Let’s Talk – Atelier Firis: The Alchemist Of The Mysterious Journey – The Sky’s Our Destination.

Firis is a girl with a dream; to see the world outside of her little hometown. Sadly, her hometown is inside a mountain. And keeps its residents behind a heavy stone door. However, a rather explosive twist of fate helps give her to means to journey beyond the boundaries of her reality, and into the very thing she spent her life fantasizing about.

I am a rather off and on Atelier player. My first exposure to the series, as I’m sure was also many other people’s, was with Atelier Iris on the PS2. I followed up with the second game a little bit later, but never picked up the third one for some reason. Many years later, I would pick up Atelier Ayesha, and while I enjoyed my time with it, the fact that it arbitrarily ended after so long kind of depressed me. Someday, I will probably go back and experience the Atelier games I’ve missed, but today, we are here to discuss Firis’ foray into alchemical hijinks.

One of the stand out things of the Atelier series (sans Iris) is that, usually, you’re given some sort of deadline to accomplish a certain objective, otherwise, you’ll get a pretty lousy ending (the miracle never happen, if you would). Typically, the time given is more than enough, however, to complete the main quest. Fitting everything else in, is a different matter.

You’re given a full year to become a licensed alchemist in Firis, so that she is no longer confined to her small village for the rest of her days. You can reach your destination with over half that time remaining, and passing the exam (abet with a pretty lousy score all things consider) can be brute forced in a way. So the goal is not a challenge, or issue at all.

True to the subtitle, Firis is more about the journey than your overall end goal. What you see, experience, the people you meet and help, the far off edges of your little map. That is the real game behind the facade of an exam. Even after that, you get to go out again, with no time limit, to find what you missed and enjoy everything all out.

The sky, as they say, is the limit here.

The second thing to note, however, is the LP system. Firis isn’t used to travelling, so as she runs around the fields, harvests items and fights enemies, it will go down. Should it reach zero, you’re not completely screwed, as she will take a short rest to recover a small amount to continue on. Let it reach zero again after that, however, and Firis will officially pass out, forcing you back to the previous camp.

It sounds like time limits on time limits, but truthfully, LP should never be an issue.

Campfires are plentiful throughout the world, and stopping at them will let you pull out your pocket atelier (It’s bigger on the inside), to either rest up, customize the Atelier’s furniture (which adds bonuses, gather points, and things that just look nice) or perform everyone’s favorite pasttime, alchemy.

Alchemy is set up like a puzzle this time around. Materials have a set space and color to them, and you arrange them within a grid to get the best results. As you fill the grid in with a color, you’ll get bonus components from that color. In addition, there are lines that bestow various effects, such as increasing item counts, raising quality, or manipulating color levels to help you get the effects you want. It’s a somewhat involved process that I actually kind of enjoy. It looks more like what a real alchemist might do when synthesizing something as opposed to previous games in the series I’ve played where you select an item and I hope you have enough materials or elements to create it.

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Results not typical

Speaking of items, the Atelier series is probably one of the few serieses that actually have effective attack items. Considering the whole concept is sort of based around that, I would hope so, but it feels refreshing compared to a whole lot of other RPGs where attack items fall flat in opposed to comparable skills or magic, and end up just becoming pocket change.

The variety is there too. You’ve got bombs, ice bombs, lightning rods, bags full of crab apples, poisons, globes, the list goes on. While skills exist in the Atelier-verse, items are your main source of everything. And typically, there’s an item loadout you can build tailor made to your playstyle… or to make your life against bosses easier (or even feasible). Not that bosses are a major focus in most of the Atelier games. Heck, this game only has one mandatory “boss fight”, and you don’t even have to win it. Everything else is optional.

Combat, however, is kind of weird to really get down in this game. You’ll either breeze through the random enemies, or the random enemies will hand your head to you. There’s rarely a middle ground, and I find that somewhat polarizing. Buffs and debuffs are also rather hit or miss… They hit, but they typically don’t offer enough of an impact to save you nine-out-of-ten times. Exceptions being anything that reduces an enemy’s stats (which may shave off a good 10-20 damage you might take, or increase your damage), statuses that lock down an enemy’s movement, or regen. Everything else either doesn’t work well, or is situational. Which makes those particular items, not worth bringing with you unless you know you’re getting good use out of it. As someone who likes playing around with this type of stuff, I’m a little disappointed.

Or maybe I haven’t played around enough with them yet. That’s also a possibility.

Travelling the areas isn’t typically too time-consuming unless you go around collecting everything (which you do the first time anything just to keep your supplies up). Firis has a few exploration based items she can synth up to help her out; like a lantern for exploring side caves you’ll find on your journey, a pickaxe for breaking down resilient gather points easier, or my personal favorite, a freaking witch’s broom that lets you glide around at high speed, and even over water. They’re not necessary, but they do contribute to saving time and LP.

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Wheeee…!

My only complaints about the maps would be somewhat questionable hit detection while walking (how do I get stuck on absolutely nothing?), and that the frame rate drops pretty hard when you stick enough foliage on screen (but every game can be a victim of that). These are minor gripes, however, and the rest of the experience is smooth.

Character (well, party member) interaction is a slight deal here. When you first put a new member into your group (Liane being the exception), they aren’t exactly people that would keep you an address book. As time passes with them in your party, their Friendship goes up, and you’ll start getting little extra side events and quests relating to them. The party members themselves are likable enough. They have a set personality and a quirk or two to add some flavor, but I wouldn’t too expect too much depth out of them. The Friendship stat and doing requests for party members does lead into some of the endings you can get though, so it’s worth doing just to see them (or, you know, you want that sweet virtual platinum trophy).

While I have party members on the mind, I do feel like the games tries to oversell Firis on being “cute”. There are a couple legitimate times where she is, but half the time, it feels like she’s trying to fit in and is just getting made fun of for it. I’m probably reading too much into that though.

On the subject of music, my favorite themes tend to be the battle themes. Particularly the rocking ones. Ones that get me pumped to fight these enemies into the ground. Or play them in a nightclub somewhere…

Atelier as a series gets a different note from me, however. The travelling themes tend to stick out more to me. Firis has more than it’s fair share of music in this regard, each region, environment, and time of day has it’s own track and it’s quite easy to lose yourself in some of them. While I’m mostly likely not going on any grand journeys anytime soon, I’ll definitely be keeping tracks like Together With Transience,  Light Lost In The Trees and Tale Spinning Journey in mind.

Not to say Atelier has bad battle themes. For Firis, I’ve taken a liking to Flying Fast, personally.

I can say that this a solid entry into the Atelier series. I’ll have to go back and play all the other games I missed out on to reach a definitive conclusion of how this stacks up, but I enjoyed my time following the adventures of a young woman discovering the wonders of the world for herself. I feel, though, that Atelier shares a similar state as the Tales series; if you’re going to start playing it, it’s better to start as late as possible. I don’t think Atelier has it quite as bad as Tales, if this sounds like your type of series, starting with Firis is not a bad idea.

Was Grunge Good? (A Response)

(A Response to an Article of the same name by NewRepublic.com)

As with all forms of media, there is no true answer to this question. Quality is subjective to the consumer and therefore, while it might be that I hold grunge to an esteemed position within my heart (except for Pearl Jam), it might be that someone else would listen to it and feel nothing but disgust and disdain (hello Mother).

It is, quite frankly, completely silly to ask after the quality of an entire genre of work, as well. There are good grunge artists (such as Soundgarden and Nirvana) just as there are terrible grunge artists (like Pearl Jam). And even then, the quality of their albums may differ, such as how Nirvana’s Bleach sounds like a drippy fart in a kindergarten class (except “Love Buzz” and “About A Girl”, I love those songs), or how Pearl Jam somehow stumbled across decent songwriting with about half of Ten. And that parenthetical statement in the previous sentence is evidence as well that a bad muffin can still have some tasty blueberries within.

Normally, I might spend more time delving into theoretical discussion, but I feel that the shared name of our articles is a dull-witted question asked only by those without enough critical thought to understand that for each person on this planet, there is an entire world, and in some of those worlds, grunge may be good, and in others, grunge may be bad. Still to others, grunge may have never entered their vocabulary.

And to your assertation that “to have much feeling for Cornell, who also fronted the groups Temple of the Dog and Audioslave, it would appear that you had to have lived in a certain era at a certain age,” I would like to point out that Chris Cornell had a solo career that, while never incredibly popular, still flourished, and that younger people are still being introduced to his work, and appreciating it, even today. Grunge is a product of the 90’s, there’s no doubt about that (well, except for all the bands and albums formed and released in the late 80’s, but I guess we’ll pretend those don’t exist), but it is not a product trapped in the 90’s. It still resonates with people today the same way it did back when you were listening to it.

Personally, grunge was my gateway to the larger music scene as a whole, with Nirvana’s Nevermind being the first album I ever bought. It’s not my favorite musical genre, nor does it house all of my favorite bands (Nirvana is still my favorite band, but most others are post-grunge or 60’s/70’s rock), but it is still a good genre to me.

And while I realize that you did not make any definitive, “objective” statements on the matter in your article (which actually further destroys the purpose of your title), the title still implies that there could be answer. There is not. If anybody wishes to find an answer to the question “Was Grunge Good?”, I would strongly recommend going and listening to some grunge yourself to find out what your answer is.

 

 

 

But not Pearl Jam, they suck.

Final Fantasy 7: A Good First Try

It was okay.

It took a while for me to get around to playing Final Fantasy 7. One reason for this was the years and years of overexposure, people constantly telling me I should play it, that it’s one of the greatest games ever, and it’s a cornerstone of gaming history. Another reason was that I had played a game from the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 (Dirge of Cerberus), and was immensely unimpressed, souring my view of what the actual game would be like. However, last year I picked up a copy, popped it into my Playstation 1, and had my 60 hour experience with Final Fantasy 7. And when it was over, I sat back in my couch and had a singular thought.

It was okay.

I didn’t hate it like I genuinely believed I would. The combat was fun, I had a team that I favored (Cloud, Yuffie, and Vincent), picking out Materia for my characters allowed for nice customization of my team, and battles never dragged for too long. However, it was also incredibly easy. I’m not usually one to knock something for being easy, but if there had been one (story!) boss that was remotely challenging, I would have been incredibly pleased. Instead, I felt like I was walking from one end of the world to the other with little dogs yapping at my feet, a nuisance as opposed to any real challenge.

What really fell flat for me, though, was the story and particularly the characters. First, the characters. The only one who spends enough time in the party to get invested in is Cloud, and early game maybe Tifa and Aerith. This is because of how the game utilizes its characters within cutscenes. With a handful of exceptions, the only characters who will appear in any given scene are the ones currently in your party, which means that if you never have Barrett in your party (largely because he’s a terrible stereotype and also a Mr. T ripoff and also he sucks in combat), then it looks like Barrett just never does anything. The characters would definitely have benefited from far more screen time, but it just never comes. As a result, the bulk of the story revolves around Cloud, as, for the most part, he is glued to your party. And anytime the story needs another character to be important, the game basically forces them into your party, which is really frustrating when you’re used to being able to choose who you take. Just let the characters exist outside of the party, game? Please?

That being said, I did enjoy them when they were on screen (except for Barrett and Cait Sith, both of whom I avoided wherever possible [I’m pretty sure Cait Sith is never actually required in your party, but he still has a couple of scenes that will make you wanna scream in hatred]). They all have distinct personalities and are really fun to watch. As I said previously, I mostly had Yuffie and Vincent in my party, which is a really interesting contrast. Vincent is largely apathetic, never getting excited about anything, speaking mostly in short, quiet sentences. Yuffie, on the other hand, will never shut up, being highly energetic and excitable and also a Valley Girl, I think? She has more of a gunner personality than Vincent, the gunner, does, while he has more of a ninja personality than Yuffie, the ninja. It’s kind of funny and I love it, so they were my party for every boss after acquiring Vincent, wherever they were both available. That includes Sephiroth, even if Yuffie did spend most of that battle dead.

(Spoilers for 20 year old game ahead! Apparently you’re supposed to tag these things, even though it’s… 20 years old…)

As for the story, it… happens? Honestly, I’d have to say that this is one of the weaker stories in the franchise. It’s a “Villain tries to destroy the world” plot with a new wardrobe. This time the protagonist is not just connected to the villain, he’s a clone of the villain!… or so we’re led to believe, until it’s revealed he actually is just connected to the villain and his mind is being tampered with. Until about 3/4’s of the way through disc 2, it’s hard to really tell what the truth about Cloud is, which I guess was the point? But it also just muddles who Cloud, as Cloud, is, to the point where I’d argue that the true Cloud has less screen time than I ever gave Barrett (is that zing worthy?). I will say that Aerith’s death at the end of disc 1 is shocking, not in that it happens because the game sets that up far in advance, but in that it is STILL rare today for a game to kill a major character off like that. Party members are expected to perform a Heroic Sacrifice, but that’s not what happens here. She just… dies. It does set up something at the end of the game, but for a character to just be dropped like that is still impressive for a game to do, and if I had to guess, it’s one of THE major contributing factors to why this game still persists in the public eye.

The other reason is Sephiroth. Oh boy, Sephiroth. He shows up about 1/4 of the way through the first disc, and suddenly everything else that was going on doesn’t matter so much. He steals the show. Where Kefka made villainy gross and disgusting and insane, something to be reviled, Sephiroth makes it look cool and elegant, and also insane, something to strive for. He’s honestly a bit too cool, because he totally overshadows the main cast. By the end of the game, I was mostly playing just to see more Sephiroth scenes. Unfortunately, though, I was disappointed in the end. Sephiroth has been cloned numerous times, so most of what we see of him is not the man himself, but rather those clones. The original Sephiroth never actually mutters a single word. If you want to see that, you’ll have to play Crisis Core.

The soundtrack, however, never disappoints. From “Opening Theme, Bombing Mission” on to “One-Winged Angel,” the music never doesn’t deliver. It’s honestly the one part of this whole experience that doesn’t feel dated, and even while playing Final Fantasy XV, I’ll pop 7‘s soundtrack into the car and just chill.

The aspect of this game that is the most dated, however, are the graphics. I’m sure a 3D Final Fantasy game looked amazing in 1997, but today this aesthetic looks like garbage. That’s really the only way I can truly describe it. It is an assault on the eyes. Even a couple years later, with Final Fantasy 8, the graphical capabilities of the Playstation would be put to far better use, especially regarding the pre-rendered cutscenes. In 8, they would look almost like early PS2 era cutscenes. In 7, they look like… uhh…

Whatever that is.

Overall, though, I had fun with Final Fantasy 7. I don’t think it holds up very well, considering what RPG’s would become even within the same console generation (I would recommend games such as Breath of Fire III/IV or Legend of Dragoon if you’re looking for a Playstation RPG that holds up), but I can see why it was such a big deal when it was released. If you’re interested in video game history, or are a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, definitely play this if you somehow haven’t already. Just… don’t get your hopes too high.

I can’t wait for that PS4 remake, though.

Let’s Talk – Persona 5 – “Rebel With A Cause”

A few years ago, if you asked me about the Persona series, or, well, Shin Megami Tensei in general, I probably would have gone “What?”. Sure, I had heard mention of these series before, but I never had any opportunity or desire to play them. It wouldn’t be until I watched the Super Gaming Brother’s playthrough of Revelations: Persona, and hearing Matt go on about how Persona 2: Eternal Punishment was his personal favorite game that I would actually go out on give that entry of the series, in particular, a shot.

I was sold.

Since then, I’ve given the other games in the series a shot. While I wasn’t really able to get into Persona 1 the same way I got into Eternal Punishment, I did manage to complete Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden to form a more solid opinion on the series. I’ll take about these games another time, though. This was also around the time where Persona 5 would be announced, and would become the unfortunate target of delays and other mishaps that would push it back past the original Winter 2014 window it was intended for. Now it’s May 2017, and it was released stateside early April, being released in Japan back in September 2016. It’s an event nearly a decade in the making, so did it live up to everyone’s expectations?

I’d save a bit of time giving my opinion of “Yes it does!”, but hold up. Let’s wind back a little bit…

At the time of this writing, however, Atlus has a strict “anti-spoiler” thing going on in terms of videos or streams. It was pretty bad to the point that they were taking down simple videos consisting of nothing but a music track and a static generic image. So while I can’t go too in-depth into the story, I actually find that, at least for this, it makes it easier for me to write. While it’s not the most masterfully written in the thing, it’s written in such a way that makes it extremely difficult to discuss without going in depth with the twists and nuances it provides. Even though this game was spoiled Day One of it’s Japanese release, if, by some strange fortune, you still don’t know a lot about the game’s story, do yourself a favor and play the game straight with no foresight. It’s way more enjoyable to try to connect things yourself. However, despite the fact that I, in particular, knew the gist of the endgame plot, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story. Persona is typically more about the journey than the destination, and the ride is a pretty entertaining one.

Let’s get to the main driving force here, the gameplay. I’m going to talk about the battle system first, because this is where I’m left with good impressions first. While it is the usual turn-based affair using Persona 4 as a base, it does a lot more with it. For starters, the elements. I used Persona 4 as my basis because in that game, you only had Physical, Fire, Ice, Electric, Wind, Light and Dark to work with, compared to my first experience with the series, Eternal Punishment, which had Slash, Shot, Throw, Punch, Fire, Water, Ice, Wind, Earth, Electric, Nuclear, Holy, Dark and Mind/Nerve (the status elements). Persona 5 harkens a bit back to the Shin Megami Tensei roots here. Each character has two weapons, their melee weapon, and a gun, which has limited ammo (to some dismay), but they not only pack more of a punch than your melee weapons, each member also gets a different gun type with it’s own strengths and weaknesses. Fire/Ice/Electric/Wind make a return, as expected, but Nuclear makes a return to the scene, along with the rarely seen Psychokinesis element. Seriously, watch a casting a Psiodyne, and tell me you don’t get a color-overload the likes of which can only be rivaled by Earthbound’s PSI Rockin’ Omega. Nuclear spells also get a damage bonus against enemies that have been Burned, Shocked, or Frozen, while Psychokinesis lays the smack down on enemies suffering from mental status, such as Brainjack (a renamed Charm status), Forgetfulness, and the like. Light and Dark have also been renamed to Bless and Curse, and along with a “fresh” new name (though I’m pretty sure these were used in the PSP rerelease of Persona 1), they have also gotten their damage spells back. That’s right, these are no longer relegated to mere instant death elements, but are now fully capable of laying direct damage onto enemies. All in all, this gives you ten elements to work with, which is a larger difference than you’d expect. First off, it opens a little more variety in how you deal with enemies, but more importantly, and this was a complaint I had with 3 and 4, each party member now specializes in a particular element. While not a huge issue, the lack of elemental variety didn’t really do much to promote party member diversity, as there would be no real reason to, say, use Kanji over Chie because not only did they overlap, but Kanji also overlapped too much with the protagonist, since they both started with Electric. In this game, your protagonist starts with Curse skills, and while he can use any element because he’s “the goddamn protagonist”, the other party members all specialize in one of the other elements. This means that everyone is useful in some battle or another, a change I approve, since that is one of the few things that actually stuck out to me about Final Fantasy X.

Before moving on with the battle system, let’s talk Confidants. Social Links are back with a vengeance, and renamed as such because, aside from your party members and even that’s sketchy at best, you’re not initially out to make friends with these people. You do things for them, and they will teach you specific things. These “deals” are the basis of this game’s Social Links, and they are a much bigger thing than in 3 and 4. Advancing them not only gives you experience bonuses for fusion, but special perks as well. In example, one Confidant helps you get better at gunplay, which grants such things as doubling the ammo you hold in your guns, to letting you get the drop on enemies during an Ambush to lower their health by up to 50% before you even take an action by unleashing a hail of bullets upon them. Another Confidant improves your Tactics options, letting you switch in party members mid fight (another new thing for this series), to letting you run away even when you’re surrounded. These new perks make building your Confidant ranks more rewarding than ever, and are a welcome addition to the Social Link system. And most of these perks help you in battle, one of the biggest ones being Baton Pass. Your party member Confidants learn this really early on in the ranks (typically Rank 2), and once you start using it, you’ll probably wonder how you lived without it. Hitting R2 after you knock down an enemy lets you pass your action to another party member that has also learned Baton Pass. This does two things, it spreads the amount of HP/SP required to knock down all the enemies among multiple people, and it boosts the power of both your attacks and recovery magic by a significant margin. You can Baton Pass multiple times during a single volley of knockdowns to increase the bonus even further. This flow of chaining and linking actions between party members is very satisfying and helps cement the fact that this people, regardless of differences, work as a team to accomplish their goal. These two things, Baton Pass and Confidant perks, are probably my two most additions in this series, and there’s a lot of potential in them that I would love to see them return in future installments.

As I mentioned knocking down enemies, the Once More system is back to play, with a slight twist. Once you knock down all the enemies, instead of just unleashing all your might, you move into position around the enemies and put them in a Hold Up. Once in place, you can, of course, use an All-Out Attack to blow them around (and it’s a lot better looking than 3 and 4’s dust clouds), or you can negotiate with the demon-turned-Shadows.

Now before you begin crying out in despair and fear, negotiation is handled far simpler than even it’s Persona 2 counterpart. You do not have to bargain if you just want an item or money from them (you don’t get any money from the battle if you don’t ask for it though, and you get far less experience than if you just outright killed the Shadows), but the true value to negotiation is that you can turn the Shadows into Persona masks. This is the main way you add new Personae to your Compendium for fusion. You will have to answer a couple simple questions, but even if you fail to get them as a mask, you’ll still probably walk away with an item unless you royally tick them. Adding to this, your party members, through building their Confidant ranks, can step in if you mess up and reset the conversation, giving you another chance. Joker himself can even learn the ability to fire off a warning shot to steer things back to where you want them. However, if you feel that you can’t figure out how to win over a Shadow, you can cancel the negotiation at any time with an All-Out Attack, so you shouldn’t be at a loss.

Or if you really don’t want to talk to the Shadows, you can beat them within an inch of their life and coheres them into becoming your mask that way.

The battle system is all well and good, but the Palaces are where the other half of your combat gameplay will be. While Mementos is quite literally a re-skinned Tartarus (right down to the weird as hell block names), the entirely of your side requests (required if you want to get most of your Confidants past a certain rank) take place. While they are nothing more than extra mid-boss fights, you get nice rewards out of them, as well as combat experience, sellable loot, and other things, so it’s worth going out of your way to get them since you’ll be heading into Mementos at least once a month anyway.

However, the main plot Palaces are all distinct, and incorporate some stealth into them. Since you are thieves, you can take advantage of hiding behind cover to avoid detection, allowing you to ambush patrolling enemies. Getting discovered by enemies builds up an awareness gauge that, if it fills up, leads you getting forced to leave the Palace. However, there is a reward to that risk, as a higher awareness also increases the chances of running into Treasure Demons (this game’s version of the Treasure Hands) from breaking environmental objects. You can also, before raiding a Palace, spend your nights crafting various tools to help your endeavors, from simple lockpicks to crack open locked chests, to things that reduce the awareness gauge, make it harder for enemies to detect you, and simple elemental item sets. You also have the ability to climb certain objects and shelves, ambush enemies from said high places, crawling through ventilation shafts and other tight spaces, a context-sensitive jump action for getting across pits. The Palaces are way more involved than 3 and 4’s randomly generated floors, which is a huge advantage for design. It took me about three hours just to get to the end of the first Palace, and the time will probably remain around that two-three hour mark for the rest of the plot Palaces. Because of this, you are more than likely encouraged to make multiple trips to a Palace to get through it (you’re even given an infiltration log when you leave to summarize what you’ve done in your trip.), but you can go through the whole thing in one trip, as I managed to do so. However, you are given multiple Safe Rooms throughout the Palace that you can quick travel to should you ever have to leave in the event that you run out of resources, so backtracking is not so big an issue. For plot reasons, you are required to spend at least three days to fully complete a Palace, so that’s also something you have to keep in mind when planning your free time.

One thing I also enjoy is that you’re not doing the exact same thing in each Palace. While your ultimate goal is securing a route to the Treasure at the end of the Palace, it’s typically not a straight line to get there. You may be deciphering codes in one Palace, while another Palace might throw color-coded gate puzzles at you. It’s just different enough to break up the monotony of moving down hallways and dispatching Shadows, but it’s never so outlandish to break away from the whole infiltration feel.

Graphically, the game is about what I expect. The Palaces are varied, the various districts of Shibuya are rendered nicely, and it’s overall pleasant to take in without burning your eyes. The menu, however, is really stylized, a big departure from 3 and 4. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I enjoyed the additional animation to what would otherwise be, yet another RPG menu system.

Let’s take a moment to discuss the Velvet Room. It’s back with a vengeance, and it’s not messing around with how you fuse new Personae to use in battle.

I’ll put it bluntly: You’re quite literally killing them off in order to meld their spirit energy into a new form.

Fusion in this game takes the form of “Execution”. You sentence two or more Personae to death via a guillotine, and the leftover power comes together into a new form. It’s definitely more intensive to watch than shuffling cards together, but part of me wonders if it was really necessary. Yes, it ties to the overall theme that the game is trying to set up (I mean, the Velvet Room takes the form of a prison), but it can also come off as trying too hard. Later on, you also unlock the ability to hang a Persona in order to build up another one’s experience, hooking them up to an electric chair and frying them to create Skill Cards and other unique items, and locking them up in solitary confinement in order to get resistance skills to counter their weaknesses. It’s really over edge, all taken into consideration, and, like everything, there is a reason behind it, but it’s one of those “They also could have done something else instead” moments. It doesn’t bother me, on a personal note, but I can imagine someone walking into this game blind may have their jaw drop a bit first witnessing it.

Music is, of course, a big factor for a compelling experience. Shoji Meguro returns to head up composing the over hundred tracks in this game. Handling the vocals this time around is a Korean singer professionally known as Lyn, and I think these are some of my favorite vocal themes in the series. Right when you start the game, and Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There hits you in the face during the opening animation, it puts you in the right mindset to enjoy the game as it was meant to. Last Surprise is, in my opinion, probably the best composed random battle theme next to Wiping All Out, and the other vocal tracks as you’ll hear them all fit the mood quite well.

But my absolute favorite has to be Beneath The Mask.

This has both a vocal and two instrumental variants that’ll play as you wander the streets of Shibuya, and it is the most laid back, relaxing theme I’ve heard in sometime. Town themes are usually something that fly under my radar, but this one has me captivated. This has become my go-to theme heading home from work.

The other tracks are also good for the places you hear them in. I like both the clinic and the Airsoft shop themes as well.

My overall opinion is that, if you’re looking to get into the Persona experience, 5 is the place to start. It might spoil you a little on some mechanics that don’t exist in previous entries, but it is an absolute solid experience that doesn’t require any back knowledge on the series to enjoy. If you haven’t picked up any Persona game at this point, you wouldn’t be disappointed in this one.

Why I’m Glad Panic! At The Disco “Broke Up” (More Accurate Clickbait Title In Progress)

Controversial statement incoming: I don’t like Panic! At The Disco. In their early days, I always felt like they were riding the coattails of bigger, better bands that they happened to be close with (coughcoughFallOutBoycough). Their music videos in particular were of the “desperate try hard” variety and evoked nothing in me but apathy, while the music itself was bland and derivative. In their current form, as essentially a Brendon Urie solo project, I find them acceptable but not fantastic.

However, in 2009, founding member Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker left the band in order to pursue a project of their own, The Young Veins. This project wasn’t just influenced by classic 60’s mod rock; they practically time-travelled back to that era in order to write their songs. As a huge fan of that era of rock and roll, discovering The Young Veins was as fantastic to me as The Monkees’s releasing Good Times was (which, incidentally, is a fantastic album as well and you chould go check it out right now).

Active only from 2009-2010, there sadly is not much to talk in regards to The Young Veins themselves. After a year of touring, Ryan Ross decided to try for a solo career, with Jon Walker announcing on Twitter in 2010 that the band would “be on hiatus for the time being.” In 2010. It’s 2017. They broke up. However, they did release an album called Take A Vacation!, which is what we’re looking at today! HA! I tricked you! This is an album review and you didn’t even know it!

But seriously, I adore this album and would like to share my thoughts on it in the proper Wombat fashion (which none of you know because I only ever wrote album reviews on Medium). So without any further ado, let’s work our way through the track listing.

The album kicks off with their single “Change”, which is about how, despite failing circumstances and runs of bad luck that can only be called karma, “some people never change.” The verses have a fast, punchy delivery that serves to emphasize Ross’s brilliant lyricism and a hook that slows the tempo down enough for you to get the message without killing the momentum. You’ll immediately notice the twang of the guitar on this song, which persists throughout the album and serves to sell their mid-60’s feel. It ends with a quick call to arms for “change”, and it’s gone just as quickly as it came.

“Take a Vacation!” is a Beach Boys-esque jam about how, well, the singer wants to take a vacation. It’s basically “Surfin’ Safari,” but better and with a really nice, intricate keyboard backing that I could listen to for eternity. Swallow me whole, liquid musical genius of Nick White. May I drift forever on the keys of your soul.

This is followed by “Cape Town,” a song about being in love with a woman in the titular town. The singer is clearly not about to spend the rest of his life with her, especially as she already has a husband “in prison.” Rather, it’s more about how he’s met with a rush of feelings for this woman while he’s in Cape Town. It’s very similar to the sort of temporary feelings that songs like Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” are about, but here, rather than being excited, the singer is more melancholy, as if the feelings have continued to linger for a while after parting. It’s actually slightly haunting.

My favorite song on the entire album, however, is the Jon Walker-sung “Maybe I Will, Maybe I Won’t.” There’s not any particular reason for it being my favorite, though; it isn’t especially better than any other song, Jon’s vocals somewhat lack the same punch as Ryan’s, and I could not, for the life of me, tell you what it’s about. But it reminds me of the happy-go-lucky songs of the early Beatles or Herman’s Hermits, with a chorus so catchy I find myself singing it days after last hearing it. It just evokes a “fun” feeling inside of me that I can’t shake.

“Young Veins (Die Tonight” is another song about being young and in love and how confusing that can be. It’s rather well done, but rather than talk about the same kind of song again, let’s discuss this for a moment. Youthful love is such a fleeting thing. It’s easy to think you’ll be with your current partner for the rest of your life, but the reality is a lot less blissful. You’re both still changing, still learning, discovering new passions, discarding old ones, and 3-4 years from now, you might find each other to be complete strangers, where once you knew everything about each other. Not only that, but at such a young age, even though it feels like you know everything, you know so little. You need time and experience to learn what you need to hold a relationship together. It’s hard to sustain a serious one that begins so early in life. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is very difficult. As Ryan says, “Is ‘young’ a word for dumb, a word for fun?” It’s a word for both. Being youthful does mean being dumb, no matter how intelligent you are. But it also means this is the time in your life when you can have the most fun. Don’t dwell on whether you’ll be with this person in 10 years. Again, as Ryan says, “have the time of (y)our lives every night.”

If you’re listening to it on vinyl, like a hipster (or me, and I’m *totally* not a hipster), Side 1 is closed out by another melancholic song, this one sung by Jon Walker again, “Everyone But You.” Being somebody who is infatuated with the idea of love, but never wants to get married, it almost feels as if this song was penned for me. It’s all about being in love with a woman, but she only loves him back in his dreams. And he tells himself and others that “love is all (he’s) really after,” but knows it’s not true. It’s a very honest song about being dishonest to yourself.

“The Other Girl” is short, bittersweet, and not necessarily to the point. As far as the musical aspect itself goes, it’s one of the better songs on the album. However, being a writer, my focus will always be on the lyrics within a song, which, at face value, are actually well written. However, like all songs on this album, there is a story here, which means I can criticize it for plot holes and unclear wording all day long. And I’m here to say right now: what is up with this second verse? In the first one, he’s clearly talking to someone whose boyfriend is cheating on her, telling her what’s up. But in the second verse, he almost feels personally offended by the boyfriend cheating. He’s not your boyfriend, Ryan! You don’t have to get so invested! Stop trying to figure out why he’s cheating! It’s probably because he’s a horny asshole, anyway, dude, it’s not that interesting!

Unfortunately, “The Other Girl” is probably the best song on the second half of this album. I divide albums into four distinct categories; top-heavy, back-heavy, garbage, and gold. “Take a Vacation!” is very top-heavy, putting all of its heavy-hitters up to the front to grab you, and then letting the more average songs run off their momentum. Actually, we could these kinds of albums “Baseball Albums.” There, that’s a better name.

Regardless, “Dangerous Blues” is the next song, which kind of exemplifies problems I have with slow songs in general. I don’t hate slow songs altogether, but what I’ve found is that they need to have something in them to punch, and “Dangerous Blues” has no punch. Also, ” I know now love is a dangerous blues” and all the variations used within the song is a meaningless line of gibberish that I expect to come from John McCrea, not Ryan Ross.

“Defiance” is, at least, a better song than the last. It’s a slower song as well, but each verse builds up to a powerful crooning of the last word, usually “defiance” but also “wanted” in one case. It’s what meant previously by a “punch.” It’s still not a great punch, but it is enough to keep you interested in the song, and the rest of it is very solid, if not particularly memorable. It’s probably the most average song on the album, which could be damning with faint praise, but that’s all I can really say about it.

Actually, now that I think about it, they just stuck all their slower, sadder songs on the second half, didn’t they? I prefer it when songs are paced across an album a bit better than this. It would probably help a lot if the album’s track listing was switched up a bit better, so that all the fast songs and all the slow songs weren’t back to back. “Lie to the Truth” here is a perfect example of this. On it’s own, it stands as a great song, with some of the best lyricism on the album. “I’ll lie to to the truth, ’cause you lied to it too” is one of the best lines Ryan Ross has ever penned, comparable even to some of Lindsey Buckingham’s work on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, but because of the never ending snoozefest on the second half, it can easily get lost. If this were to come after, say, “Maybe I Will, Maybe I Won’t,” this song would have so much more oomph, and I’m very saddened by this loss of potential. As it, keep your ears open for this one, because you don’t want to miss it.

The album closes out with “Heart of Mine,” which I quite honestly dislike. It’s a wall of indistinguishable noises, fighting to drown each other out. It’s like listening to Oasis, you’re gonna walk away with one bleeding ear. And the lyrics sound like a discarded Weezer track from Red Album, with a terrible platitude for the chorus and strangely specific lines in the chorus. “Girls on the equator never even compare?” Were we asking for a comparison? Hold on, let me scroll up… No, no we didn’t.

However, as poor as the second half is, as a whole, Take a Vacation! is still a really great album by a very talented band who should have done more. Ryan Ross is trying to get a solo career going, from what I’ve seen, but it’s all very bland and uninteresting. Some great minds need buffers in order to achieve their full potential, and that’s what Ryan had in Jon Walker. Their teamwork is what made this album so fantastic, and I really recommend you give it a listen so you can see what I mean.