Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top 5 Star Wars: Rogue Squadron Missions

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron has long been among my favorite video game tie-ins to George Lucas’ films. I loved how bold the original N64 entry was in exploring new worlds and crafting the narrative of Kasan Moor and Moff Seerdon through the eyes of the more well-known Wedge Antilles and Luke Skywalker. I also appreciated how fine-tuned its Gamecube sequels were, as their dogfights still rank among some of the smoothest-playing I’ve encountered in any sci-fi game that emphasizes ship-to-ship combat. The Rogue Squadron games were special, in that they devoted themselves to an aspect of the Star Wars universe that is far too often overshadowed by the mysticism of the Jedi vs. Sith conflict, and made a home-run with it. Even the third game’s insistence on shoe-horning on-foot missions was a minor setback when infiltrations into Imperial bases via a hijacked AT-AT or a preemptive strike on Imperial shipyards were account for. Below are my five very favorite missions across the three Rogue Squadron titles, and why they stood out so much.

#5 – Assault on Kile II: Some might consider my love of the Y-Wing to be odd, and that my insistence on using it in as many missions as possible over the course of the Rogue Squadron series’ run to border on having a death wish. I’m not sure when my obsession with the slow but heavily-armored Y-Wing began, but one of my earliest memories in piloting it come from the N64 mission Assault on Kile II, wherein Rogue Squadron must keep a low profile as they fly low to the ground, navigating a maze of increasingly narrow valleys. It’s a search for Imperial outposts that must be handled with the utmost care, lest the local patrols overwhelm Rogue Squadron. While the Y-Wing can take more of a beating than some of its brethren, its best to avoid combat while chugging through the tight passageways that link the few more open areas, as just one tailing TIE Fighter can shoot you down very quickly.

#4 – Death Star Attack: I will openly admit that I prefer when the Rogue Squadron games branch out into original scenarios as opposed to revisiting familiar battles from the films. However, as cliché a choice as it might be, there is no denying just how perfect a job the second game did in capturing the Rebel’s strike on the first Death Star. The opening cutscene that recreated the X-Wing and Y-Wing squadrons approach, the buildup to the iconic trench run, and then the tight quarters that the fighter pilots must account for as they race toward the exhaust port - all of this is handled in such a fine manner, and few other Star Wars games have since been able to match its quality in their own depictions of the Battle of Yavin. The chaotic laser crossfire depicted in the background, the huge jump from the first game in regards to super smooth textures of the various towers and turrets littering the Death Star’s surface, the multiple portions of the mission, and the sheer scope of its presentation were a magnificent showing for the first mission of this sequel, and hooked my eleven-year-old self in with wide-eyed wonder at what the rest of the game had in store.

#3 – The Search for the Nonnah: One of the earlier missions in the original Rogue Squadron has you searching for a downed transport known as the Nonnah on a wet and murky world. It’s a race against the sparse Imperial forces who are similarly scouring the area for the Nonnah’s crash site, and was among the first missions in the Rogue Squadron series to peel the focus away from combat. Instead, fighting the Imperial’s local deployed walkers and tanks is reserved for the end-mission climax, with everything beforehand a time-sensitive traversing of deep ravines and the occasional run-in with a small rival TIE Fighter squadron.

#2 – The Jade Moon: In what is one of the first major stepping stones in the narrative of the original Rogue Squadron, Kasan Moor accompanies the veteran pilots of the titular X-Wing squadron to the Jade Moon of the Loronar System. It was the first proper test of Moor’s loyalty to the Rebel cause, as she had only recently defected. At the start of the mission, Wedge Antilles voices his concerns about Moor’s trustworthiness, and though Luke wishes to focus on the task at hand, the eerie track that accompanies this assault on an Imperial Supply depot perpetuates an air of suspense and uncertainty - a tune made so apparently popular, that it saw reprises in both sequel games. It is a mission that pits Rogue Squadron against many different enemy types, from TIE Fighter variants, to AT-PT walkers, to rotating missile turrets, and does a great job at encompassing just how the members of Rogue Squadron behave during more high-risk scenarios.

#1 – Battle of Endor: This climactic battle from Return of the Jedi was exciting in the film, but the cuts back to Luke aboard the Death Star and Han, Leia, and Chewbacca on the forest moon sort of distracted from the true scope of the ship-to-ship combat. In Rogue Squadron II, it is fully realized, a nearly chaotic number of ships zipping in and out, this way and that. Your objectives change rather frequently, keeping you on your toes as you attempt to defend the Rebel fleet before pushing the fight back toward the Imperials. Facing down two Star Destroyers is one of the most immersive moments in this trilogy of games, and the slow approach toward them is the perfect buildup to one of the greatest tests of your piloting skills.

Monday, February 23, 2015

3DS eShop review: Pokémon Shuffle

Pokémon Shuffle follows in the line of Pokémon Trozei and a number of other Nintendo properties that have spawned puzzle game spinoffs over the years. The gameplay is simple enough – line up three of the same Pokémon in order to clear space and allow more blocks to trickle down. Each time a set of three or more Poké-blocks are cleared, it will inflict damage upon the opposing Pokémon accordingly. And yes, Pokémon Shuffle does take typing advantages into account. Optimizing a team’s format to deal greater damage to a Pokémon can lead to faster victories, and any remaining turns that went unused during a match can be factored into a bonus at the end, improving your chances of catching a Pokémon.

What makes Pokémon Shuffle such a distinct release for Nintendo is its role as the company’s first major ‘free-to-play’ release. Players are allowed to tackle five matches at the outset, with each attempt using a single heart, one of Pokémon Shuffle’s in-game currencies. The early stretch of Pokémon Shuffle is quite generous, as NPCs reward you with jewels, another of Pokémon Shuffle’s in-game currencies, which can be exchanged for either more hearts and thus subsequent attempts at puzzles, or for coins, the third and final of Pokémon Shuffle’s in-game currencies.

As the game progresses, overcoming certain hurdles will reward you with more jewels, which is a welcome substitute for the otherwise thirty-minute wait time it takes for a single heart to replenish. It also lessens the pressure from Pokémon Shuffle’s intended ‘pay-to-win’ formula. Coins, meanwhile, are rewarded in small amounts at each successful conclusion of a match, and can be exchanged to earn a few more rounds in a single given match, a slight boost in the experience points earned by your party members, the chance to start out with a mega-evolution bonus, and more. These coin-based rewards are among the game’s most expensive rewards, and gauging just how much your in-game currency is worth can play a major role in strategizing for matches.

Similar to the jewels, coins are sometimes earned at mile markers, or simply by ‘checking in’ with the network servers on a daily basis. Another of Pokémon Shuffle’s online components comes in the form of special matches, which are only available for short periods of time, but pit you against rarer Pokémon that can make strong additions to your team. Finally, the 'EX' missions pit you against higher-level and even legendary Pokémon, but remove the limited number of turns in favor of a timer countdown that can last anywhere from thirty seconds to a few minutes. Often, these higher-level Pokémon will dish out attacks of their own in an attempt to hinder your progress or throw off your combo chains.

Of course, given the ‘pay-to-play’ formula Pokémon Shuffle is designed to experiment with, there is the option to exchange real world money for in-game currency, and while I am no less opposed to this formula on the 3DS than I am on tablets and phones, it may be worth noting that the exchange prices in Pokémon Shuffle are somewhat less costly than their iOS and Android contemporaries. That said, Pokémon Shuffle is a refreshing addition to the microtransaction school of design, in that the application is not so much that you are paying to win, rather that should you choose to pay, you will be extending your playtime with the game immediately as opposed to waiting a half-hour or more before your next possible match. If you are taking to this game as a casual title to play a few bouts at a time in between sessions of other, more meaty 3DS titles, it’s a solid product that provides intuitive entertainment for free. For those willing to pay for more jewels and coins, your mileage with Pokémon Shuffle may vary.

My rating: 7 (out of 10)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Wii U review: NES Remix

The premise of NES Remix is simple enough – the objectives of classics like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Excitebike, Balloon Fight and more are revisited with slight twists. The earliest challenges for each game are little more than tutorials, and while perhaps some younger gamers may not be so intimately familiar with the NES era of gaming, the controls of each of these titles are both simple and intuitive that it makes these early entries seem unnecessary. Leading Link into a dungeon, having Mario jump over a couple of barrels, or even leading the Excitebike rider up a ramp hardly seem worth congratulating players for.

They are also a stark contrast to the often faster-paced and less forgiving challenges unlocked by achieving a certain number of stars - the game's ranking system, which are in themselves dependent on the speed each challenge is successfully completed with. This results in NES Remix’s greatest flaw – the lack of a staggering of difficulties. Either you play laughably easy scenarios, or you take on thoroughly challenging ones, the latter of which are split about fifty-fifty between demanding precise twitch timing or offering a more fair test of a player’s skills. These later stages incorporate more interesting concepts, like platforms that fade in and out of visibility or having Link climb the ladders and ramps of Donkey Kong. They also sometimes fail to convey proper objectives to players, which (understandably) may only further feelings of frustration.

There is plenty of variety in the play styles of games offered, from the platforming antics of Mario and his brother Luigi, to the hammering and lunges of the Ice Climbers, to exploring the fields of Hyrule with Link’s medieval arsenal, and even blowing up concrete walls in Wrecking Crew. NES Remix is inadvertently a display of which NES titles aged the best, with some games offering as tight of controls as they did during their heyday, while others fall short of the glory they were once touted for. Some of these games see ten or fewer challenges, yet others are in for the long-haul, pushing further into the double-digits.

There is no single ‘correct’ way to go about unlocking the many challenges of NES Remix. Often, even a valiant, yet unsuccessful attempt at a stage will result in the next one being unlocked, and reaching certain milestones in your star collection or overall numerical score will unlock new titles altogether. Miiverse stamps can also be earned by reaching these milestones, each depicting 8-bit versions of characters and enemies from the slew of titles represented in NES Remix. It’s not that NES Remix lacks replayability – far from it – it’s just that the stages offered are so inconsistent in both their degree of challenge and fun factor. A greater sense of adventure in crossing over these characters and environments might have also benefited the final product.

My rating: 5 (out of 10)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How does your beam katana swing?: gender identity and sexuality in No More Heroes - part eight: Death Parade

This is the eighth entry in a series of short articles I will be posting that explores the gender roles and sexuality of various characters within the NMH titles. As mentioned in the first mini-article, some of what I will be covering deals with information that is explicitly stated within one game or the other, while other portions are pulled from my own personal speculations and fan theories. Fair warning: as the No More Heroes titles both bear 'M' ratings, there may be adult language and/or content referenced in these articles, as well as spoiler content for anyone who has not yet completed the games.

Death Parade

Santa Destroy is home to many voluptuous ladies, but is also boats its fair share of muscle-bound men. There are three major figures within the UAA that fit this body type, not counting the hulking henchmen Travis cuts down prior to some of the fights and in the assassination side gigs in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. The one we know the least about in terms of his individual character traits is Matt Helms. He is a hulking figure who wields a lethal axe-flamethrower combo weapon, and makes very slow yet very powerful swings at Travis. However, Matt Helms’ image is more to pay homage to horror genre staples, such as a laughing mania killer in a run-down cabin, quite some distance from a largely populated area. The level leading up to him is a nod to Resident Evil 4, and his eerie smile-bearing mask seems to be a similar reference to Robbie the Rabbit of Silent Hill fame. Beyond that, though, there’s little more that we can gain from Matt Helms – he is described as being ‘undead’, that he killed his family in order to haunt the Earth, but there is no explicitly stated motivation for doing so.

Charlie Macdonald, on the other hand, is an easier character to glean from. He’s a hunky college football player, with twenty-four cheerleaders backing his twenty-fifth rank, and seemingly a meathead at that. Sylvia describes him as “a natural playboy”, a “celebrity of sorts”, and that his cheerleader ‘groupies’ are on their hands and knees for him. His squad of cheerleaders present a particular fetishistic appeal, as they are all twig-thin blondes with their hair pulled back into ponytails and their shirts cut short so as to expose some underboob.

Charlie greets Travis with the oh-so-imaginative one-liner of: “After this, I’m gonna touch you down!” Charlie seems quite proud of his little zinger phrase, as he follows it up with a wink, which cues the cheerleaders to all vocalize high-pitched squeals of approval.

Charlie: “A butt-kicking day to you all! Especially you, cupcake. Mr. Touchdown, it’s an honor to face you. Man, I love your name!”
Travis: “You gonna fight me with all of your hoes?”
Charlie: “That’s my game! But we need a better arena, don’t you think?”
Travis: “Huh?”
Charlie: “Let’s go, ladies! Santa Death Parade!”

The entire cheerleading squad then rockets into space, following Charlie to summon a giant football-shaped robot that pays clear tribute to the hyper-stylized mecha anime, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Travis then calls upon his own giant robot, the Space Runaway Ideon-inspired Glastonbury. While perhaps less direct than the symbolism of the Nathan Copeland fight mirroring the Death Metal fight from the first No More Heroes, this fight with Charlie Macdonald – despite its format breaking the conventions of nearly every other boss fight in NMH2 – once again paints Travis as the master, the so-called ‘crownless king’, and Charlie as little more than another cocky up-and-comer who thought himself hot stuff. Their giant robots match this theme as well, with Travis stomping around an old-school mech and Charlie piloting one of a rounder, new-school appeal.

Charlie is seemingly unfazed when Travis refers to the cheerleaders as his ‘hoes’, and he relies on them to both call upon and help power his Santa Destroy mech. In this regard, it would appear the Charlie views these lean ladies as tools to support his own goal. And perhaps they are just fine with that relationship – after all, they all seem to work together in perfect synchronization, and display not ambitions of attempting to off one another or Charlie in order to improve their individual rankings within the UAA. They do, however, display some ambitions of bloodshed, which is directed at Travis (and perhaps, by association, anyone else who might threaten Charlie’s twenty-fifth ranking), with a cheer they deliver just before the Glastonbury uses its rifle to blow the Santa Death Parade into dust: “Two, four, six, eight, who can we decapitate?”

Boasting a star-spangled Evel Knievel costume and zapping Travis Touchdown with a high-voltage hand buzzer, Destroyman is crude and cocky, believing his bag of mechanized tricks will grant him the upper hand on Travis up until the final moments of their fight. Least subtle of Destroyman’s attacks is his powerful crotch laser, which unleashes in a wide spread after he performs a thrusting motion with his pelvis. He also sports a set of machine-gun nipples, and given the sly grin he wears right before he attempts to fire upon Travis with them, it would seem he gains some satisfaction in his theatrics and overtly sexual arsenal prior to electrocuting, gunning down, or even vaporizing his enemies.

Destroyman also appears to have a split personality, or at the very least, his mannerisms dip back and forth between sporting gentlemen to the sadistic show-off who laughs like a hyena when Travis falls for his tricks and traps. These two personas come into their own as distinct and separate characters in the sequel, when Shinobu takes on New Destroyman on Travis’ behalf. Prior to their fight in a warehouse, Shinobu shares a brief exchange with the now-severed halves of Destroyman.

New Destroyman #1: “What do we have here? A young lady? You know, it’s dangerous coming to a place like this alone. You ought to be more careful. Seriously, terrible things can happen. I see it on the news all the time.”
New Destroyman #2: “Hahahahaha, maybe that’s why she came? It’s what she wants; two grown men to keep her company. Heheheheh… horny slut.”
Shinobu: “My master’s got his hands full, so I’m taking his place. Not that it matters. The result’s gonna be the same. I don’t have time for this.”
New Destroyman #1: “You’re taking Travis place…? Wow, I gotta say, I’m feeling pretty disrespected.”
Shinobu: “Just shut up and fight!”
New Destroyman #2: “Oh, listen to this whore, acting like she’s some kind of femme fatale! ‘Shut up and fight’ she says! She’s really PISSING ME OFF!”
New Destroyman #1: “Seriously, she’s so rude! Reminds me of my complaining customers. Now, Travis, he knew how to fight like a gentleman – sliced me in half, sure, but he did it with grace! I mean, come on, put her there!”
Shinobu: “Huh?”
New Destroyman #1: “You know, let’s shake hands. Sportsmanship is paramount to a fair and clean fight.”
New Destroyman #2: “Hurry up and shake! …Dirty nympho! Mhmhmhm!”
Shinobu: “Whatever. But, which one?”
New Destroyman #1: “Doesn’t matter. Your choice.”
New Destroyman #2: “The one that’s throbbing, nyhehehaha!”

The two Destroymen then attempt to zap Shinobu in a similar fashion to how Destroyman zapped Travis during their ranking fight in the first No More Heroes. However, something within the more vulgar Destroyman’s arm malfunctions, resulting in Shinobu being able to easily tear his hand off and teasingly ask, “Was this suppose to spark? Lame.” in a tone not unlike when she asked Travis if his beam katana was ‘a toy’ two years prior.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Top 5 Stands in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

Though the Ripple abilities harnessed by Jonathan and Joseph Joestar are the sort of ‘magical energy’ trump cards in the first two arcs of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Stands replace them from Stardust Crusaders onward. Stands are, in essence, a manifestation of their users’ willpower, and while the most iconic ones take on humanoid forms, their appearances can range from a small toy-sized fighter plane, to one powerful possessed sword, an electrical socket that forms a magnetic field around anyone who touches it, and even the collective consciousness of hyper-intelligent plankton. As is explained a number of times over the course of the long-running Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure tale, Stand users are the only ones who can see other Stands, and they will be inexplicably drawn to one another, be it on friendly terms or seeking to destroy one another. Below are my five current favorite Stands – as Jojolion is still ongoing and there will likely be more parts to Jojo’s in the coming years, this list may change in the future. Also, this list is based exclusively on the Stands, their appearances, and their powers, and the personalities or actions of their respective users do not necessarily bear any significant hold on their ranking.

#5 - Moody Blues: When part five presented the idea of a group of teens tracking down a mob boss and attempting to piece together the mystery of his identity along the way, Moody Blues stood out to me the moment its powers were explained. It allows its user, Leone Abbacchio, to rewind time and discover what transpired in a particular spot hours beforehand. It might not be the most exciting concept when compared to the Stands of the other Vento Aureo protagonists, like Guido Mista’s smart-mouthed revolver shells or Bruno Buccellati’s opening portals via zippers. Moody Blues is, however, quite practical, given the focus of their mission.

#4 - Whitesnake: Stone Ocean offered up many cool ideas that never quite panned out in quite as exciting a manner as I had hoped. It did, however, present some very cool Stand and core character designs, Whitesnake being chief among them. Enrico Pucci, Stone Ocean’s main antagonist, relies on Whitesnake’s ability to seal the memories and Stand powers of his foes on CDs in order to gain the upper hand on them. Whitesnake is present from a very early point in Stone Ocean, keeping tabs on Jolyne Kujoh, but often remaining in the shadows, carrying out tasks on Pucci’s behalf. It is one of the few Stands to display an ability to speak, and has a sinister, scornful personality that wonderfully matches its creepy subhuman face, its starkly-contrasting striped body, and the crown-like piece atop its head, denoting it as master of the Green Dolphin Street Prison

#3 - D4C: Considered one of the most powerful Stands in the entire series, D4C (shorthand for ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’) allows its user and President of the United States, Funny Valentine, to slip between objects in order to travel to parallel universes. D4C’s powers are barely even hinted at until it makes its grand debut late in the Steel Ball Run storyline, but when it does enter the scene, it commands center stage, constantly thwarting Johnny Joestar and Gyro Zeppeli’s attempts to halt President Valentine’s visions of grandeur. D4C also grants Funny Valentine an immunity to the dangers of traversing the multiverse, as he is able to move back and forth freely in order to heal himself via swapping bodies with alternate versions of himself, which D4C will subsequently follow. Any other individuals who might attempt to follow President Valentine to another reality, however, will ultimately meet their destruction upon being forcibly pulled towards the other version of themselves native to that universe.

#2 - Silver Chariot: The Stands in parts three and four of Jojo’s generally have simpler designs and powers, which is by no means a bad thing. The goofball would-be-heroes of Stardust Crusaders all boast powerful Stands with specialized abilities that complement one another well, though my personal favorite – both in terms of its aesthestic appeal and mystical powers – would have to be Jean Pierre Polnareff’s Silver Chariot. Single rapier in hand, Silver Chariot is a simple enough knight in armor design, but its lithe build and lightning-fast jabs make for a fresh approach compared to the heavy-hitting, armor-burdened design that would have proved the easier route to take in designing a medieval warrior-style Stand.

#1 - Killer Queen: Another one bites the dust with each detonation of Killer Queen’s explosive powers. Killer Queen is the antithesis to the Stand of Morioh’s local hero, Josuke Higashikata’s Crazy Diamond. Whereas Crazy Diamond can repair any broken object, Killer Queen is gracefully destructive, leaving not a trace of any of serial killer and user Yoshikage Kira’s victims (save for their hands, which Kira keeps as companions due to his fetishistic m.o.). While most Stands have a set power level they will never surpass, Killer Queen continues to grow more powerful over the course of Diamond is Unbreakable, making use of fellow Stand Stray Cat to launch projectiles and Kira's eventual 'awakening' as a gateway to forming temporal loops to overwrite any mistakes in Kira's plotting. Killer Queen’s appearance is largely humanoid, completely white, with a feline face and decorated with small portions of purple leather and gold studs. On its shoulders, its belt, and in a few other places, Killer Queen bears a terrifying skeletal face that appears to be something of a fiendish mockery of its own face – an appropriate parallel to the smooth and beautiful exterior housing such a violently destructive routine.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Aesthetic appeal in JRPGs: Persona 5 and Final Fantasy XV

This morning, my Twitter feed was abuzz with word of the first proper trailer for Persona 5. While Atlus did offer us a teaser in 2014, this new footage showed off more action-packed anime cutscenes in greater detail, as well as some of the dungeon-crawling and shop-browsing. While the majority of the response was positive, my own feelings toward the trailer were a tad mixed. To be fair, my experiences with the Persona series are relatively limited – I only played through Persona 4 within the past year and a half, am currently entering the late hours of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, and have spent a grand total of about twenty minutes with Persona 4 Arena. With that in mind, I have very much enjoyed the Persona games as I’ve played them thus far, and even the anime adaptation of Persona 4 was a solid offering, despite its need to condense the forty-plus hours required to play through its video game counterpart.

The new Persona 5 trailer

I did notice, however, one particular tweet that stated how someone had watched both this new Persona 5 trailer and the Final Fantasy XV gameplay trailer back-to-back, and how they felt it 'put things in perspective'. While I can’t speak on their behalf, I can say that this individual’s particular post led me to go and rewatch the Final Fantasy XV gameplay trailer from the Tokyo Game Show 2014, and I have since drawn some conclusions about the presentations of both titles. Obviously these titles are both a ways off yet, and we don’t know everything about the final product, so this is less my attempt at gauging the final games themselves, rather my thoughts on what we know of them so far and some concerns I have with the angle both Atlus and Square Enix are taking in trying to sell these titles.

To be blunt, I have very little faith in Final Fantasy XV. It’s been repurposed from Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which spent nigh on a half-decade in development hell. It appears to follow the action RPG formula, and the last time an FF title did that (Final Fantasy XII), it was met with heavily polarized reception. Equally strange is how un-Final Fantasy this latest numbered entry looks. There seems to be some strange obsession in the industry today that because our consoles have higher graphical capabilities than ever before, developers ought to push highly-detailed and hyper-realistic character and environment models, instead of being creative and adventurous. The problem with this approach is that the aesthetic loses its identity. Instead of colorful monsters and exciting Chocobo rides, we have been treated to dull brown behemoths and futuristic armor-clad soldiers with less variety in textures than Final Fantasy XIII’s Psicom troops. And all of this is presented through the eyes of a small group of stereotypical dude-bros with pretty faces and silly hair, getting overly excited as they spot these uninspired designs from an equally boring high-end car - one that looks like it could be driving through the Hamptons this very minute. Even the earlier trailer that announced Versus XIII’s rebranding as FFXV highlighted some (again) all-too-familiar Mediterranean architecture. There are no suits of Magitek armor to be seen, no medieval knights boarding a fight to the moon, no massive structures that combine ancient culture and space-age tech in seemingly impossible fluidity. There is a complete absence glory and fanfare in the overall presentation - just a group of handsome guys on a road trip, and their 'oohs' and 'aahs' at the other in-game assets proved a failed attempt at trying to evoke the same reaction from me.

The TGS 2014 gameplay trailer for Final Fantasy XV

Persona 5’s trailer showcases what I can only assume to be the base cast – four characters, including the neutral-looking male protagonist, his two blonde-haired friends (one male, one female), and a cat. I say the ‘base cast’ because that was how Persona 4 operated – the game offered three playable characters almost immediately, with the fourth (Yukiko) added to your crew only a few hours into the experience. From there, the other party members (Kanji, Rise, Teddie, and Naoto, respectively) were gradually incorporated into the story. Today’s trailer highlighted some chandelier-hopping, stealthy dashes down a hallway, the different places around the city that will be visited, and a couple of the menu systems and shops. It’s a lot to throw at fans of the series right off the bat, but understanding just how narrative-driven Persona titles are (yes, even a spinoff like Persona Q), this trailer has merely shown the tip of the iceberg.

What little was shown of the gameplay evoked an overwhelmingly positive response from me – the dungeon-crawling looks slightly more free-form than in Persona 4, but relies on the same general layout and design as far as I can tell. The shops appear almost entirely unchanged, albeit with new faces running them, and there will apparently be ample time spent in class or hanging out with friends. Though no fusions were explicitly shown, the Velvet Room’s Igor made a brief appearance, indicating that the familiar Persona Compendium will make a return. The aesthetic direction of this latest numbered entry in the Persona series has me unsettled, however, as the emphasis on black, red, and white is strikingly similar to the currently-popular Danganronpa games/anime.

I realize that aesthetic appeal is not something that everyone weighs with the same degree of importance. But for me, I at least want to enjoy looking at what it is that is on the screen in front of me, especially when I’m going to be spending anywhere between forty hours or more with a game. I might not be so disappointed with these four P5 characters if three of them were not such simply boring designs. The protagonist bears a striking resemblance to Vincent from Atlus’ surrealistic puzzle stacker, Catherine. Meanwhile, the blonde boy and girl have very few defining characteristics. I feel this is in part due to the darker color palette of Persona 5, as it emphasizes black suit jackets and pants for their school uniforms, and there similarly do not appear to be many distinguishing features in their bandit/super hero/vigilante costumes aside from them having different colors (which are, again, under dark lighting). I will give Atlus props on the cartoony, scarf-donning cat, who is easily the standout crew member at this point. But whereas Kanji was instantly recognizable thanks to his skull t-shirts and refusal to wear his jacket properly, Naoto's hat and coat quite becoming of a mysterious young detective, and Yosuke's headphone's and sharp smile subtle nods to his being the child of a successful business-owning family, the P5 cast - at least, as they stand right now - fall into territory that could easily have them confused for Danganronpa or generic characters from any other contemporary anime.
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