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‘Persona 5’ Review – Stealing Your Heart and the Show

Persona 5 is a great game that sets a high bar with its amazing visuals, audio, gameplay, and story. It is a definitive purchase for anyone who finds themselves to be a fan of role-playing games, Japanese or otherwise.

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There are few games that reach the level of detail and style that Persona 5 has achieved. Everything, from the game’s striking and bold visuals to its snappy and catchy soundtrack, overflows with a level of love and dedication not seen in many games. Persona 5 is a 90+ hour modern RPG that delivers a story and gameplay experience above that of its predecessor and spiritual prequel, Persona 4.

Persona 5 follows the same basic structure as its predecessors, Persona 3 and 4: High schooler by day and vigilante by night. During the day you go to school, hang out with friends, and take in all the sights that Tokyo has to offer. The game takes place over the course of a year, and the map is constantly expanding as you discover new locations throughout the region. The city is vibrant and lively. It’s full of people and activity like any major city should be, and it stands in stark contrast to the much less active and bustling town from Persona 4. Faceless students and salarymen walk from train station to train station on the their morning an evening commutes, you can overhear the gossip of other people as you walk around the city, and each location has its own special shops that sell unique items, accessories, and gifts.

The liveliness of Tokyo doesn’t end with just its background though, as this attention to detail is even brought into things like menus or loading screens. The same NPCs you see walking around Shibuya or any of the train stations fill the loading screen as they move from one locale to next, and each shop keeper gets their own specialized shop menu. The doctor at the local clinic will spin around in her chair, check charts, and cross her legs as you navigate your way through selections of medicine and healing items for example.

During the daytime you’re also encouraged to make confidants, or friends, with the people you interact with from day-to-day. Persona 5’s main themes are about overcoming prejudice and adverse authority, and each confidant has their own issues they’re struggling with related to these cases. The aforementioned doctor was forced to take the fall for a medical screw-up made by her boss, there’s a politician trying to undo the mistakes of his past, and a girl that’s had her antagonizing mother’s hopes and dreams forcibly thrust on her, to name a few. Each confidant’s story is interesting, and while they’re not as fleshed out as the main members of the cast, it’s hard to not feel for them at times.

Confidants come in all shapes and sizes from your teammates to your homeroom teacher.

In past Persona titles these extra stories served little outside of making your level grind easier by giving you bonus experience, but in Persona 5 each confidant provides some kind of unique service both in and outside the life-sim elements of the game. Some of these hold a little more weight than others, and completing each confidant’s story line rewards you with both a great side-story and gameplay-related bonus. A shogi player will teach you battle tactics, the doctor will research new medicine, and even one of your teachers will help you in the evenings so you can get more stuff done.

When you’re not walking around Tokyo and taking care of your social life as a student you’re exploring the Metaverse, or the collective human unconscious, as the leader of the Phantom Thieves. A group built on the frustrations of disempowered youth, the Phantom Thieves seek to change the world by reforming the corrupt hearts of those in power. Each member of your ragtag team of freedom fighters has their own tie to someone abusing or using them, you included. The driving force behind the story is the fact that you were set up to take the fall in a crime you didn’t commit. You have to start your life over and move to a new city in order to escape the restrictions of being a convicted felon. One thing leads to another and you soon find yourself in control a Persona, a reflection of your own heart, which allows you to fight the other reflections within the Metaverse.

The Metaverse exists in between reality, and those with strong evil convictions subconsciously build dungeons, called Palaces, where their shadows reside.  By going into the Metaverse and defeating a shadow the Thieves can force a change of heart in the individual, and make them to confess their own crimes out of guilt. Each Palace is vastly different in color, design, and layout from the one before it. Unlike dungeons in Persona 3 or 4, Palaces are built as individually constructed levels rather than being procedurally generated. Each Palace comes with its set of sneaking points and puzzles that fit perfectly with the Palace theme. You use secret passage ways in an old castle and find clever ways to avoid security lasers in a museum to name a few.

There is one weak link to Palace design, Mementos, a side-dungeon that uses the same random generation that 3 and 4 used. It’s a small blemish on an otherwise great system and doesn’t really take too much out of the game. You won’t spend too much time in Mementos though, as most sections can be cleared in roughly half an hour or so, and you’ll only find your stays taking longer when there’s a side-quest to take care of.

Combat in Persona 5 is turn-based, a series staple, but it flows with a depth that’s akin to other ATLUS rpgs. Exploiting elemental weaknesses or landing critical hits knocks enemies down and gives you extra turns. The same is true for your enemies, and one small misstep can lead to a game over on higher difficulties. An element from older Persona games that was brought back for 5 is negotiation. When you knock a group of enemy shadows down you’re given the option to bargain with them. Every shadow falls into a certain class, and if say the right things you can easily extort money, items, or even ask them to join you as a new Persona (which can be fused with each other to make even more Personas).

Mastering combat feels rewarding, as it opens ways for plenty of unique combos with powerful outcomes. A true mastery of combat is needed for most of the major boss fights, which turn things on their head thanks to the unique gimmicks they introduce. Simply trying to brute force your way through a difficult fight is often the wrong way to go about it and will, more often than not, lead to your demise.

Both reality and the Metaverse are complimented by a masterful soundtrack. Both Persona 3 and 4 stuck to variations of pop-rock, but Persona 5 steps a bit more towards jazz with mixes of several other genres in between. In particular, the later Palace themes are some of the most memorable in the game because of how perfectly they fit their respective settings. Other standout portions of the soundtrack include the various battle themes as well as many of the slower tracks that play during evenings. There’s a huge amount of variety, even for simple background tracks, as weather conditions like rain can cause a slight change in tempo to readjust the mood.

The facial animations in cutscenes are strikingly well done, and each one is filled with emotion and vigor.

There’s one other element between the gameplay, visuals, and music that also stands out: the writing. Persona 5’s cast is one that’s easy to empathize with. The main cast isn’t defined by their high schooler age, but rather their actions. Some of these kids have been to hell and back, some lived through abusive situations, but all of them have to find ways to overcome and cope with both personal and societal stressors that have brought them into the Phantom Thieves. Despite being set in high school, Persona 5 is far from your typical “teenagers save the world” JRPG plot. It’s not just the main cast though, the villains are well-defined too. And while you maybe won’t agree with their actions, they all have a story and aren’t left as being evil for the sake of being evil.

The voice acting only serves to further this attachment, as both the English and Japanese voice cast bring out the best in each line. The real stand out performances in the both the English and Japanese dub are for Yusuke, an aloof and dramatic artist with some of the game’s best one-liners. Both actors do a great job of conveying his personality as he has plenty of mood changes. Every actor does a stand up performance though, and Persona 5’s dub also one of the best the series has seen since its start over 20 years ago. The game comes with dual audio so you can listen to whichever you prefer, but both are exceptionally good. The one major weakness of the English track is a few odd name pronunciations, but all the emotion behind the characters is still there.

There are so many positive things about Persona 5 that it’s difficult to sum them all up in a 1500~ word review. I haven’t gone over all the great little tidbits in the localization, the intricacies of the Persona fusion system, the vast amount of things you can do in Tokyo other than talk with confidants and shop,  and even the small shout outs and references to other things in pop culture. Persona 5 is a game stuffed at the seams with quality content. It’s an amazing game, whose only real hang ups are a few mispronunciations and one or two pacing issues that last for maybe 4 or 5 hours in a 90+ hour title. Persona 5 is only loosely connected with other games in the series, and requires no prior knowledge to fully enjoy. Any fan of RPGs (J or otherwise) is doing themselves a disservice by not picking up Persona 5.

Persona 5 Review

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. John Cal McCormick

    April 18, 2017 at 8:08 am

    This is the best JRPG I’ve played in years. I find it interesting that Persona and Final Fantasy games came out after long development cycles, both trying to update the genre for a modern audience, and both picked completely different ways of going about it. Final Fantasy became a Western role playing game with Japanese characters and tropes. Persona doubled down on the turn based battling while making everything else around it more accessible, colourful, and interesting.

    It’s a superb game.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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Game Reviews

‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy

There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.

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Remothered: Tormented Fathers Review

It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.

Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.

Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.

There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.

While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.

Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.

It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.

As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.

Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.

It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.

There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.

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