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How ‘Persona 5’ Got Me Through My Break Up

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A break up is a devastating shake-up to your life, whether it comes after a short-term experience or years of commitment. It can rock you to your core. It can leave you feeling isolated and unlovable. It can even lead you to question who you are. Well, I recently went through a breakup. And amongst many things, video games, my oldest passion, helped me get through this rough period. And I, in fact, owe a lot to one game in particular: Persona 5.

It didn’t hit me straight away. Of course, there were some initial tears. But shortly after, there was a sense of freedom. I can do whatever I want now. If I feel like doing something, I’m just going to do it. But then I realized the problem. I didn’t really want to do anything. I felt lost. This other person made up a big portion of who I was and how I spent my time. And everything I’d done before for fun, reminded me of her. And being reminded of your ex, straight after a breakup, isn’t fun.

So how does this relate to Persona 5? Well, I may have played Persona 5 far sooner, if I hadn’t gone through this experience. Because video games for years had been my release. My way of unwinding. When I play a game, I invest myself into new worlds and stories. But my ex and I had played games together. She was my go-to person to discuss the latest gaming news with. I had, in fact, met her for the first time while working part-time at an EB Games. And so like many things in my life, I suddenly couldn’t play games. There were too many painful memories associated with them.

Persona-5-HeaderIt was a few weeks before I turned on a console. Battleborn was my first foray into my old passion. Now Battleborn certainly isn’t a great game by any means but by playing co-op with a friend, I was able to at least pass some time. Honestly, I was in a rut for about a month but one night, when my friends were busy, and I was wallowing in a swamp of self-pity and loneliness, I returned. I needed something to get lost in. A world different from my own to escape to. I’d heard game journalism veterans like Andrew Goldfarb and Greg Miller champion the Persona series for years, and the latest entry into the series seemed to carry on that level of quality. So I decided to give it a go.

Sure the game is brimming with style and its turn-based RPG battles were well designed. But I didn’t care about any of that. At least not at that point in my life. If you’re interested in the more technical side of Persona 5, I highly recommend you check out our review. But that isn’t what this article is about. This article is about how this game’s characters got me through the next few weeks.

There is the greater story of Persona 5. Where you gain the ability to influence malicious, greedy and perverted people. By ‘changing their heart,’ they retire their wicked ways and confess their sins. However, when you’re not trying to save Japan from demented adults, you’re a normal high school student. You do everything a normal high school student would be expected to do. Get a part-time job, study for exams, hang out with friends and go on dates. You also do more peculiar stuff like hire escorts and hang out with drunken journalists, but let’s not go down that road. Let’s instead focus on how the more mundane aspects of this game actually helped me.

First off, I had an initial connection to the game’s protagonist. This might sound odd. He’s between 14 and 15, whereas I’m 21. He is Japanese and I’m from New Zealand. I talk a lot and he didn’t even have a voice (your character in Persona 5 is the only character that isn’t voice-acted). However, age and ethnicity aside, I felt like we were the same. We both had gone through a traumatic experience. He being found guilty of a crime that he didn’t commit, and me obviously having gone through a breakup. We both did what we thought was right in those situations, yet were judged by those around us for what had happened.

My character, who I had named James, began his journey by settling into Shujin Academy. As the new kid in a big city, James had to learn the ropes. Make friends, answer questions in class, and get home before his curfew. Playing a high school simulator may sound dull. But it took me back to a simpler time. It took me back to my own memories of high school. When I didn’t have to worry about my career. When I used to come home after school and watch Naruto with my brother. When relationships weren’t so complicated.

Over the course of the year (in the game…it didn’t take me that long to get over my break up… give me some credit), I made countless friends. Not by being cool or actively seeking out companionship. I made friends the natural way. Over the course of the story, James’ path crossed with those of others. Each one of them a fully fleshed-out individual. They weren’t the one dimensional NPCs found throughout so many RPGs. These were people I ended up spending 120 hours with. And the more time I devoted to each them, the more I learned about them. About their goals, their life experiences, how they dealt with adversity. Just like in real life. I gravitated towards some and lost interest in others. Ryuji was my best mate, Morgana my trusty sidekick, and Ann, my girlfriend. I did try and obtain multiple girlfriends but just like in real life, I didn’t have enough charm. I mean hey, I’d been in a committed relationship for nearly four years. You can’t blame me for getting James to play the field.

What this gave me was structure and stability. In my life, my friends and family couldn’t always be there. They had work, they had to study and they had their own hobbies. I did everything with my ex. And now that she was gone I couldn’t expect everyone else to drop what they were doing and take her place. That’s where Ryuji, Ann, Morgana and so many others filled in the gaps. Sure, real-life relationships are important. But people can’t always be there when you need them to be. And when my friends and family were busy, I knew I had a whole bunch of friends ready to hang out with in Tokyo. The emptiness inside me, that missing piece, it started to go away.

But why Persona 5? Well Infamous and Destiny might have made me feel like a bad ass. The Witness might have made me feel intelligent. Jak 3 and Destroy all Humans 2 might have made me feel a nostalgic sense of happiness. Maybe some of those games might help you. But I wanted something that wouldn’t end. I didn’t want to play a 10-20 hour game. Sure that provides a couple of days of distraction, but then I’m back to square one. I wanted a game that would go on and on. I wanted a world to get lost in. And within that world, have characters, have people, which I could invest in. Just like I invested in my ex.

Despite taking me around 120 hours to beat, I still found that I never had enough time to balance everything in Person 5. I had to make real-life decisions that affected my grades, skills, and relationships. The people I met along the way; Ryuji, Ann, Makoto. These characters became real to me. They became people I actually cared about. I considered at one point going back for a second playthrough. But that felt like cheating. Just like life, this was my story. And I had to accept the decisions I’d made. One night after laughing at Futaba’s jokes and planning what I’d focus on the next day to get my stats up, I realized. I’d forgotten about my break up for the first time in weeks.

It took me 3 months to beat Persona 5. Which for me, is a long time to dedicate to just one game. But it is probably one of the most memorable and life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. At the end of the game, all my friends in Tokyo set off on a road trip. Celebrating their friendship and everything they had achieved in the last year. And I sat back. With a smile. And thought about how I’d re-discovered my passion for gaming.

Feature Writer/ Reviewer for Goombastomp and founder of Quiet Stories For more info on upcoming books, podcasts, articles and video games follow me @OurQuietStories on Twitter. On a more personal note i'm a beard fanatic, calamari connoisseur and professional fat guy.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

“[Earthnight is] an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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