Archive for Games

Persona 5 is the JRPG we’ve been waiting for

Persona 5 has disgusting portrayals of gay men, and gross camera shots of female characters for fanservice. These aspects (especially the former) I won’t forgive. However, they weren’t enough for me to give up on Persona 5. The work it does in reestablishing what JRPGs can do is, to me, moving. The graphics, the gameplay, and everything that is included in the game justifies the release date delays. It was all worth it. It’s beautiful, it plays well, and most importantly to me: it establishes itself as a part of the larger Persona/SMT canon.

The troubles surrounding the translation is undeniable, and has been talked about at length in game journalism, so I don’t think there’s more I can offer to the conversation. For the sake of sparing spoilers to anyone, here’s a quick rundown:

Bad:

  • Localisation
  • Homophobia
  • Fanservice exploiting the female characters
  • Endless material made to pander to every (straight male) gamer’s fetish

Good:

  • Dungeons each have a unique design to enhance the narrative
  • UI is beautiful, battles are fun and slick
  • Enhances features that characterized the past two Persona games (school days timeline, stat generation)
  • The narrative design and plot arc structure is very good
  • Futaba’s mental illness is dealt with sympathetically and that is incredible

Persona 5 has a finely fabricated mystery. Character’s arcs, plot developments, and major reveals are telegraphed well enough that you can see them coming, but they build suspense. It isn’t perfect, which I believe are caused by how many storylines they juggle at once and the different ways the player might handle them. I don’t feel like I can fault the dev team for that. Writing games is hard.

Persona 5 makes me excited to see where the future of JRPGs is going to go. Anyone who loves RPGs or games should play it, even if you haven’t seen the series before. I feel like it understand what was created here would be an asset in a developer’s arsenal for the future.

As said above, the most I got out of the game was seeing it tie into the lore of it’s predecessors, specifically into the concepts of Persona 2. Although the allusions were vague, I believe the relation was deliberate. I hope to write a post on that in a year, when I don’t have to worry about spoiling anyone.

Persona 5 has been in development for years, but the themes of rebellion and breaking the shackles of society’s expectations appears to be globally relevant. Older SMT fans might be able to turn to Persona 5 to understand the feelings of today’s youth, while millennials like myself may be touched by the sense of worldwide solidarity, like I was. In the end, all we can do is inherit the earth, make it ours, and make it right.

NieR:Automata – Games, Novels, and Divine Evolution

In recent years, Yoko Taro has grown from a small Japanese developer, to an auteur who I believe will be making waves alongside Hideo Kojima and Suda51 before long. NieR: Automata is his biggest hit to date, and rather emblematic of what Taro-san does when it comes to game and narrative design. NieR games pull in elements from many genres in order to create a game that says things about all games. In this post I’m going to talk a little about this gameplay mosiac and how it works, and the story themes about evolution to godhood in a story about AI.

 

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The Mental Illness Story We Deserve – Night in the Woods

Oh my goodness Night in the Woods was really something.

Night in the Woods is a simple story game and almost-platformer about Mae Borovski when she comes home after quitting college. She returns to her childhood home of Possum Springs, to the place and the people she’d left behind. Why did she quit school? Why is everyone so hostile toward her? Why does she have dreams of giant animals in the woods?

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I liked Oxenfree too much to have anything to say on it.

Usually when I have a lot to write about a game or whatever I’m reviewing, it’s because some aspect of it either blew my mind or disappointed me. People are interested in what I have to say after I played Oxenfree, but it’s hard because Oxenfree is a very solid, respectable game. I recommend it to people looking for a small, good story, but that’s about all I’ve got.

I loved the characters. I love their interactions. I loved the effects of the dialogue on events. Oxenfree was a linear story with relationships that changed. All of the characters were frustrating teenage brats. It was wonderful.

I feel a little strange writing a review of a game without having a pedestal and a pointing stick to outline every little thing in it that blew my mind, or I hated. Oxenfree effectively used established expectations in games to create something good. It’s a solid story that used its mechanics in an interesting way. It’s a good way to show simply how these things can all be harnessed and used well.

However, it didn’t do anything that I believed was revolutionary. And while that may sound like an insult, I don’t mean it as one. Not every single game needs to revolutionize anything. I will play and enjoy every single Telltale Game, regardless of whether or not it gives me something new. Oxenfree is a good game, and that’s just fine. Give me more of this sort of ghost story. Give me more light interaction games. Give me more.

Play Oxenfree for a good ghost story with meaty characters. Enjoy it for that. And please, Night School, give me more.

4/5, highly recommended to people who like things that are good.

Leisure and Suspence Don’t Mix – √Letter

Root Letter by Kadokawa Games is a game that sparked my interest after I saw ads for it on twitter. It is one of few visual novel mystery games that has an official localization, which excites me. As you probably know by now, I love a good story, and I’m interested in visual novels as an art form. So, I contacted the PQube marketing department and asked for a review copy (thank you very much!).

So far I am 2 for 2 out of games I’ve requested for review that I haven’t liked and I feel really terrible about it. So I’m going to try to keep this brief.

Anime Tourism

There is a mystery visual novel game localized as Higurashi When They Cry (ひぐらしのなく頃に / When the Cicadas Cry). It was a big hit in Japan and adapted into an anime, which you’re more likely to know about. Higurashi takes place in a sleepy village in the countryside called Hinamizawa. Higurashi is a mystery/horror story, and so the things that happen in Hinamizawa are pretty terrible. Higurashi turns this little village in the country into an eerie, and sinister place. Regardless of that, the town that Hinamizawa was based on – Shirakawa-go – receives many tourists.

Anime tourism is real and if you ever thought to yourself “I would love to spend my money on a game that makes me want to visit somewhere in real life to spend more money”, you might be interested in Root Letter. The game takes place in Matsue, and I suspect there was some funding by the Shimane tourism board that made that happen. This sort of… ‘product placement’ or whatever isn’t something that I usually let bother me, except when it causes other elements to suffer.

Leisure and Suspence Don’t Mix

The plot of Root Letter is the story of a guy who finds a letter by his old penpal where she confesses she was involved in a murder, so you go to Shimane to look into it. The stakes are high, and there’s no way to know if your old penpal is even alive. Is she dead? Did she kill someone? Would you like to take a leisurely boat ride to tour Lake Shinji? YES let’s have a lovely stroll while we contemplate a possible murder. You have no choice in the matter.

Higurashi has a story to tell that uses its setting to the fullest, crafting an atmosphere that makes even a sunny countryside feel dangerous. It sets up the right conventions of mystery and horror that causes Silent Hill fans to feel a thrill when going down a foggy street.

Root Letter is far too preoccupied with painting Matsue in a beautiful light to use the setting to build any suspence. The mystery is entirely carried on the shoulders of the characters involved. Once you encounter someone who you need to question about your penpal, you’ve had such a lovely day around town that it’s easy to forget what the hell you were doing. Or, in my case, you’re so bored of not doing mystery stuff that you go back to bed.

There’s a way to make a story that uses it’s environment, and Root Letter is trying so hard to overcompensate and make you want to visit Matsue, that it tarnishes overall experience.

If you want to read a good mystery that takes advantage of it’s setting, just read Higurashi.

Firewatch: 6 Times Delilah Ran

I’ve been catching up on my games from 2016 before I go to GDC at the end of February. I just got through Firewatch which ran on my sad laptop at about 4fps, but I pushed through for Delilah. I’d do it again for Delilah.

Firewatch is played from the perspective of Henry, a 40-something married man whose wife is wasting away with early-onset Alzheimer’s. He takes a job in a park in Colorado where he is stationed in a tower on the lookout for forest fires. His only company is a voice on the radio – his supervisor, Delilah.

This is not a review. I assume most of you who are more on the ball than me have already played it. I’m just going to talk about Delilah’s character arc and motivations, so beware of spoilers below.

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Please Play LISA

So I lost my life this week to LISA. It is my very favorite thing when this happens to me when I play a game. I don’t think I’d heard about it before this week, so I purchased it when it was on sale.

If you follow me and you agree with my opinions on stuff, please play LISA. It’s about toxic masculinity, sexual abuse and drug abuse in the post-apocalypse. It’ll take about 12 hours of your time, not including the very important DLC: LISA the joyful. You’ll laugh a lot. You’ll cry a lot. You’ll pay the price for trying to protect the last woman alive.

What is LISA?

Okay here’s the story:

The apocalypse happened. It was an event they refer to as “The Flash”. The main character, Brad, survives around his small squad of childhood friends. He finds a child – a girl, possibly the last girl alive – and swears that he will take care of her to make up for past mistakes.

They do their best to raise her, but the girl – Buddy – is curious and anxious being kept contained. In time, their home is attacked and she’s taken away. Brad then does what any father would do a la Taken except in the rapey post-apocalypse: he goes to find her.

How does it play?

LISA is like a side-scrolling RPG platformer. There are jump/movement mechanics that often make zones into tiny puzzles themselves. The battle system is reminiscent of Earthbound, but with a lot of unique elements like combo mechanics.

One of LISA’s heavily marketed features is perma-death. The post-apocalypse is a terrible place where you have to pay the price. Characters are knocked out when their HP reaches zero in battle, but other situations will get them killed for good. Certain special moves will take them out permanently, but most of the time it’s scripted events that put your treasured NPC’s lives at risk.

NPC ally death doesn’t have story repercussions, aside from leaving you to level up new randos that you might not like as much. Save often.

Spoiler-Free Praise

LISA is inspired by the P.D. James novel Children of Men. (The movie is pretty good too, if you’re interested.) It takes the concept of low-fertility dystopia from A Handmaid’s Tale and looks at it from a separate perspective – the men’s perspective. LISA goes a step further and leaves the concept of fertility behind to fall into a James Tiptree Jr. style feminist horror. There is no evidence to say that anything killed the women in LISA except for men.

I can’t say too much about the complex gender politics without spoiling things, so I might save that for another blog post.

LISA also explores – using character permadeath and other mechanics – a sense of player agency. I can’t help but compare how these elements play out to other games like Undertale and my treasured OFF.

LISA never blames you for how the events unfold. Instead, it instills a constant sense of moral confusion where your hands are tied, but you struggle with Brad to decipher if you’re doing the right thing. Even at the end of it all, it never points fingers at the player. Everything in the end works toward a sense of storytelling rather than meta-narrative commentary. (It seems like a strange thing to praise, but I could make a whole other post about player agency as narrative.)

In Conclusion…

Please play LISA.

Please play LISA.

Please play LISA.

The Last Guardian – Game of the Year please

If it’s not game of the year I guess I’ll have to play some other games.

I don’t want to talk too long about The Last Guardian. I do want to waste a little time on the storytelling, so I’ll get the gripes out of the way:

I agree with some of the typical criticisms. The camera was annoying, but it was the beast from an old system that was tried and true for Team ICO. In the future I’m sure they’ll try different ways of doing things. It doesn’t make the game unplayable to me. Let’s stop talking about it.

It appears that major criticisms of the game are polarized on Trico’s animal behavior. Your companion is a creature that doesn’t understand your language, although Trico is very intelligent otherwise. If you hate animals, especially cute ones that you’re working together with to get out of danger, I’d take a pass on The Last Guardian.

My major criticism is that there was too much old man narration. His puzzle tips were helpful, but I sometimes felt like he was spoon-feeding the story to the player. In fact, I bet that it was something they were forced to put in. Shadow of the Collossus had very, very little dialogue. Team ICO is good at telling a story without using words, but maybe gamers don’t have the patience to put it together over several playthroughs. I wonder if The Last Guardian suffered for being a triple-A game.

Sitting at my desk now, thinking about my experience with The Last Guardian, I feel a little overwhelmed. Team Ico is to games what Studio Ghibli is to film. Animated feature films have an older and more complex stake in the greater art world, but The Last Guardian features many aspects that Miyazaki incorporates into his own works. The Last Guardian and other Team Ico games hang tenaciously onto a sense of wonder and exploration. I believe anyone could pick up a system and learn how to communicate with Trico, if given the tools. They’re surrounded by a land that is wonderful, dangerous, and mysterious. What Ghibli has that Team Ico doesn’t is lengthy dialogue.

When I was playing, a friend of mine, Rachel, was also playing. When I finished it, she asked me, excited, what I’d thought of the plot.

I couldn’t think of what to say. It felt to me that the way The Last Guardian was built, proceeded, and came together at the finale.

The plot was clear, but the story was the play. It does, absolutely, tell a story, but The Last Guardian is even more interested in giving you stories to tell. Your adventures with Trico are yours, because you sat down and picked up your controller and engaged with it. The Last Guardian was about teamwork with an unlikely friend in order to flee to safety. The game doesn’t need to explain that much to you with words (although it does).

If you’re confused by anything in The Last Guardian, that’s okay. Take a break. Put it away. Next time you have the time, play it again, and your depth of understanding will increase. You’ll learn more, every time, and put the pieces together on your own. This is what the game wants from you, and it’s okay.

In fact, I’d say it’s great.

Consent, Compromise, and Cost – Ladykiller in a Bind

In 2014, my wife and I binged on Christine Love’s work. I watched her liveblog it between layovers on my way to Helsinki, and once I arrived she made me sit down to read Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus. Those two games remain high on my list of visual novels that I will recommend to anyone. When Christine revealed her next game was going to be a exploring the themes of manipulation in dating games for women, I was thrilled. I’ve been watching the development closely ever since.

Today, I finished every route. I feel like Ladykiller is impressive and should inspire visual novels to come, but LoveConquersAll Games has bit off more than it could chew. The theme of this review is going to be an apocryphal line by Samuel R Delany:

“If you’re going to fuck the dog, put it all the way in.”

(The review below contains spoilers, discussion about rape, and nudity.)

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Save the Past! – Storytelling in The Silver Case

I’ve been starving for adventure games for a long time now, and I’ve been particularly interested in Suda51’s adventure past since playing Super DanganRonpa 2. In October we finally got one of Suda’s long lost adventure games in English for the first time: The Silver Case, and I dropped the full price for it on release day.

For The Silver Case, I’m not going to talk about the story. Elements of it have been harvested into pop-culture which may lessen the blow of the plot on modern readers. In spite of that, there are other structural features in the game that we can still learn a lot from. I want to talk about how the medium tells the story in The Silver Case, with art direction, the Film Window, localization, and the Transmitter/Placebo separated narratives.

OKAY maybe I’ll talk about the story a bit, but more about it’s construction than it’s contents.

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