vanilla game – a result of owning assets from the GameBoy remake of the same game.           In certain dungeons of the game, you will encounter “dark areas†– that is, the visibility is lowered in these areas by dimming the environment. That’s fine and dandy, except look at what the SNES version did for this aspect of dungeon crawling:         That’s right – it literally gave you gray pixels, so you CANNOT see where you’re going. You have to open up your map every step and use your compass to navigate through these areas. Often, these are also the areas with the worst encounter rates, making these areas a grind to get through. These are also the areas where the difficulty tends to spike, in part because of the poor navigation The iOS version made these areas much more bearable by adjusting the encounter rate (still somewhat high, but you’re not fighting every step against those damn Watchers) and making the actual environment visible.   Thank god.   In terms of combat, minus the encounter rate, nothing has been touched. I had a much easier time going through the iOS version mainly because I played the SNES version twice and more or less figured out the best strategy to beat the game:   Purchase the best guns available in each town, buy Nerve Bullets and Magic Shells when you can, set your Hero and Heroine to gun-mode, Law Hero is a mage, Chaos Hero is a sword-attacking tank, your demons are just there to do more damage during auto battles, and acquire the Kagutsuchi (the strongest sword in the game) as early as you can, meaning around the level 40 mark (I beat the iOS version at level 86). When you do acquire the Kagutsuchi, set the Hero to sword-only (he’ll be dealing like 900+ damage when the average demon’s health is between 300-700), keep the Heroine on gun-mode because Magic Shells can charm enemies and gun damage is determined by the gun’s damage value (not the strength stat, which you would never points for on the Heroine), and keep blitzing. If you encounter (specifically) a Girimehkala or a Rangda, set everyone to either gun damage or magic because those bastards reflect sword/physical damage.   Boss battles in this game are generally a joke – what makes the game challenging at first is the unintuitive dungeon design and the hordes of enemies out to get you. Usually, the most popular strategy to deal with bosses is to permastun them: lightning and ice spells can shock and freeze enemies respectively, although if they are immune to magic in general (not necessarily resist, you can still make the bosses lose turns even if they take reduced damage from those spells) this strategy will not work. This works for a majority of the bosses except for the ones way late into the game, in which it’s better to just spam Tarukaja until you max your physical damage stat and just blitz the boss.   Foolproof strategies for dungeon crawling and boss fights, and they don’t change between either versions of the game. MP as a resource is super scarce (can only be restored through Hiranya, which sold in the Shinjuku junk store although the amount it recovers is pitiful, and Soma, which are the rarest items in the game, but restore all health and MP), so it’s important to only use spells for healing when you can, and to really only use damage spells during boss fights. It’s much easier to put enemies to sleep with Nerve Bullets and/or charm them using Magic Shells than to spam spells.   The iOS version also introduces (it might’ve appeared in the PSX and/or GameBoy release, but I wouldn’t know) the magnetite resource outside of a bargaining tool during demon negotiations is now drained based on the CP (cost point, I think) of the demon – for every step, you lose a certain amount of magnetite. This mainly means that until you reach the halfway point of the game (Roppongi to be specific), you only want to have two demons out at most. This makes the game a little bit more interesting since you want to think about the most efficient way to use your magnetite. The good news is that the magnetite resource is not drained in the world map, so summon all your demons and have fun.   To summon a demon requires money – in the first few hours of the game, demons accept your yen, but upon a disastrous event, your money literally becomes worthless (except for when a NPC buys all your bills from you for a single transaction that I highly recommend you take) and the currency of the day is MegaTen’s Macca. Of course, before you even reach the next dungeon, you will be racking in tons of Macca, so there’s not much to worry about.   The iOS release also retains the A-MODE DDS from the other remakes, which is a viewing program that allows you to view entries and information of demons you have encountered throughout the journey, as well as listen to a sound-testing program upon completing the game for the first time. The main purpose of this function is for the Visionary program, which allows you to view special scenes that didn’t appear in the original game through certain key items you find throughout the journey (a lot of them are hidden and you have to go out of your way to get them, which includes backtracking since certain items become available after an event happens). These scenes explore more key events and really add to the story.   And let’s talk about the story for this game, shall we? A lot of reviewers praise the story, while others found that there was too little direction in how to progress the plot. For me, personally, I’ve played the game in two different versions, for a grand total of four times (I played law and neutral endings in iOS, since the iOS version didn’t have either of the two game-breaking bugs the law route had, while playing the chaos and neutral endings in SNES), and my take on the plot is that’s vanilla Shin Megami Tensei…literally.   That said, the story of this game has a fair bit of style that never showed itself again in future titles of the franchise – you can only destroy Tokyo so many times and not make it feel forced. Even with the minimal amounts of dialogue, the rampant amounts of destruction that may have involved ICBMs and a gigantic flood thirty years later after a nuclear apocalypse, and some worthless NPC dialogue (another staple of MegaTen!), the story here is actually fantastic.   It’s the origin of the Messian versus Gaean conflict that is so prevalent to the series – Law and Chaos as idealogies appeared in Megami Tensei II, if I remember correctly, but Shin Megami Tensei is the first to handle the conflict as the supreme focus of the game, and the series has more or less retained that angle since. The beauty of the story’s conflict lies in main cast of characters: taking our silent protagonist aside, we have Law Hero, Chaos Hero, Heroine, and Yuriko. In talking about the characters, we also have to compare the translations between Aeon Genesis’s fan translation of the SNES version and Atlus’s official translation for the iOS release.   With the sole exception of Chaos Hero, the two translations don’t make the characters differ too much in personality – I find the official translation for the iOS release a little bit more bland, although not as roughly translated as a few patches in the Aeon Genesis patch. Between all the translations I’ve read (Atlus’s, Aeon Genesis’s, Re-Miel’s, etc.), I think Aeon Genesis actually has the strongest translation, the one thing where the SNES version is superior to the iOS release.   You can already see the conclusion of this article, but regardless, we move forward. I must also mention that the following is spoiler-heavy, so I will put how I see the characters under this spoiler tag. Also, the following is a bit of a rant: you have been warned.     There’s not much else I can of to talk about. Minus some translation issues, the iOS release is so much superior to the SNES release. Playing the iOS version alone made me realize just how fantastic Shin Megami Tensei really is, whereas in the past I would’ve condemned the game for just being hell to play through. The extra content of the A-MODE DDS function made the story much more cohesive, and although directions were as vague as always (I got around due to my history with the game and franchise), I think this experience was very enjoyable.   Perhaps my biggest problem with the game was the lack of a compendium, which neither version featured. Demons had set skills and set levels, so you always had to get new demons through recruitment or fusing (recruitment is almost always better, except for when I got a level 69 Kali by fusing a level 33 Lamia and a level 17 Flaemis. Shit’s tight, man). Of course, on the other hand, even though money was much easier to attain in the iOS version (at least it felt like that for me), the equipment you would want to get is still expensive, so maybe having a compendium isn’t such a great idea after all.   I clocked around twenty-nine hours for my first run of the game, and that was doing absolutely everything I could for that specific route, minus gathering all the demons in the game. Also, Pascal is like the greatest companion ever, and I still wish for a Yuriko route.   Also, the ending theme for the game (in general) is fantastic. It makes the whole journey worth it. Take a listen, and enjoy! Next article is the first Persona article, so yay?  

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

The Need-To-Know on Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final was released earlier this month (to be specific, February 10th, 2016) in Japan. As of now, we have no news about any localization, which continues to grind away at my soul to this date. Unlike Shin Megami Tensei IV, they didn’t localize the game around the same time the game was being developed, which meant that we won’t be seeing this game anytime in the West during the month of March, to say the least. I could be wrong though, and I hope to be wrong.   I didn’t really touch on the story of Shin Megami Tensei IV in the last article because honestly, I can’t think of a really good way to do the whole thing justice in a short summary. The same can be said for Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final – the only thing that really matters is that it essentially reworks the entire neutral ending from the original game, with Final starting around three-quarters into the neutral route.   Our main protagonist, a fifteen-year-old boy named Nanashi, is brutally murdered by a demon in the beginning of the game. However, the catch is that almost immediately after Nanashi’s descent to the underworld, he is revived by the deity Dagda, who recreates Nanashi into his personal “God-killerâ€.   What was the price for being restored to life? Well, Nanashi is no longer human, as marked by those green markings on his face, and his new mission is to slay YHWH, whom Dagda wants revenge exacted upon for using his daguther, Brigid, into a cruel conclusion. If Shin Megami Tensei IV was a re-imagining of Shin Megami Tensei, than Final could be the re-imagining of Shin Megami Tensei II.   The MegaTen franchise is fairly infamous for its portrayal of YHWH as a tyrannical figure, and often times the main antagonist of the entire series. Hell, he’s the final boss of Megami Tensei II and Shin Megami Tensei II. Speaking as someone who was raised Christian, I’m definitely not offended of this depiction of God – the game’s universe established the “heavenly Father†to be more of a giant collective known as the Great Will. In a way, I am fairly pedantic about how I looked on the figure of God: I noticed that when explicitly named YHWH, we’re dealing with a tyrant, and often times, when the game simply refers to God as just that, “Godâ€, the being we’re talking about is often a bit more benevolent who values the autonomy of humans.   Of course, all of that was in case someone wanted to argue to me about it.       The game has already seen some controversy: a Hindu faith leader named Rajan Zed already attacked the game for its depiction of Lord Krishna (as shown in the image above). Of course, the attack was mainly about how Krishna was not portrayed as having blue skin and sporting that fedora – I could go on about the whole design history of Krishna that makes this point so interesting, but that’s probably going to be for another article.   We are introduced to a cast of new characters and the return of some old ones: Asahi, Gaston, Hallelujah, and Toki join Nanashi and Dagda as characters introduced in Final, whereas we see the return of Navarre, Nozomi, Isabeau, and Flynn (the protagonist of Shin Megami Tensei IV). The partner system was redone – although we still cannot control our partners in battle, we have the option of selecting which of the partner joins us in battle. The partners have their own levels and experience as well, and have varied damage types and supportive abilities that look to be incredibly useful.       Also new to the partner system is a meter located right above the partner’s health meter: if the gauge maxes out (at eight bars), the next enemy turn is interrupted, and the partners who have not joined you in battle will often heal and/or buff your team, as well as deal massive damage to the enemy during the course of the battle. Although not available in the beginning of the game, this function appears against the boss of the Fairy Forest dungeon (from what I saw and experienced, this function seems more useful against horde encounters).   The abilities of the partners also seem to be more varied – unlike Shin Megami Tensei IV, which features seven different partners (although two pairs of them have similar types of skills) but only allow three different partners to be traveling with you at once, Final has displayed that the partners have more specific skillsets. Asahi is shown to be focused more on healing spells, Navarre uses supportive buffing spells and attack items, Nozomi uses gun attacks that induces status effects, and Toki uses physical attacks that may even one-shot enemies. For the remaining three partners (Gaston, Hallelujah, and Isabeau), their abilities haven’t exactly been shown in the footage, although it can be assumed that Isabeau will probably retain her healing/thunder spell skillset from the previous title. It also has not been confirmed whether or not Flynn will be a partner as well.   Also re-done is the Smirk mechanic: this time around, Smirks are generally weaker, but appear in battle much more often. Your team will gain smirks if you land a surprise attack on an enemy in the field, deal damage to an enemy’s weakness or land a critical, nullify any sort of damage directed to you, and after you interrupt an enemy’s turn with your party members. However, Smirk does not raise your evasion rate to insane levels unlike Shin Megami Tensei IV, although they nullify weaknesses during the course of a Smirk. New skills have also been introduced in certain demons: bosses can use a skill to give themselves Smirk, but your demons can learn spells that remove Smirk as well.   Also new to Final is the change to the one-shot spells of Hama and Mudo. In previous titles, these Expel and Death spells have been capable of killing an enemy in one hit if you were lucky enough, but in Final, the one-shot effect only appears during Smirk. Otherwise, they are low-damage spells, although they will deal more damage if you land it on an enemy weakness. If Hama or Mudo is used during Smirk, and the enemy (excluding bosses) does not have any resistance to those spells, then the enemies are guaranteed to die.   The dungeon crawling aspect of the game has more obstacles: in Shin Megami Tensei IV, you simply had to cut down demonic walls on the side where the gem holding the wall together was located. In Final, alongside those walls, are new obstacles that can only be cut down by a sword given to Navarre during the events of the Fairy Forest dungeon. The sword can only be used if you have enough “spiritual energy†for Navarre to hold and wield the sword – there are gates that recharge this meter, but if you reach zero, you cannot destroy these walls.   There are changes to death as well – it would seem that Dagda is willing to just lecture you about your death and revive you for free, versus paying Charon to turn back the clock and be revived once more. Essentially, the death mechanics of the game are a lot less punishing in Final than in IV, although I’m not sure if it’s going to stay that way for the entire game.       The World Map has become cleaner than the previous game’s, and locations are remembered, making navigation a much more easier feat. A lot of the new demon designs from Shin Megami Tensei IV were also re-done as well: Napaea, Medusa, Odin, Merkabah, Sukuna-Hikona, and Lucifer are all examples of demons with their re-design cleaned up. All-in-all, the art on these demons improved immensely: in the case of Medusa, her appearance in Shin Megami Tensei IV was awful, but Final’s redesign retains the same concept, while making her look absolutely gorgeous. We also have a re-design for a rather iconic demon (and probably the strongest one in the game), although I will not specify which demon it is.   Last Sunday, my friend downloaded a rip of the Japanese release for Final, and I got to play through one of the beginning dungeons (the Fairy Forest). Although he speaks and reads Japanese while I don’t (I know Korean), I more or less was capable of getting the gist of what was going on inside the dungeon, and navigated myself to the boss of the area, the Tyrant King Frost. This game marks the first time in a long time the demon Tam Lin is not a special or unique fusion, instead an enemy that can be encountered and recruited on the field, and he proves especially useful against the King Frost boss battle, alongside Angel (who has the skill to remove smirk). I ended up using Nozomi as my partner for this battle, although I think in retrospect, Asahi would’ve been much more useful, since it was difficult to keep my healing up in the pace of the battle, and the status effects that Nozomi can induce did little against the King Frost.       How excited am I for Final? Incredibly excited, to the point where I check everyday in hopes for localization news. From what I see and played, I think this is the superior game to Shin Megami Tensei IV. The locations are more varied, and although the texture quality is still a little poor, the dungeons look much more interesting, and we have over a hundred new demons to fuse and recruit than compared to Shin Megami Tensei IV.   Other than the costume DLCs, I know of a DLC that allows you to fight and eventually fuse the demons Mephisto and Cleopatra, which is neat. There is also data in the game that allows you to challenge the most badass character of MegaTen, Stephen, although whether or not we will actually fight that magnificent expy of the scientist is still up to question. We also have data of characters named Hero, Aleph, and Hito-Shura, the three protagonists of the previous Shin Megami Tensei titles. Chances are that they are DLC bosses, and these are fights I am very excited for.   Outside of story spoilers and stuff, which I probably will not share here, this is more or less what we can expect from Final. The re-done gameplay is even better, the art design is improved, and hell, the soundtrack for this game is superior to Shin Megami Tensei IV’s. It’s incredible what this game is turning out to be.   The game’s opening week of sales were unfortunately half of what Shin Megami Tensei IV’s sales were in Japan, probably a result of the short marketing campaign of the game, but I remain optimistic for the future – I’m certain Atlus is aware of the hungry crowd waiting for Final and Persona 5, and will not disappoint them.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Shin Megami Tensei IV: The Greatest Entry in the Series, or the Worst?

Shin Megami Tensei IV was released in the middle of 2013 in Japan, with the North American release coming around a month afterwards. This was the franchise’s first steps into the current generation of console gaming, as well as being a good indicator that the likelihood of seeing another Shin Megami Tensei mainline game for the home console is growing less and less likely, which is fine.   The game makes fantastic use of the 3DS’s function – the 3D function is most comparable to how it looks when playing Fire Emblem: Awakening, the two screens complement the gameplay well, with commands and information regarding your party being displayed on the touch screen, while the opponents are displayed on the top screen in battle (in a field, the map is shown on the touch screen, with the actual area being displayed on the top screen). Every single button has a purpose, and even Play Coins are useful, given how you can pay Charon with either your in-game money or Play Coins to be revived after a disastrous battle.   The game was designed to be more beginner-friendly, and to a degree, the development team definitely succeeded. The Press-Turn Battle System, which was introduced in Nocturne, was fully realized in this installment with the addition of the Smirk mechanic – when a character deals damage targeting an opponent’s weakness, nullified a damage directed to them, or scored a critical hit, they would often get “Smirkâ€, which allows them to deal double damage next turn with their spell, potentially get a critical with a physical or a gun attack, as well as giving them stupidly high evasion, making the Smirked character essentially invincible until their next turn.   The result of adding this mechanic is that the battle goes by much faster, and alongside the fact that enemy resistances are recorded as you discover them, makes combat a lot easier to get into than previous titles. However, the nature of Smirk also makes this game feel like there is a heavy element of RNG in it, a major complaint for many who have decided to play through this game. It’s not rare to make a mistake and then get punished heavily for it because of smirk – the worst of it is when your partners, a fifth party member that you cannot control nor select during the game, uses a skill that especially screws you over by smirking the boss or horde of enemy.   Does the game punish you for seemingly no reason? Definitely. However, if you can get past maybe the first three or four hours of the game, you will have more or less mastered the concept of combat in this game, and then the rest of the game isn’t nearly as challenging, save for a few instances. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this was the easiest Shin Megami Title in the mainline series, but what made this game so stellar was that it remained fresh enough for any veteran of the series to pick it up and enjoy it as well.   Demon Fusion and Negotiation are at their strongest in this title – they are more varied personalities shared amongst the demons, and negotiations are easy to pick up and master. Fusion is more streamlined with more varied ways of fusion, as well as Special Fusions having their own option, as to view their recipe more handily. You are allowed to choose which skills the resulting demon from the fusion can inherit, even removing their base skills to be replaced by previous demon’s ability. This is most streamlined version of Demon Fusion, and with the fact that you can fuse anywhere you want, and fuse your demons anyway you would like, also makes this the version with the most freedom attached. This is undoubtedly the best demon fusion mechanic to date.   The dungeon and town experience is fairly standard – although a lot of areas have unique aesthetics to them, giving each location their own distinctive design, it could be said that the poor texture quality alongside the lack of fine attention to detail makes each dungeon feel somewhat boring and bland. In other words, it’s just what one would expect from a 3D dungeon crawler. However, the world map is messy and difficult to move around in – expect to get lost and frustrated often.   The 2D visual assets are excellent – the demons have never looked cleaner and sharper as they do in Shin Megami Tensei IV, and the character art alongside the cutscenes are presented excellently; visually, these are the greatest strengths of Shin Megami Tensei IV, and the voice acting is excellent regardless if you play the game in Japanese or English. The dialogue is also pretty interesting, although that could only be said about the major characters – the minor characters don’t have much to say, although they could be interesting in the context of the game’s setting versus the real world.   The music of the game is a departure from Shoji Meguro’s usual flair, instead handled by Ryota Koduka. While the soundtrack for this game is solid, with some very memorable tracks such as the World Map track and the main theme, there is little to no actual personality to some of the songs – in fact, although I might be alone in this, I would go as far as to say that the songs themselves are only memorable because you hear them so often. Certainly, we have no songs such as “ONE MORE GOD REJECTEDâ€, but it’s not a terrible soundtrack, by any means. It’s just not a special one.   The story of the game is decent – like Strange Journey, the plot is definitely more of an involved element, going away from the more minimalistic nature of the first three titles, which would give you scarce cutscenes and vague directions as to where to go. The pacing is incredibly poor, with slow build-up, and it could take a while before anything super exciting happens. Unless you’re heavily invested into the plot as a player, you may even forget what your original goals were, although it’s not too hard to become interested at the end of the day, especially with how they introduce this new world to explore.   The characters, like past titles, are more or less vehicles to drive the law, chaos, and neutral paths to you. Although the characters of Walter, Jonathan, and Isabeau have personality, one could argue that this is shaped by their core ideologies, in which Isabeau has almost none. In other words, they are a step back from Strange Journey’s Jimenez and Zelenin, who were fantastic major characters. Nonetheless, the voice acting and the numerous cutscenes that reveal more of these characters could be the saving grace for the main cast, as they are generally likeable.   However, what damages some of these characters even more is how the three ideologies of Chaos, Law, and Neutral is handled in this title – this is the most extreme renditions of all three routes, and unlike the previous titles, Neutral is undoubtedly the best route to go. This is a personal opinion and a potential spoiler, but I really just hate the Chaos and Law endings. They feel really worthless compared to the Neutral ending. Nonetheless, I actually think this is the strongest Neutral ending as a result, and I could appreciate this game for that.   The DLC model for this game can is pretty bad in my opinion, although that is subjective. In order to gain access to certain demon data in order to fuse them, you would need to buy the specific DLC packages. The aesthetic DLCs, which gives a very simple “fetch†errand for each piece, are easy to acquire, and three of them are free. They also look great, and have fantastic stats and resistances attached to them. In other words, the costume DLCs are good, because they are superior to in-game armors only because you had to pay money for it. That’s fine, it should always be like that.   The terrible model for the DLC begins to show in the five “expansion†DLCs, which are like 2 or 3 dollars apiece. On one hand, there is an expected order to play them, and they are scaled as such – you are expected to beat the Clipped Wings duology of four bosses total, then the Ultimate Law and Chaos Bosses, and finally the Ultimate Neutral Super Boss. They say these DLCs add to the story of the game, but it’s not worth buying one new cutscene – you really only buy these for the bosses and the fact that you can fuse said bosses when you beat them.   However, because of the expected order in which to beat the DLCs, you’re basically crippling yourself for the Ultimate Law Boss and Ultimate Chaos Boss fights if you haven’t fused any of the new demons you can get from the Clipped Wings DLC, and the Neutral Super Boss is downright impossible. You absolutely need the all types of Pierce skills from the Aeshma data you receive after beating both Clipped Wings DLC, and there’s virtually only one set-up that would net a victory from the Super Boss.   That said, there was really only one really good strategy to defeat Elizabeth in Persona 3, and the Super Boss isn’t any more difficult than she is, although the strategies to beat both of them require RNG.   So where does that leave Shin Megami Tensei IV? Was this the greatest Shin Megami Tensei title or the worst in the mainline games? Again, it all depends, but I would lean on it being the worst. A month ago, I would’ve said the original Shin Megami Tensei was worse, but I played the iOS re-release recently, and it was fantastic, much better than the glitchy mess the SNES version was.   Even if the first three titles of the Shin Megami Tensei mainline games had virtually no real plot and worse gameplay than Shin Megami Tensei IV, the core ideas of a conflict between law and chaos were handled too extremely, at the expense of everything else in the plot department. However, that doesn’t stop Shin Megami Tensei IV from being my favorite RPG (and game) on the 3DS, and the sixty hours I put on my first playthrough were very memorable. I still remember enough about the game to be able to tell a person where to go, what bosses and enemies to expect, and it’s been months since I last played the game.   So while this game is personally the worst in the mainline franchise, I adore it for what it is – an excellent entry for those looking to get into the main Shin Megami Tensei titles, and a very worthy addition to the handheld market. It innovated a great battle system and made it even better, although with some balancing issues. Some of the redesigns for the demons are downright awful, and others look fantastic. Hell, I like this game as much as I like Nocturne, which I consider to be the best in the franchise. Despite my objectiveness, love for a game can really take over.   As far as I know, within this community, only a certain cat and myself have played this game, although I’m starting to suspect more people have played this game, and I just never guessed it. It’s cheap, with a new copy of the game costing twenty dollars at best in North America, so you can convert that price to whatever country you live in (I think Australia only has it for digital sale). The direct sequel to the game, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final is my most hyped game this year – I am beyond excited for the localization, and will be discussing more about it in the next blog, which will probably come tomorrow.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Shin Megami Tensei Month!

So what is this thing I call Shin Megami Tensei month? Honestly, a lot of why I’m doing these blog posts is because I really don’t have much to put into my blog while I try writing the first part of the scenario for my game’s story. Sometimes, I like to ramble on a bit, and I guess a blog could serve to do that. Originally, I was considering making this series of topics into a bunch of videos, and maybe I might do that for some of them. However, despite what all the ladies I know have to say otherwise, I don’t think my voice is “sexy†or “smooth†– I think I’m probably alone in that, but the point is that I don’t want you guys to hear my voice yet. >/////<   Plus, I’ve always expressed myself better through writing.   I’m certain a good portion of you are familiar with the Persona series, more specifically Persona 3 and Persona 4 – in fact, many of you probably consider it to be one of your top jRPG experiences, and many more of you are interested. I’m sure a lot of you have seen the tag Shin Megami Tensei attached to it, which is mainly there because of Atlus’s decision to market the games as such when releasing them to the gamers of the West.   However, I do doubt most of you went any farther than that, which is fine – we’re not obligated to explore a franchise, that’s just something we should do by choice, and exploring Shin Megami Tensei was a choice that I didn’t really regret. I made a fairly incoherent blog post after finishing another run of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, and I suppose you could say that this project of mine is probably going to be an extension of that. The game that featured Dante from the Devil May Cry series was what started it all for me, although Persona 4 was what brought me back more into exploring what Atlus’s most popular franchise had to offer.   A short background on this franchise would be that Shin Megami Tensei is the third after Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in terms of popular jRPGs for the Japanese people. Of course, we got games like Youkai Watch challenging that notion, but this franchise has had a very long history in the gaming industry, especially when it comes to the mechanics of capturing monsters and using them as your own. This mechanic, of course, was made popular by the Pokemon titles, although they certainly weren’t the first to use it.   In fact, the first game in the entire MegaTen franchise, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei was released in 1987, versus the first Pokemon title, Red and Green, being released in 1996, nearly a decade later. Inspired by a series of books released by the author Aya Nishitani (these books aren’t very good, so unless you’re curious, I wouldn’t bother reading them) MegaTen often dealt with issues such as the scenarios of a world lacking free will versus a world where freedom was rampant, and often portrayed its various mythological figures in ways that certainly did not appeal to some. In fact, many people would say the franchise would come off as agnostic, although others would argue that the writing of the games were a result of being creative and establishing a universe that could be revisited multiple times.   My personal stance is that I really don’t care – while the plots of most MegaTen games could be considered decent, and often times fresh when compared to the trope-heavy stories of most other jRPGs, I for one don’t think too much about the overall writing of the plot. Some of these games don’t even have much of a plot to go with, depending on which route you usually try to play for: despite Nocturne doing an excellent job of keeping me interested with its world, I was most definitely not interested in its story. The closest thing that game had to a plot was in the True Demon Ending, and I would argue whether or not that was even a decent plot.   Of course, games like Digital Devil Saga had stories that I personally thought were fantastic, but the point is that even MegaTen is unable to escape its own tropes. When you become familiar enough with the series, you begin to expect certain story elements to appear once more, and if you even learned about the art/story direction for any future Shin Megami Tensei game, it’s not too difficult to see what kind of story we are to expect. I would probably consider than to be MegaTen’s greatest flaw, but in the greater scheme of things, that seems really minor.   The gameplay, for one, can be considered the best realization of a slower turn-based game – there are no action buttons, but logic and knowledge play a big part in winning battles. The designs of the demons are often hand-in-hand with their mythology, and one could even guess what a demon was weak too just by looking at them. If nothing else, Kazuma Kaneko’s demon and character designs have played such a large role in making this series what it is. Bless his soul, and may he frolic in a field of flowers forever.   Demon negotiation and fusion are the main staples of the game – being able to converse and persuade an opponent to lay down their arms has always been a focus in most Shin Megami Tensei games (there are exceptions, of course, with Digital Devil Saga, Persona, and Devil Survivor). In fact, Toby Fox once said that the conversation mechanics of Shin Megami Tensei was an inspiration for him when he decided to add conversations in his game Undertale, if that’s of any interest.   And demon fusion is beyond addicting, that deserves it’s own post.   Speaking of Undertale, I once heard a story where a girl once believed that Shin Megami Tensei was a spin-off of Undertale. I cried.   Anyways, for this series of blog posts, I will be talking about various topics regarding the franchise, because I want to discuss them, and also because I hope people in this community will take notice and try to visit these games themselves, hopefully beyond Persona 3 and Persona 4. The following is a list of what I will probably talk about, as of now, but if you want me to talk about something, let me know. I haven’t played all the Shin Megami Tensei games, but I have played a good portion of them, and have a good bit of knowledge about the ones I haven’t played.   Shin Megami Tensei IV – The Greatest Entry in the Series, or the Worst?: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1842-shin-megami-tensei-iv-the-greatest-entry-in-the-series-or-the-worst/ Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final – The Things to Know:http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1843-the-need-to-know-on-shin-megami-tensei-iv-final/ Shin Megami Tensei – iOS or SNES: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1845-shin-megami-tensei-ios-or-snes/ The Persona Project, with and without Tadashi Satomi: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1846-the-persona-project-with-and-without-tadashi-satomi/ Demon Design - Orpheus: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1847-demon-design-orpheus/ Demon Design - Izanagi: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1848-demon-design-izanagi/ Demon Design - Vulcunus/Maia and Apollo/Artemis: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1853-demon-design-vulcanusmaia-and-apolloartemis/ Demon Design - Seimen Kongou/Amon Ra/"Persona" Vishnu: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1854-demon-design-seimen-kongouamon-rapersona-vishnu/ The “traditional jRPG MegaTen experienceâ€, aka Digital Devil Saga: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1855-digital-devil-saga-the-traditional-jrpg-experience-for-megaten/ Demon Design: Varuna/Varnani: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1856-demon-design-varunavarnani/ Breaking Down Devil Survivor - Part One (Gameplay): http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1860-breaking-down-devil-survivor-part-one/ Breaking Down Devil Survivor - Part Two (Story/Characters/Music/Localization): http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1862-breaking-down-devil-survivor-part-two/ Genei Ibun Roku #FE - We Didn't Ask For This: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1863-genei-ibun-roku-fe-we-didnt-ask-for-this/ Demon Design - Jack Frost: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1873-demon-design-jack-frost/ Devil Summoner - A lighter-toned Shin Megami Tensei: http://www.rpgmakervxace.net/blog/465/entry-1885-devil-summoner-a-lighter-toned-shin-megami-tensei/ Demon Design - Cu Chulainn/Tam Lin: The Protagonists of MegaTen: Demon Design - Krishna: The Antagonists of MegaTen: Demon Design - Fiends: The Hall of SMT Fame: Demon Design - Masakado: Kazuma Kaneko - The Man Named Shin Megami Tensei: Demon Design - Vishnu: The Music of MegaTen – the unique style of Shoji Meguro and Ryota Koduka: Demon Design - Lilith: The Mechanics of Demon Fusion and Negotiation (or how to play the games in general): Demon Design - Pixie: The Animes of MegaTen - Yay or Nay: Demon Design - Lucifer: The Future of MegaTen:

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

Some Anime for You Guys to Watch

So while I was trying to decide what to put on this list, I came to realize that I watched so much anime in my lifetime that it was actually horrifying: I couldn’t think of many titles, so I ended up resorting going to MyAnimeList and just looking at their top rated anime of all time, and decide which one I agreed with. I convinced myself that this was okay because if a bunch of people gave these anime a generally high rating (at least 8/10), and I also thought it was okay, then there’s no harm in checking them out: especially if you recently got into the anime-viewing experience yourself recently.   So, not unlike my previous blog post, this one has no categories, but similar to that same blog post, the following isn’t listed in any particular order. I will mention that a lot of these are well-known anime to begin with. I will also add that although they are not listed in the following ten titles, I urge those who haven’t to at least watch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Neon Genesis Evangelion, One Punch Man, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Cowboy Bebop. The first is an example of a really good anime adaptation of a manga, and the second is a classic anime that showcases how messy anime stories can really get. The third is a more recent anime that, like the first, is a great adaptation of its source material, but it also shows how beautiful and exciting more recent anime have become. The fourth anime is an adaptation of a light novel that was handled very well, but is also a good way to expose yourself to Kyoto Animation’s style of anime, since they are a fairly big name in the industry with anime like K-On! and Free, and the last is a rather tragic story that will probably persist for as long as anime exists.   I won’t include anime like Death Note, Monogatari, Shingeki no Kyojin, and Sword Art Online either. What I will do is explain why I didn’t include any of those: Death Note, while being a good anime, is the definition of overrated, much like how I see anime like Psycho-Pass. The Monogatari series is wonderful, really fun to watch, and I’m probably going to go see Kizumonogatari when it shows here in a couple of weeks – the money I spent on the ticket is all for the free merchandise. Shingeki no Kyojin is fun to watch, and I’d say go check that out as well; like Monogatari, I think it’s been too popular recently, so there’s no reason to put it here. As for Sword Art Online, which has been one of the biggest anime in the industry, I’ll just admit: I hate the anime. I really do hate it. After maybe the first five episodes, it got really boring for me, I think Kirito is an awful character, I think the rest of the characters got handled distastefully because of how the writers wanted to showcase Kirito, and I also think the concept of Yui is just stupid. That said, it’s really popular for a reason, I just couldn’t come to agree with it at the end of the day.   And without further ado:                 So a little bit more about how I like to decide my opinions: I often take my time and decide my final opinion after I experience as much of something as I could before I pick "like" or "dislike". For example, I dislike Sword Art Online, but that was after watching every single episode of the anime and reading all volumes of the light novel to volume 8. I like Kara no Kyoukai, but that was after watching all seven movies, the epilogue movie, and reading the novels. So, at least when I make lists like these, I want to have more of an informed opinion, but it's ultimately just that, an informed opinion.   So I don't promise these anime to be god-tier or anything, but just something to check out.

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Yuugami

 

Just Some Amateur VN...Thing

I’ve played a few visual novels to their entireties – in fact, the phrase I would use to describe myself in the medium of visual novels is “almost balls deepâ€. I haven’t branched too much outside of the typical VN experience, a standard that I would probably set at a work from Type-Moon or Nitroplus.   I suppose the most “out-there†games in this area I’ve played were Captive Market, a visual novel that brought in a fairly well-known hentai artist who goes by the name of ShinDol, and the first MonMusu Quest, a trilogy of hentai games which has some role-playing elements to them. If you’re familiar with Ken Ashcorp, he made a song called “Touch Fluffy Tailâ€, a real piece of work that was indeed inspired by those kawaii monster musume who wants to get straight with the most real shouta out there.   Hell, I even read a bit of Togainu no Chi, which would’ve been a pretty metal VN if it wasn’t yaoi. And those men-on-men visuals were so rough to watch that I almost had to wonder if fujoshis were into sadomasochism as well. If you’re into yaoi though, I guess you can go check that one out.   So yeah, not very out there, if we’re judging by how fucked up some of these games could get. However, I think also makes me a little bit more objective in rating these games – trading in expertise and experience in a genre for just a little bit more of an unbiased opinion is like selling my soul to the motherfucking devil, but I digress.   However, anime is becoming a little more popular for the residents of the internet, or at least I’d like to think so. Visual novels are unfortunately a part of that trifecta of things out there to corrupt our poor and innocent souls. Of course, that means that there should be some gateway visual novels, right? You are fucking correct, good sirs and madams.   So what recommendations do I have for the general audience? Well, rather than make a numbered list, I’ll just give one title for a category, I suppose. Just note that I’m going to be listing more popular titles, only because those are fairly easy to acquire, and almost guaranteed to have an English patch.   And here we go, starting with…   THE ENGLISH VISUAL NOVEL EXPERIENCE   Katawa Shoujo, upon release, saw quite a bit of downloads and also achieved a high level of meme status. One of my good friends also had a part in making this dream project of the internet come to being, even though his contributions must’ve meant absolutely nothing to the final project. I’m sure plenty of you guys are familiar with Kenji Potter, Drill-Hair Misha, and the infamous Hanako.   I, for one, think of this visual novel like I think of Undertale: good, but nothing special, and certainly nothing I haven’t seen before. My heart wasn’t wrenched, and no emotions were triggered as I silently clicked away through all the dialogue and the pictures, hoping for something exciting to happen. That said, I still consider Katawa Shoujo to be the defining experience of an original English language visual novel, and for what it’s worth, Katawa Shoujo tells the story it wanted to, something that a lot of visual novels kind of fail to do in exchange for tons of gratuitous sex scenes.   You won’t see me complaining too much though.   And next on our list!   THE VISUAL NOVEL EVERYONE KNOWS ABOUT   Fate/Stay Night is incredibly easy to find online, and even if you don’t want to grab a download of the game, there are plenty of LPs (most of them safe for work) and other contents to enjoy the original story of Fate/Stay Night.   No, like really, after the colossal success of Fate/Zero, I’d be kind of surprised if there wasn’t anyone who was into anime that didn’t at least hear of the Fate franchise in any capacity. Now, is the visual novel good? Depends on your capacity for patience. Some parts of the story can feel incredibly slow, and sometimes the exciting parts can seem to go too fast, but my god are the exciting parts a good testimony of how to draw you in with stills.   Just as a side note, I wouldn’t watch any of the Studio DEEN adaptations for Fate, because one, they’re awful – although certainly filled with some great memes – but also because they fail to give a lot of important scenes any real integrity. Hell, Shirou Emiya can come off as just being an annoying dumbass in DEEN’s adaptation. I’m pretty convinced the guys writing the script just hated Shirou.   And speaking of writing, Nasu’s writing can sometimes be just as infuriating to experience. He falls into the same category I would give J.R.R. Tolkien – a terrific, even excellent storyteller, but an awful narrator. These guys build up some amazing worlds, but unlike Tolkien, Nasu takes a step further in the wrong direction and even retcons these complex rules for his own convenience.   The good thing is that he’s the author, so he has every right to do that – but unlike what Araki did when he introduced the origins of the Stands in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable, these retcons fail to add anything to Nasu’s universe, and then you’re left questioning whether or not Nasu likes to get high off of cans and cans of gas duster.   Do I hate Fate/Stay Night? Hell no, I love it, but don’t take the words of people who keep on spouting about how much better the visual novel is then any of the adaptations – that’s just an elitist mindset, and nothing more. While I personally am 50/50 about which medium to best experience Fate, you should definitely decide that for yourself after giving this title a go.   And to bring out another Type-Moon title…   THE ULTIMATE GATEWAY VISUAL NOVEL   It’s old, it’s dated, it’s motherfucking Tsukihime. However, it’s also an incredibly easy visual novel to acquire and even easier to install. So what is there to say about this game? Well, the first thing I should probably mention is that this game isn’t a professional game by any means. It has its humble origins in the form of free floppy disks being given out during the Winter Comikets of the late 1990’s. In the year of 2000, Tsukihime received its first official release.   So yes, this game was basically the visual novel version of a doujinshi. A mere amateur circle began this title, and look at the legacy it has wrought – it’s almost criminal that this never got the anime it deserved, because Lunar Legends most certainly does not exist (maybe the soundtrack does though).   However, for many people, and my young teenage self, this was the visual novel that started it all for me. And just to make a note – if I could install this nearly a decade ago, you most certainly could.   You could imagine that I had the most eye-opening experience with this title. I would even say that this game got me more into the idea of role-playing than Final Fantasy ever could – it wasn’t just about the visuals, it was about seeing the endings that would come around because of my decisions, and seeing the impact of my consequences. It wasn’t about playing through a narrative, but about seeing a story change right in front of me, and I felt in control of this game.   I have so much love for this title as a whole, to the point where it even impacted my life at some point – people I knew gave me the nickname of “Shiki†because of my resemblance to the protagonist of this VN (although I’ve grown to look different, AND his looks are fairly common anyways).   Within the Type-Moon universe, I’d still say that Kara no Kyoukai is my favorite story out of all them – the irony is that specific title is a series of novels, not a visual novel. Perhaps I actually dislike visual novels after all?   Really though, Tsukihime is definitely a dated product, and I wouldn’t say it aged very well – most visual novels can’t age incredibly well, especially if the work wasn’t professionally done. That said, it’s easy to find, easy to install, and there is a remake of the game in the works, with a team of professionals at the helm. Oh, Type-Moon, how much you have grown.   That said, I have no idea when that remake is coming out, so I wouldn’t wait.   And onto the fourth title…     THE SHORT VISUAL NOVEL EXPERIENCE   I am going to place Nitroplus’s Hanachirasu on this part, because this game is almost a staple of the “dark and edgy†kingdom of visual novels – or at least it was to me. First thing to mention about this title is that for a visual novel, a commercial one at that, it’s really short. Just to get through the entire thing shouldn’t really take more than ten hours, while the other titles are easily four or five times longer to play in their entireties.   Another thing about this visual novel is that it completely kicks Joseph Campbell’s monomyth formula right in the fucking balls. There are no heroes, there is no adventure, and there is no grand transformation for anyone in the story. The characters that come close to fitting that template just end up for the worst, and you really feel like the writer just hates humanity.   That said, the main character Akane is the literal definition of a villain, but he is a fucking awesome villain – he has no grand ideal he wishes to bring about. He’s no Joker, who could be seen as a force of chaos in himself; rather, Akane is selfish, lacks empathy, but his struggles are surprisingly human. Mind you, just going through his story, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him. One, he was really cool, and two…well, he’s just fucking cool. You take the Vegeta meter and crank it up to eleven, while making sure he’s pretty, and you got Akane.   The story for Hanachirasu is nothing special. It’s actually kind of forgettable, but Akane most definitely is not, especially if he’s the first exposure you end up having to those sorts of main characters. As a side note, his character archetype isn’t super uncommon in the visual novel medium. Actually, this game is pretty much just a staple visual novel.   No, seriously, why did I even put this on my list…? Oh, right, it was a list filled with VNs that the average person can enjoy. Moving on.   THE VISUAL NOVEL THAT GETS PEOPLE TO SOB   I guess I’ll put Akabeisoft2’s G Senjou no Maou in this list. This visual novel is interesting! It does grip you, and hold you tight the whole way through, but it suffers from an awful fatal flaw, and mind you, this is probably my personal opinion: every route and ending except for the true ending is fucking stupid, and not worth any time to get through. I cannot bring myself to like any of those endings, but the true ending of the game is awesome.   Like, it really is awesome, and that insert of the game’s original song “Close Your Eyes†makes it even better. The story does feature another villain-like protagonist, although he is nothing like Akane – if anything, he is inherently a good person, or at least have the capacity to achieve as such.   And that builds up the game’s flaw even more – if you really want to get the most out of this title, you better look up a guide to get those choices leading you to the best ending. That said, I can’t even remember if you needed to unlock those other endings first before you’re placed in the true ending, although it wouldn’t surprise me much if that was the case: I can’t possibly fathom how I sat through those other endings without trying to figure out how to get my character in bed with Haru.   So why didn’t I put titles like Key’s Clannad or Little Busters in this category? Quite frankly, that would just be too easy. To top it off, those stories are not quite as action packed as the story of G Senjou no Maou. Another, totally important reason is because of the title – like, Clannad? Little Busters? Those titles are cute, and reflect what the stories could be, but G Senjou no Maou literally translates to “The Devil on G-Stringâ€. That’s fucking metal.   I guess another thing about this game is the soundtrack – a lot of the game’s music are remixes of classical music, and it does complement the game. Like, Tchaikovsky’s Slavonic March is the theme song of a Yakuza boss, and Schubert’s Erlkonig is the theme of the main antagonist, Maou. They really fit the game, to say the least.   TO CONCLUDE   I suppose I’ll mention a few other titles. A title you could consider looking into is Kara no Shoujo, a mystery visual novel that I really, really like. It was also one of the last visual novels I played in recent history – a few years ago, I think. Another title would be something like Kikokugai – The Cyber Slayer. I’m not really going to comment on a lot of that particular title’s adult content, but it is a wuxia-type visual novel, which is kind of cool.   I’ve never played Hatoful Boyfriend, so I won’t make a comment on that, but people seem to have enjoyed that one. I guess pigeons and other birds can be appealing to some people, because as far as I know, you almost never see the pretty boy visuals. Like, I'm totally down to virtually sleep with some cyber and fictitious hot men, but I can't say the same for 2D pigeons.   And I guess that’s really it. I haven’t played too much visual novels recently, mainly because of my Mac. And if they ever released Steins;Gate in English, someone let me know, please?

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

A blog entry after nearly a year! Topic and title inside!

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne…or how I made a pretty powerful “heroâ€.   I don’t really think it’s too much of a secret of how much I adore the Shin Megami Tensei series. My love for the series doesn’t really stem much for anything mechanical from the franchise – while Shin Megami Tensei, Persona, Devil Summoner, etc. offered some pretty unique mechanics in its combat and field gameplay, I wouldn’t call it anything super stellar or legendary. The Press Turn battle system that was most prevalent in Nocturne, IV, and both Digital Devil Saga games is definitely a turn-based battle system that I love, because of how simple it is to grasp and how much depth of strategy it can offer, especially in random encounters. However, ultimately it’s a turn-based battle system, and I wouldn’t call it the main trademark of the game.   My history with this particular title of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise isn’t a super interesting story, but it does paint the sort of person I was growing up. I didn’t really get money from parents too often, and it didn’t help that when I entered middle school, I really got in jRPGs – the length and the epic scales of the games really drew me in, and I developed the only method for me to try and play as many as I could: I traded games, whether it was from the local game store or with people I knew. As such, I never really kept most of the games that I even enjoyed until much more recently, where I actually have money I can just spend on games.   However, because of this, I had the opportunity to play A LOT of jRPG and horror game titles, and some memorable ones that come to mind are Rule of Rose, Shadow Hearts: Covenant, Skies of Arcadia, and of course, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. From what I remember about playing this game back then, I got the True Demon Ending during my second cycle – the first ending was Musubi, I think. YEAH, I was a moody, edgy, and totally cool twelve-year-old who liked to be alone. Eventually, Nocturne was also traded in, and I didn’t really explore too much of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise until I got to play Persona 4 a few years later – courtesy of a senior of mine in high school, who was kind enough to loan me her copy for a few months.   Anyways, as I type this, I realize that I’m mainly writing this because after beating the final boss of this title, all the thoughts I’ve collected over the weeks suddenly exploded. The NPC dialogue and overall exposition of this game is nothing impressive, but fuck if Nocturne didn’t deliver the dialogue in such sparse and yet appropriate moments. Even if I understood the mystery of the Conception long before I played this game again, I was still drawn in, wanting to learn more, to see what I actually missed.   A somewhat big complaint for many people in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise is how bullshit the boss fights could be. Especially in the titles that uses the Press Turn System (I speak mainly for Nocturne and IV, because Digital Devil Saga is arguably a pretty easy set of games). Shin Megami Tensei IV had the Minotaur, and Nocturne had the Matador. The Matador as a boss was interesting, because it taught players what to expect in the future – that buffs and debuffs, whilst not super useful in other jRPG titles, can make or break the boss fight, and that the game was going to throw curveballs at you.   Honestly, I remembered the Matador battle well, even though it’s been nearly a decade since I last fought him. Some opponents never really disappeared from view even after you defeated them, so I prepared. I bought the magatama (which function as spellbooks/equipment in this game) that I needed for the battle, and fused the right demon (Uzume), and then I went in to battle the son of a bitch. I expected to take a few tries, but surprisingly, I defeated the Matador on my first try this time around. I was really happy – Matador was the first boss in a string of opponents of what people considered to be the toughest battles in the game, known as the Fiends, and then I made a goal for myself.   I wouldn’t lose to a single Fiend, and I wouldn’t die once. I prepared accordingly, and hunted those bastards down as I trekked through Tokyo. I’ve had a few game overs, mainly because I was stupid and attacked a boss that would reflect my super-charged attack back at me and therefore one-shot me (I pressed the auto button, and it was too late). That said, not once did I lose to a Fiend, and soon I began to entertain the idea of not beating the game, but conquering the game. I would complete everything the game had to offer me, and when I reached the ending of the journey, I would fucking obliterate the final boss.   To say the least, it’s pretty obscene for my character to do 11612 damage to the final boss when most demons would deal around 200-400 damage with their best abilities on an enemy in a random encounter. Needless to say, the final boss didn’t take too long, and I beat the game in about 70 hours. And it felt good.   Nocturne has some unique things going about it – a lot of people who made videos on this game often compare the setting and theme to that of other jRPGs. A fantasy jRPG like, say, Chrono Trigger and/or Breath of Fire IV, would deal with the themes of friendship, of the righteous defeating the villainous, and ultimately saving the world – although sacrifice is always prevalent.   Nuh-uh, this isn’t happening in Nocturne because the world ends in approximately twenty minutes after you start the game, and the city of Tokyo rounds itself up into a gigantic egg with a gigantic, bright light hanging in the center of this “eggâ€. Your friends are your worst enemies, and the only person who never betrays nor deceives you, and honestly cares for you in this demon-infested world, is the woman who arguably brought you into this mess in the whole place. Pretty different from your typical jRPG, that’s for sure.   While the setting is pretty unique, and the philosophical themes are interesting (if you spend the time to understand the schools of thought behind each one), Nocturne suffers from a real lack of a clear story – it’s often considered minimalistic, but because Nocturne still shares traits of a linearity commonly seen in jRPGs to begin with, it can come off as missing direction. A lot of the characters are often just vehicles for the philosophical themes to be shared to the player, and their personalities are shaped around that, not making them incredibly likeable to begin with.   So, Nocturne lacks a lot in the story element – it definitely will not appeal for everyone. The gameplay is incredibly solid, but it’s just that – solid, not stellar. The music is pretty cool, but honestly, in a lot of jRPGs, the tracks are pretty amazing in general, and it’s really hard to make a case where Nocturne really stands out as a title, even in the music department.   So why the fuck do I love this game so much, to the point that I was willing to spend my time trying to complete everything I possibly could, and make myself super powerful by the end of the game?   I think because the inherent selfishness of the game drew me in – unlike other RPGs, Japanese or Western, it struck me that the protagonist reminded me of one other figure in gaming. If you ever heard of Level-5’s White Knight Chronicles, playing that game was just an average experience. White Knight Chronicles was so unbelievably average in the elements that mattered, but it had one redeeming factor: the avatar character you’re allowed to make.   The avatar character of White Knight Chronicles has little role in the story – he/she has no reason for taking part in this adventure, other than the fact that he/she wants to help his/her companions, for literally no selfish reason. And everyone else refuses to even glance at the avatar for most of the story in both of those games! However, if you did certain side quests, the avatar would become the unsung hero of the story, capable of doing what no one else was capable of doing. Considering he/she used to be just a simple villager, to arguably the greatest hero in the entire setting, with unselfish motives and power that was not given to him/her, but gained through hard work – well, that stands as the uniqueness of an otherwise average jRPG experience.   The protagonist of Nocturne, the Demi-Fiend, is a lot like the avatar. The idea of the Conception in Nocturne is that a human, not a demon, would survive the initial purging of humanity, and develop an ideology (Kotowari, or Reason) as to how the new, reborn world should be. Out of three ideas, one wished for a world of silence, another wished for a world of isolation, and the last wished for a world where only the mighty reigns supreme. The Demi-Fiend, who was formerly human, was transformed into a demon because of a certain figure’s nefarious plans, and therefore lost the right to creation.   Must be a pretty stinging feeling, I would think.   The Demi-Fiend, while prophesied in the setting’s Scripture of Miroku, ultimately held no rights to take part in the purpose of the Conception. He would just wander, being manipulated by everyone around him to do their shit and be the pansy, and that made me decide that there was only one path to take – become the strongest protagonist in jRPG history, and make sure that nothing in this “difficult†game could stand in my path.   And the end result was that I beat the final boss in half the time it should’ve taken me.   Anyways, I guess I’ll share some more real gameplay material in a future post or something, I only wanted to get this out of my system. I’ll be honest where I say it’s difficult for me to do absolutely everything in a game – getting that platinum trophy for my PSN account is such a grind, but I think outside of getting all six endings of Nocturne, I pretty much did the platinum requirements.   I’m pretty proud of that.

Yuugami

Yuugami

 

I swear I won't post so often after this one ;~;

"Fear not, my crestfallen comrades!"   So, as some of you might know, I have started up a youtube channel for long plays - with my "expressive" and quality annotations to give the videos a little bit more personality - and I decided to mainly have a focus on GameBoy Advance and Super Nintendo titles. Why, do you ask? Because those are the only emulators that don't require me to configure, and they also won't take up too much space on my computer for every ROM I download. Hopefully this changes in the future, but don't count on it.   Anyways, I spent a little quality time (pfft, like five minutes) thinking about I was going to present my videos, and to some degree, I kinda wished to involve some of you people here, depending on the game. I figured I'd share what titles I think I'll be posting a series of, as well as an explanation on the purpose of this post further down after this list.   1. Games that I will be doing specifically Long Plays of (this means I will also not be editing out footage, more or so likely): - Shin Megami Tensei (SNES) - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA) - Summon Night: Swordcraft Story (GBA) - Shadowrun (SNES) - Chrono Trigger (SNES) - Lufia II: The Rise of the Sinistrals (SNES) - Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)   2. Games that will probably be seeing more montages of (chances are, I'd be voicing these as well): - MegaMan Battle Network (GBA) - Metroid: Fusion (GBA) - Shining Soul II (GBA) - Mario vs. Donkey Kong (GBA) - Lufia & The Fortress of Doom (SNES)   3. Games that I will do Long Plays of, except I'd like to use you guys as characters, somehow: - Tactics Ogre: The Knights of Lodis (GBA) - Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team (GBA) - Eye of the Beholder (SNES)   So yeah, if you're interested in being my sla- I mean, a character in the adventure I will play through, let me know in the comments below! Normally, I wouldn't ask you people for permission, but what the hell, I want more dedicated traffic. =3

Yuugami

Yuugami

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