Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why Dark Souls is My Favorite Game

The first games I played when I got back into gaming were Fable 2 and God of War 1. I was (after so many years) again a literal noob, so I played both games on easy mode so I wouldn't feel intimidated. Fable 2 was actually too easy thus, so I pushed it up to normal mode, which was also too easy even for my beginner's skillset. In fact, I made the perfect choice of first game, as Fable 2 was great fun and very humorous, and there's a lot of hand-holding. With my bad sense of direction, it was nice to have a literal golden trail to show where to go on the quests. Fable 2 is an excellent choice for a first game due to the gamer-friendly design. God of War was also a great for me as it was also very accessible on easy mode, has a great story, and wonderful gameplay and puzzle mechanics.

However, I wanted a challenge, so I went to GameStop for advice, specifically asking for a difficult but fair game.  A very nice and helpful clerk immediately brought out Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. With the way she was caressing the boxes with such love the entire time, and repeating over and over as if reciting a mantra, "Yes, they are hard, but they are so good; really hard, but really really good." I was sold. She then jokingly told me to guard them with my life on my way out.

I played Demon's Souls first, then Dark Souls.  During the first hour of Dark Souls, I hated it...because "it's just not Demon's Souls".  However, I forced myself to go on, and by the third hour, it had become my favorite game so far. Thanks to the challenging nature of these games, my game skills improved exponentially, but after playing them, I couldn't touch another game for quite awhile because no other really did it for me.

Siegmeyer of Catarina-Onion Bro

Despite Dark Souls sporting quite a few of my gaming pet peeves, these were outweighed by the overall gaming experience. Among the peeves: you play as the Chosen Undead, who has no personality. When one of my favorite characters was killed, Siegmeyer (aka Onion Bro), I was upset since I'd followed him the entire game, but the Chosen Undead simply stood there with a blank stare. This is in stark contrast to Horizon: Zero Dawn's Aloy. As Aloy, when I was exploring and saw a woman with a black eye, my response was "WTF, what happened to her?" Curious, I talked to the character, and refreshingly, Aloy had the same sentiment, which made for a more satisfying emotional experience. This scene was especially memorable to me as that NPC woman directs you to your first epic cauldron. But no, unlike Aloy or Kratos, the Chosen Undead just stares into space even if something drastic is going down. I find that zombified unnamed characters detract from my emotional connection to a game.


The story can be described in one sentence; it's not as captivating as that of most games. I would also say that Dark Souls has the worst ending of all the games I've played. After defeating the Lord of Cinders, at the end of the most satisfying gameplay experience I've had, it finishes with, essentially, "You linked the fire. Bye".  This is in stark contrast to the end of God of War where you supplant Ares and become *THE* God of War, in a far more cathartic cutscene.


A third peeve is the notoriously awful framerate in Blighttown. It feels that it frequently dips to 10 fps (perhaps even lower?) on the PS3 and the XBox 360, both versions I played.  However, the PC version does not have these framerate problems, and it even includes the best DLC I have played, Artorias of the Abyss.  It can run on an average PC (I used the MacBook BootCamp), so I recommend playing the PC version, especially if you can connect it to a large TV.  I am hoping that From software remasters Dark Souls for current-gen consoles as it's sorely needed.


That being said, here are the pros that completely crush the cons:


1. Gameplay mechanics.

My beloved Great Scythe
For me, the absolute most important aspect of videogames is the game play. Just walking around in a metal armor, hearing the sound of your footsteps crunching is addictive. The squishy sound of my beloved Great Scythe hitting a hollow on its head never gets old. Backstabbing an enemy never gets old. A parry is even more satisfying, especially with the special sound and graphic effect when one succeeds. In other words, the visceral feel of the weapons, armor and shields, adds to the quality of the combat and traversal, as each weapon, armor and shield feel unique. No other game has so much visceral feel to it, so that in fighting an enemy, you are engaged and really feel like you're attacking actual adversaries. In contrast, the melee in Oblivion feels like waving one's hands around in space and can't tell if I'm actually hitting the creatures.

Further, the combat is very responsive. When you press a button, your character acts, rather than lagging or not registering at all, as I've found in quite a few games so very frustrating. The enemies all have consistent attack patterns and hit boxes so you can master defeating them, and I really appreciate this consistency and precision. The exacting battle mechanics are extremely satisfying as a result.


In addition to the superb melee combat, there's a lot of ranged options including bows, spells and miracles. Shooting the bow and landing head shots is also addictive, and spells and miracles, though "noobish," are fun.


The enemy placement is brilliant. There's never a point where there are too many enemies, so you can kill everything, and then take the time to explore the amazing world. They are spaced consistently so it's gratifying to be able to memorize their placements and figure out a route from bonfire to bonfire, as you only have so many estus flasks (healing items) to strategize.  The game's successors, Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3, have areas where it's better to run away from all the enemies (as some are too powerful and too numerous), taking away from exploration.


I really find an explorable world crucial to my enjoyment of a video game, and Dark Souls mastered that element more than any other game in part due to the careful enemy placement.


2. Game level design.

I'm still blown away thinking about the level design of this game.The entire overworld is a dungeon, with intricate shortcuts, verticality hidden treasures, t
Map of the Depths-note all the criss-crossing arrows
raps and the like. Even within one screen shot, you may miss a treasure that is somewhere tucked around in a corner that you may not think to look to. After beating the tutorial boss, you go straight on to be flown to Firelink Shrine.  However, if you do as directed by the orange message on the floor, it's easy to miss a soul item on your left, though you may notice the crow's nest on your right.


Indeed, in quite a few games, when you go from town to town, the world is usually a field where you go straight from point A to B; with none of the traps, twists and turns, shortcuts, nor surprises that you constantly encounter in Dark Souls.


The passage from the start, from the Undead Asylum to Firelink Shrine, and branches out to the Undead Burg and the Undead Parish, which then takes one to the Deep Basin and the Depths, both leading to the DLC final boss and one of the lords that you must defeat to beat the game, is something that will be difficult to eclipse. These areas also wrap around each other.  For instance, one can go from Firelink Shrine to Undead Burgh to Undead Parish, and then back to Firelink Shrine (via an elevator), and then into the Depths going directly back to the Undead Burgh and/or Parish.


Furthermore, not only do you have the complicated horizontal space to deal with, but also vertical. In the Undead Burgh, for example, you can find additional treasures and enemies by using the many ladders and ledges, and many more in Blighttown. Blighttown is nightmarish to me, with multiple ladders and/or ledges leading to different levels (differing heights) even within the same screen.  So I couldn't say that this item is on Floor 1 and the next is on Floor 2 as there are multiple-tier levels between those floors.

Solaire of Astora-Sun Bro

An even better example of brilliant level design can be found when one defeats the boss in the Undead Burgh for the first time (the Taurus demon) and chances upon fan favorite Solaire of Astora (aka Sun Bro). I was very nervous, not knowing how far to the next bonfire to rest and heal, and shouldn't I already have arrived at one since I beat the boss of that area? Surely I wasn't going to die and then lose all my souls so that I couldn't retrieve them? What poor game design, I thought on my first walkthrough. Nevertheless, I managed to cross the bridge, the red hellkite dragon's fire falling down on me, and found the staircase. Then I stumbled upon a ladder to kick down, and I was back at the starting bonfire of the area. I can then climb up that ladder to reach the next area. Opening up that shortcut was not only a relief, but a revelation.


I also appreciate that there are no maps in-game, despite my lack of a sense of direction. The level design is so brilliant and the world-building so incredible that you want to explore every corner... and getting lost adds enjoyable anxiety and tension. Blighttown's FPS-rate is really bad but at that point, I didn't care, being too stressed from getting lost in the complicated level design, and frantically finding a bonfire to worry about framerates.


The level design is so intertwined and intricate throughout the entire game that I was actually relieved that the path to the final boss was simple and linear with no odd traps, since my nerves were shot after defeating the four required lords.


I don't think that even Miyazaki-san himself, the game's developer, can improve on this ever-branching, complex level design, as I haven't seen this degree of intertwining and overlapping even in the next two games he oversaw, Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3.


The spectacular level design enhances the exploration and keeps you thoroughly engaged. It's almost impossible to be bored exploring such a well-crafted, bespoke world.


3. World-building and lore.

I know a lot of Dark Souls adherents say that there's a lot of story if you look for it, but there really isn't. There is a story, but not at the level of other JRPGs. However, the world-building and lore are coherent and expansive. EpicNameBro does a superb job discussing the lore. In fact, one can make an entire video game based on the lore of even Ceaseless Discharge. Ceaseless is not everyone's favorite boss, which is why he makes a useful example; his touching backstory describes how his mother and sisters created a ring to protect him against the elements, necessarily due to his unfortunate skin condition, as they loved him so. In turn, he viciously guards his sisters' gravesite. I'm sure a writer could flesh out a script for a video game from that.
Anor Londo

The variety of the environments is strikingly diverse, and often unexpected. I was surprised to see Ash Lake, after emerging from the vertical intentionally drab Great Hollow, not expecting such a colorful scene. Other standout areas are the Painted World of Ariamis, which is a breathtaking snow-covered land, and of course the awe-inspiring Anor Londo. There are dungeons within this overall dungeon-like world, such as Sen's Fortress and the Duke's Archives. If you click on the pictures of each of the Dark Souls areas, they are all very different (except that the DLC Oolacile township looks like a deluxe form of the Undead Burgh/Parish), and they fit together seamlessly as you move from each to the next.


4. RPG elements.

Along with the addictive melee and range combat mechanics, the RPG elements add another obsession-inducing level. As a noob playing this game, I found it difficult at first. However, after I got hooked, I saw it was not so difficult, because I would grind up levels upon each death, which is fun and easy to do given the addictive combat. I'm embarrassed to admit I think I was level 20 when I took on the Taurus demon, the first proper boss.

However, if you're an experienced player, I don't think grinding is necessary, because in addition to the experience you get from naturally fighting enemies and bosses, you also come across soul items that you can use to level up. This is a great game-design decision because those who hate to grind don't need to, and those who love to grind to be overpowered have infinite opportunities to do so.


In fact, given the RPG elements and the balance of play, you can even beat the
Weapon Upgrade Guide
game with your original equipment. You can improve your weapon and armor with various shards, and they go up to +5/+10 and +15 on elemental and non-elemental pathways. The staff cannot be reinforced, but when you get two of the top-tier staffs, you will find there's no need, as magic is rather overpowered in this game. So, if you don't like exploring and finding items, there's no need.


There are different stats that you can level up individually, as opposed to some RPGs where they level up your health, defense, and other categories all automatically for you. In other words, you can choose to increase your health, your stamina, intelligence or any of the other stats how you want to, so you can focus on specific builds, such as strength, dexterity, or others you fancy. I always go for a dexterity/intelligence build.


5. Boss fights.

Dark Souls presents unique and unforgettable bosses. I can't remember some bosses even from my other favorite games, but you can't forget any from Dark Souls. How can anyone forget the first tutorial boss, the obese and humorous Asylum Demon, who floats by flapping his miniscule wings? He has this rather goofy, buck-toothed expression when he squints at you before you do the plunge attack. Or the emotionally wrenching experience of killing Sif, who begins to limp as you kill him, or the ferocious grandeur of Artorias of the Abyss, who doesn't seem to have a stamina bar. Although you can co-op with all the bosses except for the tutorial one, out of respect for the incredible
Sir Artorias of the Abyss-YIKES!
challenge that Artorias poses, you owe it to yourself to duel one on one with him. I also enjoyed the challenges of cutting off the various bosses' tails such as those of Kalameet, Crossbreed Priscilla, Seath and others, including the Gaping Dragon.


The bosses are also memorable due to the foreboding one feels when entering the fog gate before every boss fight, the cutscenes before the fights, the specific music and/or sound effects for each boss (in some other games, all the boss music is the same), and most importantly, their unique and varied designs, and their consistent attack patterns that allow for mastering them.


6. Polished design.

Except for Blighttown's framerate problems on the last-generation consoles, and the unpleasing weird ugliness of the Demon Ruins/Lost Izalith area's design, in my hundreds and hundreds of hours, the only combat glitch and lag that I can recall is when entering Anor Londo and encountering the Gargoyle that "greets" you. When I push the R1 light attack button, there is lag, and it doesn't strike the Gargoyle. As that is the only major glitch that I can remember, this really distinguishes Dark Souls from the many rather glitchy games.

7. Variety of trash mobs.

The dreaded Basilisk
The great variety of enemies is staggering, from the hollows to weird slugs, rock crystal monsters, skeletons, rats, toad-like creatures (the dreaded Basilisks), and other, hard to describe monsters. Even six years after the game's release, they don't feel at all outdated nor surpassed. The details of the interesting enemy designs and their animation, whether the basic hollow or the sophisticated taurus and capra demons are numerous. Each enemy, as noted above, has different, interesting attack patterns and sound effects. Even the hollow warriors, versus the vanilla hollows, have different sounds they make when you kill them; they also attack differently...the warrior slashing his sword deliberately and the hollow wildly flailing with his broken sword.

8. Replayability.

Even without the multiplayer aspects, I could easily play this game for hundreds and hundreds of hours, in part thanks to the NG+ levels, where each level increases in difficulty every time you beat the game, and that the combat mechanics never get old. Since I loved the game so much at first play, I was determined to reach and beat the hardest difficulty level, despite my noob status at that time. I succeeded thanks to TechPhantomReviewer.

Because of the addictive quality of the game and the increasing difficulty levels upon completion, I keep coming back to Dark Souls while deciding what new game I want to play next.


Conclusion.

The reasons for loving the game more than compensate for the few flaws. It's like winning the lottery in a country where you pay minimal tax. You get $250 million (overall Dark Souls experience), even if you have to pay $1 million in taxes.

If a game could otherwise have the same features as Dark Souls, but with a fleshed-out story and an expressive main character, that game will probably replace Dark Souls as my favorite. But I really don't foresee another game that has this incredible variety of world-building and lore so nevertheless cohesive and seamless, with a similarly mind-blowing level- and semi-open world-design, the variety and grandeur of the bosses/enemies, and the addictive, precise melee and range mechanics that never get old. This is why Dark Souls will likely remain my favorite game.


-Alice

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

South Park: The Stick Of Truth Review

PS4 Pro on 50 inch Seiki 4K TV.

I've never watched an entire episode of South Park, so I'm not at all familiar with the show, but I wanted to play this RPG (role-playing game), especially after a friend hyped it up. The trailer for the game I saw was humorous and otherwise promising. However, I didn't seek it out after reported issues of bugs, frame-rate problems and crashes on all the last-generation platforms and PC.

I was excited when I learned that digitallpre-ordering the upcoming South Park: The Fractured But Whole gets you a free digital code of the remastered version of The Stick of Truth for either the PS4 or Xbox One, immediately downloadable. If you prefer to have the physical disc and you can wait, the digital code for The Stick of Truth will be in the box. Reading reviews, prior adopters universally said that this remaster is a huge improvement. You cannot buy The Stick of Truth separately.

You play as a blank-slate character, by intention, called, by the South Park boys, "Douchebag." Every time Douchebag responds to an NPC (non-playable character) by staring mutely, there's a well-timed awkward pause and the NPC comments on that, starting with his parents, which is always funny whenever it occurs. I played as a cute African-American boy, which turned out to be a smart decision, since Douchebag is friends with the group's leader of sorts, Eric Cartman, improbably a Grand Wizard of the KKK. Since I didn't know beforehand that he was a racist, the surprise was satirically amusing. Further, it was a no-brainer to play as a game-unique Jew-class character, rather than as a member of the usual RPG classes of fighter, mage, or thief. As an African-American Jew in the game, I further alienated Cartman, and he said we couldn't be friends, which made me laugh.

The story and characters are very funny, but I wasn't dying to find out what would happen to any of them, or how the story will play out as I would with all the other RPGs I have played. There are missable achievements/trophies, but none are based on difficulty level. You can obtain them all in one playthrough, and if that's your goal, guides are essential, as well as liberal use of manual saves, of which you have 50. I like this missable guide, because it's short and to the point with minimal spoilers. The only thing it didn't mention is: do NOT sell anything until you get the Hoarder achievement/trophy.

There were no issues with frame-rate and the animations were nicely done. I laughed when I saw Douchebag's parents walk, as they were tottering, almost appearing to fall down. I believe that's the usual animation for adults in the TV show, but for a newcomer like me, it was unexpectedly funny. The graphics are good, and resemble those of the television show. I'm sure The Fractured But Whole will have even better graphics.

My game crashed twice in 20 hours of gameplay. The first time was when I kept loading to get a trophy. The second time was near the end, before the final dungeon, when the screen went blank. Due to auto-save, crashes were not an issue, since you can reload from the last checkpoint. On top of that, you have a generous 50 slots for manual saves. My experience was not really affected as only minimal progress was lost.

In terms of gameplay, it is turn-based with real-time elements. Unlike other RPGs, you get two moves per turn, but only if you attack last. The first action, you can use an item, or one of the designated special skills that your party member has, and then the second, you attack. Also, unlike many RPGs, your party consists of two members. You start with Butters, a Paladin, and then other characters open up, which I won't name here to avoid spoilers. You control both.

Early on when you're underpowered, the battles are interesting. You become overpowered very quickly in the game, so battles become less interesting. There are 4 different types of attacks: melee, range, Abilities, and Magic attacks. With every attack, you have to press a button on time, and it's satisfying when you get the perfect hit in, which confers bonuses. If you whiff the timing, you won't do as much damage. As for blocking enemy attacks, you need to press A (Xbox) or X (PS4) to guard whenever you see a circle under your character. Bosses may have special attacks, so guarding will involve various QTEs, an example being mashing a button as quickly as possible.

The game does an excellent, unobtrusive job telling you what buttons you need to press and when, so you don't have to memorize anything. There's strategy as to whether you should use melee, range, Abilities or Magic, depending on the enemy's stance, whether they wear armor or have shields, and their positions in the two rows. The attack strategy is intuitive and explained well in the tutorial.

As mentioned above, you chose your class: Fighter, Jew, Mage or Thief. Whichever you chose, the game is not challenging on normal, so you can't go wrong with your choice. Also, you really don't have to fret about what Abilities to level up. Abilities are special, powerful attacks that consume the intentionally named "PP" meter. 

Since you can only max out three out of the five Abilities, my general recommendation is to chose the three that most interest you. The maximum character level is 15 which I was able to reach 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through, without any grinding.


In addition to melee, ranged and Abilities, later on in the game, you're introduced to Magic attacks, namely the various Farts, that get upgraded with story progression. Magic consumes the mana bar, and it tends to be the most powerful attack that you have, unless the enemy is resistant to the status effect, "Grossed Out". The game also offers a tutorial on how to use Magic attacks.

Using Magic attacks (Farts) outside of battle, however, is not as intuitive as it is in battle. I had to look up how to use the "Sneaky Squeaker" and the "Nagasaki". Farts outside of battle are used to break walls, set fires, and so forth. Further, you will need to Fart on animals, your party members, authority figures, and downed enemies if you want some of the achievements/trophies. 

Your equipment has level designations. For some reason, I've never seen a weapon or armor at level 15; the highest was 14. Equipment, whether armor or weapon, can have anywhere between zero to two slots for patches. They give you extra defensive and/or offensive bonuses. An example is adding 50 extra fire attack upon a perfectly timed attack.

Another way to level up is by making friends. Once you reach a certain number you can buy perks. The most helpful perk is when if you use the revive potion, it restores the person to full health. You make friends through the main quest, side quests, and talking to them in town.

In your town, it is fun to explore outside, and you can enter homes and stores. I found it addictive to knock over parking meters and trashcans and often be awarded money. There are friends and treasures often cleverly tucked away in the environment. To earn some friends and items, you need to have special powers that are obtained through the story progression--so if you can't get to one, you'll have to wait until you get the power. The creators report that in the upcoming The Fractured But Whole, they want to make the world even more explorable, which is something I look forward to, though they already did a nice job with The Stick of Truth.

The combat isn't fully satisfying, but this was offset by the creative, diverse dungeons enhanced by puzzle elements. One such dungeon not only had the usual fun puzzles, but also a well-done disgusting atmosphere that can gross one out. Another example that's not dungeon-related is when you make Douchebag poop (a rather effective item that you can fling at enemies), that feels so viscerally real that I have him take a shower whenever it's available!

There are 20 side quests, of which one is missable. Most of the side quests are funny. You gain Allies through some of the quests whom you can summon in combat to demolish your enemies, limited to once a day (the game consists of 3 days). In other side quests, you get items as expected. You become friends with all the people you helped.

The developers did a brilliant job with pace. If it were any longer, I might have lost interest. When the game made it clear that you're about to face the final boss, I immediately thought, "that was good timing".

Conclusion: The Stick of Truth is a fun game, and I feel that the highlights are the humor, and the overworld and dungeon-design, which often require puzzle-solving and awards-exploration. The battles quickly become less satisfying since you soon become overpowered, and the story and characters are not nearly as captivating as those in other RPGs, all of which keeps The Stick of Truth from being a great game.

Recommendations: I would recommend pre-ordering if you're a huge South Park fan and you want to replay this game on your current gen console, since the remastered version has been improved significantly. The game is also recommended if you want to play an obnoxiously funny game and you're not worried about combat, story and character development. I don't regret my purchase, and I'm looking forward to The Fractured But Whole.

Rating: B-, Good

-Alice

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Breath of the Wild Review, Another Perspective

GUEST WRITER N.C, Esq.

I hated every single Zelda game, from the very first, The Legend of Zelda to Skyward Sword.  The dungeons were uninspired and the “find the tool, and use that same tool to kill the boss” becomes old, stale and tired. The graphics, pop-ins, frame-rates, story, characters were all inane, to say the least, and tread on down-trodden ground, I cannot count the amount of times. The boss designs are not creative, even as they are buoyed by the grand music, the design and animation failed nevertheless. Using the double (or was it triple) hook-shot and the glider to maneuver through the centipede (?) boss on multiple levels was a general trope taken from the very worst action-adventure RPGs. I don't quite see why Alice Chang, owner of this blog, nevertheless thought these games as "masterpieces", even as she admits that she didn't "quite enjoy the games".

Anyhow, it was with great trepidation that I played the newest Zelda incarnation, The Breath of the Wild on my Wii U. There was *no* way that I would invest over $500 on the Switch to play a series that I hate so much. This includes the system at $299, the game at $59.99, an extra memory disk to add to the meager 32 GB storage at $49.99, screen protector at $19.99, and the Switch Pro Controller at $79.99, and add 8% tax. My paws (I'm being cute and precious here to invoke the "cute cat" motif of this blog) won’t allow for such tiny Joy-Cons.

Monet, Water Lilies, 1916 - 1919
However, Breath of the Wild was a revelation, even so on the much-maligned (unjustly so) Wii U--on that point I do agree with Chang's love for the Wii U. The graphics are astounding. I think even 20 years from now (centuries in video game terms), it would still be revolutionary as it takes the concept of “gouache” to the next level in gaming. I see touches of Manet and Monet (especially the Water Lily series) in the Hebra mountains, as well as the Cezanne-ish forward thinking of what the future might hold, in terms of abstraction.  For instance, the ruined Temple of Time invokes Cubism, following the traditions of the lesser known Braque, who was actually the founding father of Cubism, but the tradition was disseminated more due to Picasso’s (dare I say stolen) take on Cubism, purely due to Picasso’s sheer name recognition and sparkling celebrity status.

Kandinsky's Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles
But I digress. The organicity of the Great Plateau cannot be overstated. This area practically screams and rivals Kandinsky.  As I was chopping the trees in the area, the far-away rocks have a dynamic pattern of circularity (exposing one of the many delightful Koroks), imposed on a rather vertical structure (i.e. the mountain).  This reminds me of Kandinsky’s Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles that is so well-known and beloved, that it is almost a cliche at this point. But, it has been discovered in modern art theory that depicting a painting as a whole, rather than part and parcel, is extremely difficult, and certainly not a tired rehash of cliches. As you are aware, Kandinsky was one of the major proponents of this school of thought.

According to this theory, children have this capacity of conceptualizing organicity, but then it tends to get lost as one gets older, as adolescents and adults might veer to more realistic depictions at the risk of forgetting how to plan objects in space in unity. The understanding is that adolescents and adults tend to feel that realism is more “advanced” (perhaps superficially so), and by clinging to that misguided conceit, they lose their abilities to conceptualize the picture as a whole that appears to be innate in young children. I found that the graphic designers noticed the trend of realism in video games (Call of Duty being one of the more egregious offenders), and opted instead for the more artistically daring, difficult and challenging vision of organic models.

I can go on about the other areas, from the majestic snowy mountain tops to the hot, barren desert.  I shiver and sweat, respectively, whenever I enter these areas, so realistic they are. The reason why they feel so real is because not only is the frame-rate mostly locked at 30fps (although I was hoping for 60fps as is the Nintendo Standard), while galloping with Epona (I was one of the lucky ones who has the Amiibo), the landscapes evoke emotional responses that remind us of the Romanticized past, precisely due to the framing and organic placing of objects and items, rather than scattered about in an incoherent manner, as often seen in the usual AAA titles.

As noted by Chang, rather ad nauseum, the game has been criticized for the lack of anti-aliasing, but I find that this is *not* a necessary feature as the graphics and animations more than compensate for the aliasing. Who cares about “smoothing” the polygons when the impact of the design is rather to challenge *how* you view things, and the much hated “jaggies” are criticized rather unfairly by the owner of this blog.  Not only that, I believe that the blog owner's other criticisms include the lack of draw-distance and the so-called “pop-in” effects of the game. This is clearly designed with intention. When the enemies and animals “pop-in”, it is an unexpected surprise and you must get your bow and arrow ready at all costs. Such immediacy is quite compelling, and heart-pounding. This concept fits perfectly in with the surprise narrative, which appears to be one of the central tenants of this game. Hello, Chang, this is an action-adventure RPG, and you need such urgency.

Michaelangelo's Pieta is invoked in-game
Although there are frame-rate dips as I mentioned above (and I reluctantly concede this point to Chang); however, this is clearly by intention yet again--the many stuttering effects parallel the hesitation that Link has regarding his quest. Remember, at the start of the game, he has lost his memory, so who is he, and why should he save Zelda after all? This appears to be an existential crisis that brings tension and excitement to the gameplay elements. How certain can he be that the Princess is indeed an important figure to save, and thus agree to play the role of savior, invoking the Christ figure symbolism and/or the tired Virgin Mary giving birth to a new world theme? This may be a rhetorical question, but nevertheless gripping in its mystery. The stuttering was well-placed throughout the game to hit home the point of Link’s hesitancy, and such internal conflicts lend realism to the game.

The emotional characterization of Link also follows a Freudian/Jungian conceit. Although overstated and overanalyzed throughout the years, the super-ego versus ego versus id structure inherent in Link and others was expounded in a nevertheless extraordinary way in Breath of the Wild and lends our hero and NPCs depth of character. It is no surprise that he remains a silent hero, as he wrestles between whether he should express his true feelings (the id) or in a more “nobler” way, suppress his more base feelings and follow his super-ego of de-facto saving Zelda? I cannot answer that question for you, and the answers appear to differ upon each play through, lending a compelling richness, re-playability and depth to the game.

Text on Taoism
I argue against Chang, as Link is in fact a very developed character as noted by the psychological aspects described above. I applaud Nintendo for NOT having a female playable version of Link, but this somehow gave rise to indignation amongst the press. I feel that we Westerners do not understand the importance of balance in Eastern traditions, namely the Yin/Yang of Taoist philosophies, first expounded by Lao Tzu, and then comically applied in storied expositions by Chuang Tzu. Tragically, Aonuma-san, the game director, did a rather spotty explanation as to why Link is *not* playable as a female in Breath of the Wild which worsened the situation, but it's not his fault. It's rather difficult to explain the reasoning behind Taoism, and all falls on deaf Western ears, the language barriers exacerbating the matter. Aonuma-san may be a genius game developer, but he really needs to hire public relations for his interviews, especially with a Western audience.

I think what Aonuma meant to pose is the question of the esoteric (at least to us) female/male dichotomy in a Yin/Yang pull of the Triforce. I hope that in the next Zelda, there will be a role reversal so there will exist a Prince Male Link, the hero and main playable character is just plain old Female Zelda (no epithets to parallel Link as in prior Zelda games), and final boss Ganon (the vaunted Triforce), but keeping the male/female dichotomy untouched so as not to disturb such a Yin/Yang balance.

At any rate, even though Link's personality is just as well-developed (due to the more subtle show not tell approach of Breath of the Wild) as the more narrative-driven Nathan Drake of the Uncharted series, I don't see the media complaining about not having a playable female Nathan Drake.

Prince Sidon
I disagree with Chang's position that the NPCs are also devoid of personality. Prince Sidon is a much hyped-up character, which is understandable, as women and men swooned over his charms in the social media space. His toothy grin reminds me of “vagina dentata” tropes--again, although played upon too much in modern “art media”--it appears more subtle in this game. The auteur wanted to fool the audience into thinking that Sidon is this threatening menace (i.e. his teeth structure), but in a surprising twist, we discover that he actually becomes a pivotal part of your quests. Again, the vagina dentata motif is very compelling in forcing the gender of Link as male, as it simply can *not* work if Link is playable as a cis-female, as this in-game concept necessitates the presence of the phallus.

This shock element lends an eerie foreshadowing of the end-game in rather nice parallelism. What if Ganon appears as a “sweet” creature, fooling you into thinking that he should be saved instead of destroyed as adhered by Zelda and her father? The fact that Calamity Ganon does not even speak to you (perhaps to disguise his intentions) is a clever counterpoint to Sidon (i.e. a role reversal).  So by appearing innocent, the shock is that Ganon is actually in fact a threat. These twists and turns are very much appreciated, and I don’t know why more video games don’t follow this model?

I believe the developers were concerned about the triteness in following the traditionalist concepts of Freud and Jung as discussed above, so there are subtle interplays further elucidated in characterization, invoking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that is much needed in the video game genre. Zelda did not succeed in defeating Calamity at the start of the game, but nevertheless she battles on for 100 years, keeping Ganon at bay. One then questions whether she can in fact self-actualize and help Link defeat Ganon? I was very concerned at this point, as per Maslow, basic needs and safety must be met FIRST before being able to self-actualize and transcend.

Therefore, the question is: has Zelda transcended so that she can not only contain Ganon, but additionally aid Link when it comes time for the final battle? Or by battling Ganon for all these years, has her basic needs *not* been met, thereby trapping her in the first rung of the hierarchy, namely, “Physiological” and perhaps the higher “Safety” step at best, so that no, she can’t help Link as there is no way for her to self-actualize? These worrisome questions lend tension and angst to the story, as it's unclear if we'll succeed against the threat. The emotional impact of this question pulls at the heart strings.

At any rate, I don’t mean to obscure the construct of hierarchical rungs, as this does not appear to be a “Dante’s Inferno’s circles of hell by the numbers approach” by the developers who eschew such simplistic explanations, but I could be wrong. But the richness is that I question whether it is better to analyze Zelda’s emotional and physical turmoils in a Maslowian manner as opposed to a more concrete “This is Hell” way. I fear that there are more interpretations to be had, that all theories and conjectures have *not* been extracted. In other words, more psychological analysis is needed here, and I leave this to the professional game journalists to explore, delve and discover.

So yes, Chang misconstrued the subtle presentations of Link and the NPCs personalities as lack of personality, crudely glossing over important Psychological themes and traditions so evident in this game. There is a richness and depth of characterization that surprises me, as we don't expect this in video games, or at least to this extent.

Further, Chang didn't even comment on the complicated relationship between Link and Zelda in the optional story cut-scenes. Although the cut-scenes present a Buber-ian vision of relationships, which posit that the very rare emotional connection and attachment to another is an expression of God (this is in his seminal piece, I and Thou), I feel that Aonuma-san goes even one step further from this great philosopher.

Yes, he depicts a Buber-type of bond, but at the crux there is conflict between the two, which implies that both needed to work through their dynamic relational issues throughout the century, but since that didn't occur (as Link was in stasis), it shows in the final cut-scene where it doesn't appear that Link and Zelda are truly attached, as they have not worked through or processed their relationship.

The question is what approach does the game use? I am emboldened to think that the game play elements show that adapting the tried and true structural family approach into couples therapy, may be a good strategy to use. In their family lines, are there relational patterns existing that echo their current situation, in which case, you need to break this unfortunate legacy? Or, does Aonumo-san posit the conflicts as more in the Beck tradition of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), where unrealistic distortions of how they view each other needs to be challenged? By replacing these negative, false views of each other, with positive realistic ones, the relationship will obviously improve.
The Master Sword

I think the game's richness allows for this ambiguity in the game play elements, as evidenced in the culmination of the Master Sword, as the triumphant symbolism of permanence, which Zelda preserved for Link. I believe Aonuma-san foresaw this, and that's why he made the Master Sword the only unbreakable weapon in the game, once Link and Zelda move past their problematic relationship. This is further expanded upon as it takes 13 hearts for Link to retrieve the legendary sword. The "working through" of their relationship is represented by the work you do in completing the shrines (4 shrines/heart). I like how this foreshadows the end as the hearts do represent their loving relationship, so it appears that after the final cutscene rolls, they resolve their issues and reconnect.

This is actually brilliant and clearly lost on the blog owner. As Chang didn't find these cut-scenes, I don't find her review as exacting as she had hoped.

Moblins
As for combat, I do find the melee and ranged lacking a bit here, although not nearly as problematic as Chang expounds, but the enemy AI is intelligent in design, and I love how the lead archer moblin, who is always placed on surveillance duty, signals the troops to attack upon Link’s approach, even when he does so stealthily. I dare say that this is rather Marxist in approach as I noticed, why is there always ONE who is always at attention slaving away, while the other moblins are either sleeping, eating or partying? Is there an anti-Capitalist slant here? In fact, the various iterations of Talus was also fruitful, lending you many valuable items upon defeat, perhaps symbolizing the slaying of the so-called “capitalist Pig”, which is rather ironic. One gets rich *not* through Capitalism (symbolized by Talus, the golden promise of wealth), but through Marxist slaying of Talus and these enemies?

Another deep game play element is the much argued pros and cons argument of the weapon degradation system. I'm going to take a balanced approach here and present both sides of what I think are the crucial points. The degradation of weapons evokes this exact anti-Capitalist thinking. Due to the conjectured decadent period that exists 100 years ago, equipment was built in a cheap way, to maximize as much profit, at the risk to quality, so as to enrich the few. Therefore, the weapons that Link finds degrade rapidly.
Aonuma needs to flesh out Marxist principles

I wonder if such realism is necessary in a fantasy game? Indeed, it was upsetting and taxing to have to switch weapons even within 1 moblin group battle, but on the other hand, it plays nicely with the anti-Capitalist themes here, which I believe outweigh the constraints. So, I find that the weapon degradation system is pivotal to the game.

I’m not sure if Nintendo thought through the rain elements (Link can't climb due to the slippery rain) because I don’t really see a consistent Marxist elucidation intrinsically in-game. I can stretch things to an almost ridiculous extent by perhaps conferring rain and hiking boots as being too expensive and out of reach of the noble masses, who are championed by Marx, 100 years ago. So flash-forward to the current time in the game, Link, our noble hero (symbol of the masses) has to suffer sliding off mountains due to this injustice. Again, this is a rather forced explanation, and it doesn't seem to adhere to Aonuma-san's vision as neatly as I would have hoped. I'm confident that Nintendo will flesh this issue out more in the upcoming DLC, and if not, in the next Zelda. Indeed, I'm pleased that Aonuma-san will continue the tradition of Breath of the Wild in future games.

As I've discussed at length, this game has extremely rich and subtle nuances to the story, character development, game play elements, and keen exploration into relationship dynamics, and I hope I at least touched on the basics. I was very impressed with Nintendo for really changing the Zelda series from the first unpromising attempt, to the majestic Breath of the Wild.

Conclusion: Due to the richness, complexity and depth of the game, that requires more analysis than I can put forth, I argue that this is not just one of the best Zeldas, but perhaps the greatest video game of all time.

-N.C., Esq.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Ori and the Blind Forest: The Dark Souls of Platforming

Since getting back into gaming (my undergraduate years in the '90s were followed by a long gap), I've mostly been  hooked on RPGs, so I decided to branch out into other genres, such as platform-based games. It seemed to make sense to play the most acclaimed ones, and from consensus, as well as recommendation of a friend, I restarted with Mario Galaxy.

Aside from the negative stereotype characterization of Mario, the icon doesn't have a personality and it's unclear why he wants to save Princess Peach, as there's no discernible relationship between the two whatsoever.  I would even be happy with a cliched opening cutscene of how they were childhood best friends, so it would make sense that he'd want to save her.  However, there is no such background story, nor any hint of emotional connection between the two.

As I don't find platforming elements as intrinsically rewarding or fun as melee/range combat mechanics, exploring, leveling up characters, and similar activity, I never finished Mario Galaxy, as I didn't feel emotionally invested in saving Peach nor her kingdom.  Of course, those who find platforming fun, Mario Galaxy is incredible, with its variety of set-pieces and the level design of the huge, albeit separated, worlds.

Another acclaimed series that I looked into is the Rayman series. Although Rayman does have kind of a personality, being a very goofy, lanky character, we are not given much reason why he does what he does, so again, the platforming elements not being as innately fun for me, I never finished a Rayman game either.

As a PSN member, Duck Tales: Remastered was free,  and I wanted to play out of nostalgia and love of the comics and cartoon in my youth.  Additionally, according to HowLongToBeat, it should only take 3.5 hours to complete, and thus would be a quick addition to my list of completed games. Finally, a platform game that I might love.

Duck Tales does have a story: treasure is stolen by his rival, and he realizes his missing nephews' lives are more important to him than money. However, the platforming is very repetitive, as gameplay revolves around bouncing on a pogo stick, and I had to force myself to finish the game. It didn't have the sliding, racing, and wide variety of action of the Mario or Rayman games.  I believe it took me eight hours, as a beginner in platforming, but it felt like hundreds of hours.

Fortuitously, I chanced upon Ori and The Blind Forest, which is on both the Xbox 1 and PC. I loved the graphics and animation of the trailer. Reviewers noted a compelling story, as well as pinpoint accuracy in gameplay, which seemed promising: could this be the first platformer that I'd love rather than tolerate?  It lived up to its promise. Within the first minute of the game, I was emotionally connected to Ori and his adoptive mother, Naru, who finds him, an orphan, out in the woods during a terrible storm, and takes him in. The woods are dying, famine is setting in, and  seeing Naru saving food for Ori brought me to tears, as you see she is starving to death, moving slower and slower through the game, finally collapsing near her bed.  Meanwhile Ori risks his life climbing precarious thin, brittle branches to get a piece of fruit for his mother. As he's finally able to bring her some food, she dies--please note, this is the opening cutscene, so this is not really a spoiler. On my second and third playthroughs, I hit the skip button to avoid seeing such sadness again.

Ori is a character you love, root for and care about, and it's compelling he's out on a quest to save the dying forest in his world. With emotional investment in Ori and his quest, I was surprised to find the platforming elements great fun, and, of course, I love the combat elements. Despite dying hundreds of times (there's a death counter), I was so emotionally invested that I had to press on. The game's challenge is such that I wanted to master each section of the world, despite the platform elements, and the sense of accomplishment at each level was equal to beating a Dark Souls boss.  One of my most memorable gaming moments was escaping from the Ginso Tree, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the platforming of this task.

Ori controls brilliantly and tightly; the way he twists, turns and bounces off walls is fun and seamless. It's a dream to control him. The game is Metroidvania in style, so there are shooting and puzzle elements.You gain power boosts from finding spirit trees, which give you upgrades. The world is so absolutely gorgeous I actually wanted to explore it, as it is not sectioned off in separate areas like Mario or Rayman games, thus the semi-open world is organic.  

The diversity of the challenging but fair gameplay, the handsomeness of the graphics and animations, and the emotional impact are all comparable to that of the Dark Souls series. No wonder  Ori is often called the Dark Souls of Platforming, as it's one of the greatest (if not, the greatest) of its genre.

Rating: A+, Masterpiece.

-Alice

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Innovation of Horizon: Zero Dawn

After a friend of mine finished the game and we discussed our impressions of this masterpiece, I realized that I hadn't touched upon the innovations of H:ZD in my earlier review.

The game perfects the form.  For example, J.S. Bach did not "foresee" the transition from Baroque to the Classical period, to the point where critics complained of his compositions being old-fashioned.  We would call his critics today as "haters".  J.S. Bach perfected counterpoint and subtly transposing to different musical keys, often unnoticed unless one really pays close attention.  In fact, Mozart stated that he could not do counterpoint, so awe-inspiring was Bach's genius. J.S. Bach created absolutely sublime music where one must follow the repeat signs, the passages bear repeating again and again, as one can otherwise miss the complex interweaving of melodies/harmonies and shifts in keys.

Likewise, Horizon: Zero Dawn appears to innovate in the open world genre in the same manner as J.S. Bach, as all elements typical of open world games here are excellent to superb.  Other games that are at least near-masterpieces are less impressive in terms of having too many glitches and bugs, or the combat is lackadaisical, or the narrative middling at best, and so forth.

Another means of innovation is in advancing the art. For example, Beethoven foreshadowing the transition from Classical to the Romantic periods, or Cezanne foreseeing the transition from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism (i.e. being at the forefront of the post-Impressionist period).  I feel that Horizon innovates the combat mechanics in two ways:  the technical aspects of taking down enemies and the sophisticated A.I.

For instance, in the Monster Hunter series, I was struck by the sophistication of attacking various body parts for extra damage. For example, stunning one of my favorite monsters from that game, the Kut Ku (and its variants), by hitting it on its head with a hammer; one needs to be positionally aware to attack the specific body part as there is no lock-on, and one can miss.  Actually, you really couldn't have lock-on as you need to target tails to cut off, heads to stun, and so forth. Each weapon also plays extremely differently and I end up specializing in just one weapon type for the entire game, as it takes expertise to master multiple weapons. As a noob, I admit using the lightning longsword for Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, and then the switch-axe for Monster Hunter 3U.

Horizon goes one step forward than Monster Hunter where one needs to also target certain areas of a machine, slowly peeling off plates/armor and even using the machine's weapons against itself.  Additionally, the A.I. is extremely sophisticated. So, frequently, when fighting a boss, I position myself behind it, since almost 100% of the time the boss would attack in front of it, as if it didn't realize that I'm attacking from behind. Indeed, it makes no sense for a character to attack empty air, but so many enemies do.

However, when I thought I was cleverly attacking HZD's ThunderJaw from behind (thinking that it would shoot ranged attacks and totally miss me), I was surprised to be stomped by its rear legs and/or hit by its tail, as it was clearly aware that I was behind it.  Further, unlike a lot of other games' bosses,  which tend to have at most five or six pattern attacks, the ThunderJaw has around 17(!), as it was coded to respond to your moves in a realistic manner.

Also, much to my chagrin, when I laid down traps, which a machine might be able to note, I was surprised that it jumped over them.  I think future games will need to make the enemies respond to attacks in a realistic manner like Horizon's, instead of reacting in a scripted way regardless of where you are positionally, or what you are doing.

Naughty Dog has mentioned that they will find it difficult to surpass Horizon's graphics, but I think the challenge is to make these battles even more realistic than Horizon's  as I find gameplay combat mechanics more important than graphics.

In conclusion, Horizon innovates in both excelling at all gameplay elements, and advancing the genre with the technical aspects in having to aim at not only specific body parts, but also layered armor and weapons to peel off, as well as the brilliant A.I. it features.

-Alice

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Persona 5 Review

SPOILERS follow

Played on a PS4 Pro on Ben-Q 2560x1440 monitor (easy mode) then Seiki 4K TV 5o inch (normal mode).

Persona 5 forces me to recommend the Playstation 4 as the best choice available.  Prior to Persona 5, my history with the series consists of my playing Persona 4 Golden (4G), up through saving Yukiko, on the PS Vita.  At that time, I never got around finishing it, for no reason I now remember.

However, after playing Persona 5, I had the empty feeling one gets after playing an extremely immersive and gripping game, so to fill the void, I finished playing Persona 4G on normal mode, so I will compare and contrast those.

In Persona 5, you play as an adorable unnamed 16-year old high-school student who is arrested on false charges of aggravated assault after defending a woman from being raped.  As a result, the main character is court-mandated to attend Kosei High School and to live with Sojiro Sakura, a cafe owner whose customer is a friend of his parents.

The beginning of the game demonstrates that the protagonist wants to protect and help others, so it makes sense that he, and his allies, also troubled students and victims, band together to upgrade the consciences of perpetrators through stealing their hearts in alternative worlds created by each of the villains' subconsciouses. The game features excellent camaraderie among the characters, as does 4G.  You have the option of controlling only the protagonist or also his teammates.  Also, the protagonist can capture the adversaries' Personas, their shadow-selves, for magical and combat purposes.

For my first playthrough, I used easy mode, as I found the first dungeon strangely difficult and continuously ran out of SP (magic meter), and the enemies take 1/3 to 1/2 of your health with each hit.  I could have used my usual technique of grinding levels; however, the story was so gripping that I wanted to get through the dungeons as quickly as possible to get through the plot's interesting twists and turns.  There were a lot of WTF moments where I would drop my controller.  By playing on easy, I was able to get through the dungeons quickly without having to grind.

Furthermore, along with the story, I was captivated by all the NPCs whom you establish social links, called "confidants". For example, I desperately had to find out if Hifumi Togo, an amateur high school shoji player, often criticized for being famous for her looks rather than talent, was able to defeat a professional shoji player on national TV. However, I couldn't find her after a certain point in the game, and I was avoiding guides to avoid spoilers.  I believe the main character has to reach a certain level of skill (such as courage, charm, knowledge and diligence) to be able to advance and rank up the social links of your confidants, which progress through their story line, so she might have disappeared due to my low skill level.

The confidant stories are so compelling that I really feel that all video games henceforward should follow this model for side-quests.  Instead of cringing through the typical fetch quests or escort missions, I look forward to promoting the social links, as it advances the confidants' captivating story lines and their relationships with you.

After understanding the mechanics better by the end of Persona 5 and finishing Persona 4G, I revisited Persona 5 and played it on normal, which I highly recommend on your first playthrough, if  you have the patience to wait out the plot advancements.   As with Persona 4G, the first dungeon tends to be difficult (and it's okay if you need to spend extra days), but then the subsequent dungeons are easier.

The strategy that I recommend: make sure your protagonists and his teammates are on manual mode so that you can target the enemies' weaknesses specifically rather than relying on AI for the teammates.  To save on SP, I recommend looking up each enemy's weakness, and use their weaknesses against them.  If they all go down in one teammate's turn, your team has choices of an all-out attack, adding  them to your list of Personas, getting an item or receiving extra money. The main reason why I ran out of SP on the first playthrough is that I used everyone's elemental attacks to find out what their weaknesses were.

If you're not at a save point, and don't have SP and are running out of items/health, you can always flee from battle, as long as you aren't attacked first. Ambush and stealth mechanics are crucial in this game; I fled, in the first dungeon, escaping a lot of the battles.  However, this can raise the enemy's alertness, and if it goes to 100% alert, I believe you'll be kicked out of the dungeon.  However, this didn't happen to me, and I reached the save points.  It took me three days to complete the first dungeon, and then three days to finish the second dungeon (this is forced due to story mechanics), but one can complete the future dungeons in one or two days with SP regenerating gear.

As early as possible, make sure you rank up the Death Confidant Link, Tae Takemi, your city's doctor, to 7 as quickly as possible so that you can buy the SP regenerating accessory.  Although not necessary, I would try to have the Death persona at hand.  At rank 7, you get 1/2 discount, so the most effective SP accessory costs 50K.  I had enough money to buy four before entering the third dungeon.  And thanks to this accessory, I only used less than 5% of SP, so I was able to complete this third dungeon in one day, without using any items, healing or otherwise.  It's best to find a weak enemy, keep guarding at every turn if you can put an enemy to sleep (or any other status ailments such as dizzy), until you get your SP back up.

Each time you reach a save point, I also recommend going back to the starting point and registering your new Personas.  I believe that if you capture a new one, but it's not in your list of Personas that you carry (i.e. you release it), it won't be registered. Edit: as long as the Persona is in the list that you carry around, it's automatically registered.

As a result of playing the game in normal mode, I actually look forward to doing the dungeons, as you need to attack your enemies' weaknesses and try to conserve your SP as much as possible.  In other words, the gameplay, which is turn-based, is extremely addictive, and it never gets old when you ambush an enemy to give yourself an advantage. Playing on easy doesn't encourage the same addictive feel, because you can just tank through the enemies instead of more engaging strategizing fun in normal mode.

Persona 5 improves on the dungeon concept from 4G as the main boss dungeons, called Palaces, are the set dungeons, and have maps that you can find.  In 4G, all the dungeons are randomized.  I don't like random dungeons as they can never be as intricately puzzle designed as those in the Dark Souls overworld levels, or a Zelda dungeon pre-Breath of the Wild.  Set dungeons also can have brilliant enemy placement, as seen in Dark Souls 1, which is the model for how enemy placement should be done, as opposed to randomized one.

The dungeons in Persona 5 are remarkable due to their diversity; not just variety of design, but differing puzzle and traversal mechanics.  On my second, normal-mode walkthrough, I kept noting how much fun and how creative the game is.  There are no frame-rate issues in combat. As the game is offered for the PS3 and PS4, the graphics aren't as crisp as I would like, but I'm confident that the sequel will show improvement.

Once you finish a Palace, it disappears completely. However, one brilliance of Persona 5 is the Mementos system, where one collective unconsciousness dungeon is random (for those who prefer the variety), and never disappears.  I did grind a bit between the first and second dungeon at the Mementos after escaping the latter half of the first dungeon battles, so there is no issue if you want to escape all your Palace battles--you can grind in the Mementos whenever you want.  Further, there are some great items that lurk there. Morgana, who serves as your loyal sidekick and turns into a car, controls so well and easily that it's a joy to drive around the dungeon--he can do very tight 180 degree turns.  I believe I would have continued with Grand Theft Auto IV if the steering in that game's vehicles were as good as Morgana's.

In addition to strategizing the combat, you also have to strategize how you spend your time, as there is a wide variety of social activities you can engage in.  I would start each new dungeon immediately because if the dungeon is not completed, many of your teammates will ask about tackling the dungeon, rather than spending time leveling up their rank. A secondary priority is to target maximizing the protagonist's Death arcana social link, then your teammates', as the next most crucial steps, and achieving the appropriate skill level to be able to rank up.  Also, you should maximize Mishima as he gives you extra XP if you ever find your team too weak.  Finally, make lock picks as you can only make two to start out with.

There are very minor issues I have with Persona 5.  At times, the camera angles aren't framed to display what you face, so one can be disoriented.  This becomes a problem when you're stealthily moving from one area to the next quickly at different angles, and not simply going forward.  However, this only occurs occasionally, so it's a minor complaint.

Another issue is that some of the dungeon soundtrack music is too repetitive, such as that in the first dungeon and the Mementos, but one can't turn down nor turn off the background music.  in my first playthrough, since I'm awful with directions (even with the excellent map design), I spent hours finding my way through and got to the point where I almost quit playing the game as the music became very irritating; I hope they will patch this out. I needed the sound effects to help with gameplay cues, and Morgana's comments are helpful in making sure you didn't miss an item or enemy weakness, so I couldn't just turn off the sound completely.

However, aside from this music issue, I had no trouble with the other dungeons and the rest of the soundtrack is fantastic.  In fact, I get chills whenever you make a vow to a confidant and rank up, and the music adds to this effect.  The lack of music control is also a problem with 4G.  I hope that Atlus will have separate music and sound effects volume controls in Persona 6.

The last issue I'd note is that the HUD design is rather cluttered and takes up a large part of the screen, which was quite obvious on the smaller BenQ monitor screen, but isn't as notable if the screen is 50 inches or larger.

Conclusion:  Persona 5, like 4G, is a masterpiece due to its unique and varied dungeon designs, gripping  characters' stories, and the addictive, stylish and strategic gameplay and pace when played in normal mode.

Rating:  A+, Masterpiece.

-Alice

The How of Happiness Review

NOTE: I've decided to make this post my permanent featured post, as one of the most important things is happiness. Lyubomirsky'...