Monday, January 5, 2015

The Most Punderful Time of the Year: Video Games

Well, it's that time of year again. Time for me to talk about all the things I like (as if that isn't all year). Luckily for you, my school schedule has been ensuring that such things are in rather short supply. But I did manage to play some games through all the tears. You may have noticed, since that's all I've really blogged about this year (for all the dozen times I've blogged). As such, most of these games I've already discussed, so I'll mostly just be re-writing things I've already written. and since ranking things is hard, the order is by no means meant to reflect which games are my most favorite; rather, they have been ordered so that I can use the transition "speaking of..." as many times as possible.

8. Super Smash Bros. For 3DS/Wii U

As some of my sharper readers (you'll get yours, Pinhead Larry) may have noticed, my last post, which was about Super Smash Bros, was published on the day Smash for 3DS came out. So it's not too much of a mystery why I haven't made a post since then. I've been pretty busy. With, uh, school. And stuff.


The new Smash Bros is cool. You didn't need me to say that, but I needed me to say. It's remarkably balanced compared to Brawl. Even if all the characters aren't competitively viable, they're almost all usable and fun to play as. 8 player smash often goes about as terribly as you'd expect, but it can be fun if played on the right stage. Also, I once caught five enemies in Ike's final smash, which is probably the coolest thing I've ever done in my life.

haha whatever poetry's for nerds anyway

Speaking of new modes that I was kind of wary of going in, Smash Tour (Mario Party but in Smash) is pretty alright. The gameplay is somewhat more skill-based than in everyone's favorite friendship ending simulator, but that doesn't mean that it's any less easy to completely screw over your friends. It just saves you a trip to change the disc in your console when you inevitably have to Settle it in Smash. And while I gotta say that I'm kinda disappointed in a lot of the new stages and seeming lack of new music, (especially on the 3DS) there's always old favorites. And the all the new music they do have is really damn good. But that's a story for another post.

7. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

Speaking of fighting games starring beloved characters from some of my favorite video games, (as well as some other characters [Yukari]) this is a game that also fits that description. Well, kind of. I've honestly only finished one Persona game as of the writing of this sentence, but it could be as many as three by the time this hits the presses. (Two, as of this revision)

I seem to remember mentioning this game in my last post, and, if memory serves, I was more than a little salty about it. Not too long after those complaints, I managed to beat Classic mode on the highest difficulty with several characters. What can I say? I'm just that good at video games. Still not good enough to remember all the controls, but baby steps.

I'm really glad that I bought P4AU, and not just because it was required to complete my Persona tarot deck, which I value somewhere between my life and my scientific calculator. It's a fun game with a lot of depth. It's not easy, but that just serves to make it more satisfying when you get a clutch counter or pull off a sick combo. (something that I'm sure I'll manage when I get back to playing it) And the One-Hit KO moves, while seemingly overpowered and game-breaking, are actually, in fact, totally overpowered and game-breaking when you're too much of a scrub to avoid them. I'm probably also too much of a scrub to hit with one, but you have to win a round to use them, and that almost never happens when I'm fighting a real opponent. But at least it's satisfying to kick a CPU into space 5 seconds into a round, or brofist with your Persona so hard that you do 10x as much damage as they have HP. Because as I Reach Out to the Truth, I firmly grasp that it's just fun as hell to destroy those who are weaker than you.

6. Persona 3 and 4

Speaking of Persona, I played Persona 3, my first real Persona game, this year. Persona 3 is arguably the first real Persona game at all, at least by the modern standards that define a Persona game. Yes, there were Personas 1 and 2, but those were... different. How different? Well, I'll turn over to Space Hitler to answer that question.

The things you fought were called demons instead of shadows.
I spoke about Persona 3 before, and most of the things that I said then are still true now. But don't worry; all those feelings of "damn, I'm going to shape up and be a better friend to the people I know" have subsided, and I'm still the same schmuck as I was before, because if there's one thing I learned from Frozen, it's that "people don't really change". If there's two things, then the other is that people who complain that "Let it Go" is over-rated really don't like being told to "Let it Go" for the 237th time. 

Persona 3 is a good game in a lot of different ways which, on their own, might not be individually impressive, but come together excellently when taken as a whole. As just an RPG, P3 doesn't stand out on its own. The Answer (The post-game story in Persona 3 FES that doesn't have social links) makes that clear enough. Similarly, if it were just the social aspects, it's easy to imagine one getting lost in the maze of relationships and losing motivation. But with both parts, you can choose your pacing however you like, and the game stays fresh. Until the full moon comes up, because you better be ready or you'll learn real quick whether or not death is a hunter unbeknownst to its prey.


Since I haven't finished Persona 4, it's getting lumped in with this entry. It's also getting lumped in with this entry because, despite what I said at the beginning, I actually have a lot of games to talk about, because that's what I did to escape my schoolwork.

I'm really liking Persona 4 so far, despite my questionable decision to play Persona 4 Arena Ultimax beforehand (Big shoutout to Atlus for having one of the characters meet the murderer in arcade mode and say "Hey, isn't that the guy who did all those murders in Inaba? You know, the murderer whose murders were the main plot of our game and whose identity is the biggest mystery? That very murderer") Since I haven't finished it yet, I can't really compare it much to P3 in terms of overall story or social link quality, but it seems to me like, as an RPG, Persona 4 is a significant improvement upon Persona 3. Persona fusion is more streamlined, dungeons seem less tedious, and you can give direct orders to your units. Honestly, I have pretty much finished the game by now, but I haven't the space to devote to comparing the two games. If you really want my opinion on the matter, I guess you can see me after class.

I also really like the symbolism of Persona 4. When people are forced to confront their Shadows, the shameful thoughts and feelings that they try to hide, even from themselves, they deny them. This only makes the Shadows stronger. Only by making peace with their faults and accepting themselves for who they are, flaws and all, do they grow as people and gain the power to kick fuckers into space(!) And in the end, that's what life is really all about. (the power to kick fuckers into space)

5. Persona Q

Speaking of Personas 3 and 4, we have Persona Q, the most crossed over game I have ever played. It is a crossover between Persona 3 and Persona 4, as it features characters from both games embarking on a quest to give the fans what they want. And, despite the fact that it is mentioned no where on the package or in the game, it is also a crossover between the Persona and Etrian Odyssey series. And speaking of Etrian Odyssey not being mentioned, it seems that I have never once mentioned it here, yet I seem to have memories of passionately describing its cartography RPG mechanics to a disinterested blog audience. I guess if you want more context, skip ahead to the Etrian Odyssey IV entry and come back to this.

Persona Q is an idea that first sounds like it should work on paper, then sounds like it really couldn't work after you think about it for a bit, but then ends up working pretty damn well in practice. They're both RPG's made by Atlus, so, you know, why not? But one of the notable quirks of EO is that your party isn't really made up of characters; just nameless randos with no dialogue or characterization beyond their portrait. Persona, on the other hand, is intensely character driven. Atlus does manage to reconcile the differing styles, and Persona Q is a great game, but I will say this about it: Persona Q doesn't do "Persona" as well as a real Persona game, and it doesn't do "Etrian Odyssey" as well as a real Etrian Odyssey game. Before I explain what I mean by that, I'd just like to clarify that I've actually only played one game from each of the respective series, so I'm pretty much just talking about my ass.

As I said before, the main draw (haha get it because of cards?) of Persona is the characters. Growing bonds with them and watching them develop as characters is very satisfying. Persona Q uses characters that are already known, and because of the wibbley wobbley timey wimey way that it takes place in the middle of P3 and P4, there isn't much room for character development. Most of the characters are more 2-dimensional, like caricatures of the people you know and love. But it's not as bad as all that; there's plenty of fun banter between all the characters, and there's plenty of Persona wisdom towards the end.

Sometimes the true manifestation of your inner self is a giant green phallus?

In my opinion, the main draw (haha get it because of... drawing maps?) of Etrian Odyssey is the sense of exploration. Exploring uncharted lands and discovering unknown treasures and dangers provides a thrill many other RPGs lack. Without an overworld or sub-dungeons, much of this sense of exploration was lost in Persona Q. But I must compliment Persona Q's dungeon design, which, although frustrating at times, included a lot of interesting and neat puzzles.

What I'm saying is that despite some flaws, the game is good and also the music is good. At this point, the chain of "Speaking of..." transitions splits in "Choose your own Adventure" fashion

For "Speaking of crossovers", skip to entry 4
For "Speaking of Etrian Odyssey", skip to entry 3

4. Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney

Speaking of crossovers, Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney is another great crossover game that I played this year. And while the games are so different that it's impossible to directly compare them as games, I will say that, as a crossover, PL vs. AA surpasses PQ. It is both an excellent Ace Attorney game (Maybe even one of the best) and an excellent Professor Layton game. And I have more credentials on this matter, as I've played the entire Ace Attorney series, and two games of Professor Layton. It has all the courtroom drama of an Ace Attorney game, and all the grand mystery of a Professor Layton game, as well as a level of "feels" uncommon to either series. The "witch trials", featuring magic and cross-examination of multiple witnesses at once are a fresh new take on Ace Attorney, and it's always satisfying to reduce a puzzle to a modular system of linear equations and spend 15 minutes inventing new math to solve a puzzle about pushing buttons with triangles on them.

Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney does a great job of exemplifying all the qualities of the respective series, both good and bad. It's also highly accessible for anyone who hasn't played one of the series. There aren't really any spoilers on either side, so it could make a nice introduction for someone who's played one game but not the other, or even a total newcomer. Persona Q actually did a pretty decent job in this department, with minimal spoiling of things I didn't already know (Hi, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax)

3. Etrian Odyssey IV

Speaking of Etrian Odyssey, I also played an actual Etrian Odyssey game this year, Etrian Odyssey IV. I bought it on a whim during an Atlus sale when I also bought SMT Devil Survivor: Overclocked. I kind of regretted it, since it took me so long to get around to playing it. And if I wasn't forced away from Persona 3 by a trip to visit my family, there's no telling how long that would have taken. But I did end up playing it, and I'm glad, because Etrian Odyssey IV is pretty baller.

Really baller
What really sets Etrian Odyssey apart is that you draw your own map. As you explore dungeons, you have to draw walls and the like on the bottom screen so you don't get lost. This sounds like a pain in the ass, and sometimes it is, but it really gives the sense of exploration that's rare in other games. In the beginning, at least, you're not The Chosen One on his Quest of Epic Destiny to destroy all Evil. You're not a rag-tag bunch of scrappy rebels fighting for freedom against the Evil Empire of Tyranny. You're just a couple of dudes and lady-dudes going where no one's been before, trying to figure out what's up with that big-ass tree in the distance because the Count said to. It's almost more of an explorer sim at first. And the initial lack of characters and story just makes it that much cooler when the plot starts to kick off.

Another strength of Etrian Odyssey IV is the combat system. I liked it. Each of the 8 (starting) classes has a definite role within your 5 member party, and you can customize the skills they learn and invest in to suit your strategy. Or you could just say "to Hell with strategy" and make a bunch of people who hit as hard and fast as possible. Nothing's stopping you. By the end of my playthrough damage was dealt almost exclusively by a single mage, with the rest of the party devoted to maximizing her damage and keeping everyone alive. Probably not the best strategy, but a valid one nonetheless.

Here is an anecdote of a memorable experience I had in EO IV. I was going to cut it, but my brother insisted that I not, so all culpability for this is his. I was wandering around some dungeon when I noticed that an otherwise unexceptional patch of water had a prompt to press the A button. Thinking that it might allow me to take a rest and heal or something, I pressed A, and it asked me if I wanted to catch a crayfish. Naturally, I did, so I had the first member of my party try to catch it. She was too slow, and got a nasty pinch, slightly damaging her. So I tried again with my fastest unit. Pinched. HP gone.At this point, I gave up, but when I happened upon the same spot while traveling through the same dungeon, I steeled my resolve and tried again. And again. After each of my party members, one by one, fell victim to the cruel pinch of Man's folly, one of them succeeded. The guild immediately erupted into cheers and celebration. It was a rare outburst of human emotion from characters who were really just grunts with a name and a face. But then someone asked the question: "Why did we even want it in the first place?" All at once, everyone realized that they were getting excited over nothing. The cray fish was thrown back into the water with disgust, and the adventure moved on like nothing had happened.

Also the music is like really good

2. Bravely Default

Speaking of... RPG's, I guess? Yeah, Bravely Default, whatever. The game that, earlier in the year, I said would probably be my game of the year if not for Super Smash Brothers, because I hadn't anticipated that I'd be playing so many amazing games this year. But that's not to say that it isn't an amazing game, because it really is. It's probably my favorite non-Atlus JRPG (which honestly might not be saying a whole lot). And while it does have a few setbacks, (If you refer to the part where the plot "shits the bed", almost anyone who's played the game will know what you're talking about) if Bravely Second is basically just Bravely Default, but without all the bad parts, it could easily be one of my favorite games of all time.

I believe in you, Square. You know what must be done.

I didn't have much time to talk about Bravely Default in that last post, because I was too busy talking about other games made by Atlus. Luckily, this time I- oh. Oh geez. Oh ding dang darn. Better make this a lightning round.

The thing that really stands out about Bravely Default is... well, nothing, actually, because it's just holistically good. The brave and default combat system allows you to default (guard) on one turn so that you can perform more actions on a later turn. This allows you to strategically attack and defend when the moment is right, or, more realistically, have everyone save up all their brave points to maximum and then hit as hard as you can all at once. The characters and story are interesting, (except for that one time) but in a way that I can't talk much about without spoilers. There's a thing that happens that's really, REALLY cool, but I also can't really describe it much without spoilers. You'll know it when you see it. Maybe. It also has the best use of augmented reality of any game I've ever played, which is to say that it uses augmented reality, which no other real game I've ever played did. But still, it was really cool, and I don't anticipate it being topped any time soon by anything other than maybe Bravely Second.

1. Transistor

Speaking of absolutely nothing in particular, Transistor is a game that I played and really, really liked. In fact, of all the games here, my liking of Transistor is probably the most well-documented, so I should be able to wrap this one up quickly.

One thing that I would like to add, though, is that I did play Bastion after playing Transistor, and I am now no longer so sure that I prefer the former to the latter, especially after reading a far-too-long article about some of the Philosophical Ideas in Transistor. I still think Bastion's soundtrack is substantially better, (While Transistor's was good, it was a bit of a disappointment) and the story was powerful in a way that was easy to understand, but Transistor had a much deeper combat system, once you got used to it. The bottom line is that both are excellent games and you should seriously consider playing them if you ever get the chance.


Basically all of the games I've played this year have been pretty great (except for one. You know the one). Guacamelee, Devil Survivor Overclocked, and Child of Light were all great games. But, as you've probably noticed from the fact that you're not reading this because you got bored and left halfway through this post, this post is too damn long as it is, so I'll just leave it at "great games"

Tune in next time, when I talk about my favorite music, most of which is going to be from these same games.