Let’s Talk – Blue Reflection – Heart To Heart

This is one of those games that, at a glance, attracted me. I’m not sure why. Nothing about it seemed spectacular, and after playing through it, there still isn’t much note-worthy to say about that. So why then, did I choose to play this over something a little more major such as Fire Emblem: Echoes Of Valencia, Ys VIII (which I’m still playing through at the time of this writing.) and the like?

The answer is, even I’m not sure.

Let’s get started with the surface look. Blue Reflection is a semi-Persona-esque game, but instead of a teenaged male invoking mythical demons and deities from your inner self, you’re a teenaged girl that gains mystical powers after delving into another world based on human emotions.

Persona with magical girls. That’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d say or write. But here we are.

Graphically speaking, everything looks great. Environments and characters are rendered nicely, there’s a realistic type of physics to movement (more or less. Some outliers may apply), and never once did I think that something could be better placed at one area, or that something didn’t fit.

… That’s about where that ends, though. This game had very limited production value, and it shows. While environments are nice to look, physically speaking, there isn’t much to cover or do in them. Lighting is a little weird in some instances (namely where sun is shining directly on characters in cutscenes, or when in the Fear zone in The Common), and the animations…

The animations are where it really shows. Most of the time, they come off stilted and have no fluidity or transitions. Even facial expressions on occasion, make me want to go “Damnit, FEEL!” at Hinako. This is one of the places where the game suffered the most, and it’s a shame.

The second downpoint is the overall plot. It plays completely straight with little to no mystery outside of the Citrus Sisters themslves. Even when you get your answers near the end of the game, you don’t care. Not about the grand scheme of things at any rate. This is where I think the game shows it’s Persona/Atelier side the most. You don’t care about the plot or story, you care more about the characters. You want to see these people have a happier ending and more importantly, by the end, you want everything to work out for Hinako.

Because in this game, the main story is a means to an end. It’s focused around Hinako and the friends she ends up making during the course of it and how they, ultimately, help make her a slight bit happier with her circumstances in life. Which is unfortunately where the lack of animation variation and smoothness sells it all a bit short, along with the occasional flubbing of double/triple checking on the translation. It’s not Megaman X6 levels of terrigood, but Koei Tecmo sort of dropped the ball here.

To give credit where due, this game tugged my emotions a fair bit. That’s not something games typically do to me. To also give credit, I thought the actual story was paced pretty well up until the final parts anyway. It’s structured as though I would be playing an actual episode from an anime, which I think worked in the game’s favor a bit.

The final downpoint is the gameplay:

Repititive.

That one word summed it all up.

Each mission in the game either revolves around you killing enemies or picking up items in The Common. It does not change at all throughout the entire game. On occasion, you’ll have crafting missions that have you making a couple items and showing them to a person, but that’s all the flavor you’re going to get from this gameplay: Kill, Gather, Craft, Repeat.

Which would be fine in a MMO type of setting. Not in a game revolving around magical girls and their school life.

And the other thing I should mention: Combat, unless forced, is optional.
There’s no experience or money to gain from fights. Your “growth” levels are tied solely to story progression, and hanging out with your friends.
Which is something I’d wish they add into the Persona series to make them more of a means to an end rather than mere Fusion boosting, but, well, baby steps.

However, because ultimately 90% of all fights are optional, it can make combat feel more like a chore than an experience. Not a good feeling to have in a RPG of all things, but on the flip side, there is basically no grinding for levels in the game. The other downside to that is that encounters also aren’t very interesting and devolve to the same strategies over and over again. When the most challenging thing in the game is an optional boss, mainly for reasons beyond your control, there’s something slightly wrong with your design.

Though this does let me go back into what I thought were good things about the game. The battle system is one of the best things I’ve seen. It’s an evolution from Atelier Iris 2’s system to the extreme; you have an extensive Timeline (which acts as a not-ATB gauge), your party on one side, the enemy on the other. Each attack and ability has different waits to it, and it’s your goal to figure out how to best destroy the things in front of you without letting them getting too many attacks in. There’s a lot of option available in here for something that ultimately doesn’t matter, which impresses me. If only I could do something more with it! It gets even better when the game adds in things to do between turns to minimize your actual downtime. It’s an incredible system that I certainly want to see come back in some form or another.

Finally, the music tracks in the game. Most of them are more quiet tracks, which are either peaceful or melodramtic. They are very Atelier-ish, not only in composition, but also in the fact that unless you’re specifically trying to listen to them, they are more or less just background and not overly intrusive. The title screen music is very relaxing, however, and I would recommend tracks such as At The Speed Of Calm and A Destiny Called My Own for your daily listening needs. This game loves the piano about as much as I Am Setsuna does, and I love it for it.

And then you get into a battle and the game blasts the most upbeat and energetic piece to snap you out of that lazy relaxation. OVERDOSE (literally. It’s literally named this) probably claimed a list in my “current” top battle themes by force. I may have- *cough*- overlistened to it by a fair bit.
… Listening to the title theme (simply called BLUE REFLECTION) is making me want to cry again. I better wrap this up.

Ultimately, this game gave me a similiar longing after finishing it that Fairy Fencer F did. There is good and bad, which leveled it out to be a pretty average experience, but there is so much missed potential, so much that could have been done, that it sort of hurts. And while I was a little more fulfilled with this game than with Fairy Fencer, this is also the type of game that most likely will not see a sequel of any calibur, so there’s not much chance of seeing improvements to this. But should the case ever present itself:

Add more variety to the mission structure, spruce up the animation quality a fair bit, place in a bit more to do in the gameplay fields, bring up the main plot a notch. And for fluff’s sake, invest in some English voice acting.

Blue Reflection is the case of a game where, for where it’s strong in, it shines, and for where it stumbles, it’s very noticable. I like it well enough where I would recommend that someone at least give it one playthrough, but it’s an incredibly hard sell at sixty dollars for what it ultimately a 30-40 hour experience. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome compared to most other RPGs in recent times, but it’s also a case of where being left to want more can be considered a bad thing.

If you are so interested, you can grab the game on Playstation 4, the Vita or off Steam. Again, incredibly hard to sell this at $60 for what all it offers, so perhaps wait until around $40 or so…
But until the next time I write something, the Citrus Sisters and I wish you farewell.

BlueReflection8

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On Content Lulls And Future Plans

So as Reki attempts to sort out his own short story and other writing attempts, it falls to me to bring a quick update on my side of things.

And personally, I’m pretty slow when it comes to writing. No weekly reports or anything like that. I simply pick a game that I have at the time, play it, and draft up something for it. It’s that, and keeping up with all the other games and stuff I do which is why I’m not exactly cutting edge on this.

And this month in particular, is going to have a lot for me game wise. I’ve got Ys VIII Mary Skelter: Nightmares, and the one I’m really looking forward to at the end of this month; Blue Reflection.

That’s three new games in the span of two weeks. On top of that, next month has Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online coming out to boot. It’s going to be a busy time the next few months.

But this is a lead in to the next couple things I’m going to bring in. Ys VIII has already been reviewed and re-reviewed to death from what I’ve seen (and seriously, I’ve seen like ten reviews for this in the span of a day. Let me enjoy this blind, damnit!), so I’m going to be focusing more on my thoughts on Mary Skelter and Blue Reflection in the coming weeks once I’ve played them. So you’ll have that to look forward to.

And that’s going to be the plan from here on. There will be stuff done, but not quite yet.

This has been Ray, bringing you the news at why we, as a two-man duo, don’t do weekly content.

 

(I will at least consider a monthly update post)

Let’s Talk – Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist And The Mysterious Book – A Novel Experience

So as my adventures through the Atelier series continue, and while I wait for the many games that are coming out this September that I’m going to play (Help me), I turn my thoughts towards the game before Firis’ mysterious adventures in the great unknowns, and that is the story of how Sophie Neuenmuller got to be the alchemist that she is.

Though if you’re not familiar with her from either game, I should probably discuss Sophie first…Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170730115318

She is a lovable and adorable goof that makes me smile in almost every scene she’s in. Considering that she’s the protagonist of our little show, and thus is in every scene, that’s quite a lot of time spent enoying the various antics and dialogue. She’s also voiced by Christine Marie Cabanos, who does the English voice work for Nepgear from the Neptunia games, another series that I love to pieces. The performance doesn’t tonally change between the two characters, but it also fits both of them quite well considering their… quirks.

Positive attitude and bravado only get a girl so far though. When the game starts off, she’s barely able to make simple medicines to help her friends out. It is only by complete happenstance that she wrote down the recipe into a blank reference index, animating it into the titular “Mysterious Book”. After the initial shock of holding a conversation with a book, it introduces itself as Plachta, and agrees to instruct Sophie on how to become a better alchemist, provided that Sophie fills out the index to help restore Plachta’s memories.

Before I get into that though, I just want to talk about Kirchen Bell for a little bit. Most Atelier games typically give you one town that works as a sort of base of operations. Sophie’s hometown of Kirchen Bell fills that role for this game… and it’s such a quaint little city in the middle of nowhere (far as I can tell). There’s a lot of little dialogue events that come up throughout the game as you talk to everyone in town. Not just your party members, but even the shopkeepers, the barkeep, and the resident church nun all have a bunch of little things that come up that make me want to know “What happens next?” And I think that’s the real driving force behind why I play this particular game. Not so much for the lost alchemical secrets or fighting dangerous enemies. I just want to know these townspeople better. And for a series that typically has about as much focus on inter-character relationships as a Persona game, this is a pretty big deal. Incindental flirting notwithstanding.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170730121858

Alchemy in this game is like others in the series: Take a bunch of things, mix them around a bit, and out comes something different. If you think that’s a oversimplification of the process, you’re right.

This game sets the groundwork for the Mysterious series’ alchemy, which makes it more of a puzzle than anything. Your selected materials take up spaces in the grid, which you aline (or overwrite) them to try to get the best effect results. Sophie has two advantages over Firis in this respect though.

One: As you place materials, surrounding panels light up. These will add bonus points to the effect of the material placed in them. Panels can light up a maximum of three times for the greatest power, and figuring out how to best place your materials to get the most of these bonuses adds a level of challenge that isn’t really in Firis’ system.

Two: Sophie will find various cauldrons aside from the one she starts with throughout the game. These cauldrons have various effects on the synthesis process, such as changing the colors of bonus panels to giving you a time limit while increasing your quality gains. You can even re-synthesize these cauldrons to increase your maximum grid space, increasing the starting number of bonus panels, or add in flip and rotate effects. Messing around with the various cauldrons to find what works best for you adds just a little more to the alchemy in this game.

In short, I have a bit more fun with this game’s system over Firis’. Even if the latter is a little more streamlined and easier to work with.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170822111326

(My personal favorite is the Tuning Cauldron.)

One thing I can definitely say that drags down the whole experience a bit is the Recipe Book. Not that I have a problem with the concept, in that respect, it’s very Atelier-ish. However, only certain recipes are given hints at a time, and once you figure those out, surrounding recipes get hints. It starts off easy to figure out at first, but as you get into the higher tiers, you’ll have to take random guesses at figuring out a location that you’re supposed to observe, or find a particular enemy to use a particular skill and witness. One of these is basically going until your LP hits 0, but by the time you unlock that tier, running out of LP is something you have to force. Some recipes are locked behind events as well, and while those are harder to miss, it can still leave spaces in the book for a little bit. There’s no way to force inspiration on any of these either, so for the most part, you’re hoping that you strike proverbial gold on some of the harder ones.

“Alchemy” and “Danger” are pretty synonymous in this series. Gathering materials out in the fields you go to raises a meter on your minimap that goes up to five lights. The more lights that are lit up, the better quality of materials you can find, but the monsters also become stronger and harder to deal with. That’s where the battle system comes into play… and it’s a little weird to deal with at first.

Unlike 90% of other RPGs where you decide actions on a character-by-character basis, you’re deciding actions on a turn-by-turn basis, where you place your commands all at once, and the battle flow dictates when they’ll go off. It gave me Eternal Punishment vibes at first.

Everyone has an Attack, Defend, Skill, Item and Run command. Everyone in this game can equip up to five alchemy items, everyone except Sophie has a limit on what items they can equip, in terms of type and cost (An item’s cost is equal to it’s Alchemy level). Not necessarily my favorite means of handling the alchemy items, but it’s better than, say, only the alchemist can ever use these items and therefore makes them the most important person in the party ever.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170816233556

On top of the basic stuff, there’s also two stances you can select for your party members, Offensive and Defensive. These tie into the Support system, which lets the characters follow-up on attacks or cover others for reduced damage. Taking actions builds up the Chain Link gauge, which determines when and how you can Support, and as you go through the game, Supports get expanded onto enable Chain Supports and even unleashing ultimate skills as you take actions in a particular stance for multiple characters in a row. Once you get that far, it’s a really powerful system on par with the actual alchemy items you can toss out, which is pretty crazy to me, but hey, it’s nice to have options.

Another oddity about this game is it has one of the lowest level caps I’ve seen since the NES/SNES days; 20. You cap out at 20.

That sounds low, but the game gives you some advantages to work with this.

First off being the Advancement system, returning from Shallie, that comes into play once you hit 20. Afterward, battles reward you Advancement Experience which will give you a point everytime you reach a threshold. Said points can be redeemed for stat upgrades, all new passives, and even skill improvements that add new effects. These can really help out in toughening up your characters at a base level for handling some of the bigger threats you can encounter throughout the game.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170816220705

The second and arguably most important is Forging and especially Enhancing equipment. As you talk with the local blacksmith and tailor, they will eventually offer to both create new weapons and armor for you, and enhance existing ones on you. Forging is a pretty simple process: You bring materials, they’ll make things for you. Better stuff becomes available as you discover better materials for Forging. Forging also serves as a way to decide what traits a weapon or armor has. So if you ever wanted to half your skills’ MP costs while also increasing their power by 50% at the same time, you can do that.

What’s really going to make or break your battle experience is proper Enhancement of your already made weapons and armor. Enhancement lets you take a material (metal ingots for weapons, rolls of cloth for armor) and use it to reinforce equipment. What you get out of it is dependent on what traits are on the material. And there’s nothing quite like using a Parameter +13% and/or higher traits to just power boost all of your stats. Enhancement does suffer diminishing returns, especially if you try to use low grade stuff on already enhanced equipment, and it gets really expensive at later levels, but it will make you so much more powerful than you could ever hope for by just leveling up.Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170816221214

Now for the music, which by this point in time, as I’m going back and playing more of the Atelier series to date, is starting to become one of the things I look forward to the most in experiencing them. For this game, Spring Breeze Polska is probably my favorite workshop theme in the series next to Dream Weaving House (from Ayesha). It’s an incredibly bright and cheery theme that I really appreciate listening to as I attempt to figure out how exactly I went wrong in maxing out an item’s effects for the tenth time in a row. This also extends to Scenery Of The Town, which is what plays as you walk around Kirchen Bell, and the basic battle theme, Spring Wind Skylark.

The other 70% of the music is from the gathering fields, and honestly, you’re probably not really taking it as much as the town and workshop themes since you’re a little busy picking stuff off the ground and fighting off those dreaded Puni. But I recommend giving Whispers Of Trees, Sinking Into Blue, Glistening Lake and Pure Wind a couple listens. These are all calming tracks that can actually help you unwind a bit if you’ve had a stressful day.

At the end of day though, I ultimately have to compare the current two Mysterious games together, and I’d have to say that Sophie is an easier game to get into than Firis’ more open structure. A lot of things are more straight-forward to grasp, it’s a more confined game in how it works (that sounds like a downside, but it actually isn’t in this case), a really likable protagonist and cast of party members and side characters, with only a couple negatives I could really mention off the top of my head. The production value might look a little low in a few places, but this definitely made something great out of what it had, and I’d gladly chalk up as one my favorite Atelier games, possibly even PS4 games in general. If you haven’t checked this out yet, you’re really missing out. Luckily, there is a convenient digital version on Steam if you don’t have a PS4 to play it – Mysterious Deals

As a closing note, I’m looking forward to how Atelier Lidy And Soeur (The Alchemists Of The Mysterious Painting as I’ve taken to calling it.) will turn out. It’s definitely going on my list of games to buy when it comes out.

With that said, I’ll see you in the next post. In the meantime, though…Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20170817003409

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.

Atelier Firis ~The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey~_20170508001047

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 anyway 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.

Atelier Firis _The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey__20170529011208.jpg

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.

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.

Let’s Review – NieR: Automata – “Falling Back Right In With The System…”

A look at the story of two androids, and the loss and struggle they endure on a machine-ruled Earth.

The Story of two androids in a mechanical hell…

Starting up the game, you’re immediately thrown into a top-down shooter style of gameplay. Hold on, bear with me, as this is basically introducing you to the type of reality this world is. As your comrades get shot down one by one, you’ll suddenly find yourself fending off your enemies, and eventually ditching your flight unit to take the fight to the ground, where you belong.

That is your introduction to 2B, and the world of Automata.

After dealing with a giant buzzsaw and meeting up with your field support unit (Simply known as 9S), you race through this abandoned weapons factory, cutting down all in your way. In the end, though, you can’t find your actual objective, something called a Goliath-class machine. (Spoiler warning, they’re as big as they sound.), unless you are accosted by two more giant buzzsaws, which turn out to be attached to the Goliath you were actually hunting.

It’s a hard fight, but 2B and 9S eventually manage to disable it, at great cost to themselves.NieR:Automata_20170323112719

Surprisingly, this is one the tamest things in the game

After some big fireworks, you’ll find yourself in a space station known as “The Bunker”; a bastion for the android forces of YorHa to restore themselves. And by restore, I mean we’re literally going to walk you through the Settings menu…NieR:Automata_20170323113644

On a meta level, it works…

Once back in fighting shape, you are given your mission: To contact the Resistance camp stationed on Earth, which leads into doing some odd jobs to get the shops into working order and some desert recon. The machines, despite being the enemy, are a strange and mysterious group. And it gets even stranger once you battle your way through both desert and ruined apartment complex.NieR:Automata_20170323142545

There’s something clearly not right here.

Certain events cause 2B and 9S to retreat from what they discover in the desert, but since they technically accomplished what they were told to do, they are met with praise from the Resistance. Afterwards, The Bunker gives the pair another mission; contacting a missing faction of YorHa that have fallen off the communication grid. This leads the andriods through an abandoned sewer pipe and into an even stranger sight…NieR:Automata_20170323152314

Disney Land in the future.

The machines here are more interested in having celebrations, so progress is smooth until you have to stop an one-machine show in the heart of castle. Unfortunately, the fate of the YorHa soliders is not pleasent, but this chain of events does lead into something not quite unexpected at this point.NieR:Automata_20170323155019

Pacifist machines. Better yet, they’re into philosophy.

After making introductory rounds, 2B and 9S are met with shocking news; Goliaths are attacking the city ruins where the Resistance is station. Even though the recently discovered machine village is suspected of laying a trap, it’s quickly put aside to actually deal with the threat. Upon disposing of the second Goliath, however, something strange is discovered in the aftermath left behind.NieR:Automata_20170323200309

This chasm is more important than you’ll ever realize.

Following the strange signal underground, however, leads to the first of many shocking revelations, and the official introduction of two familiar adversaries.NieR:Automata_20170323204157

Our greetings.

The ensuring fight ends in a stalemate, promising another encounter between the two pairs. However, more pressing matters await, as Command tells the two androids to investigate the leader of the pacifist machines, who in turn, sends them to contend with a group of machines who live in a “forest kingdom” that they built. It’s a hack-and-slash journey through the loyal machines, but the ending is not quite what they expected.maxresdefault

This android doesn’t feel the need to hide her true self…

Despite orders to dispatch this rogue android, she takes off on her own agenda. At this point, the two decide to check in on the Resistance camp, where they are suddenly tasked with guard duty. The escort? A payload of missiles. Guarding the missiles in itself is no chore, but then the supply ship itself suddenly comes under fire, after which point protecting it is no longer an issue…NieR:Automata_20170408013512

Mecha-Sin: Yevon’s new lord and savior.

It’s an intense fight, at the conclusion of which 2B and 9S are seperated. After obtaining a Scanner program for her Pod, 2B manages to track down 9S’ location to a baffling area; a fabricated, colorless array of blocks arranged into something like a city. And at the end awaits one of the two heads of the machine network.maxresdefault (1)

What happened here may be explained in an alternate reality.

The following struggle between the two ends with 2B killing her adversary. After bringing 9S’ data back to The Bunker, she is enlisted by the head of the machine village to accompany him to meet another group of machines that desire peace. This takes them back to the abandoned factory (from all the way back in the beginning), and to the dismay of them, leads them directly into the midst of what is actually a machine cult of all things…hqdefault

Renounce your false religion…

With some outside assistance from 9S, escape from the factory is possible. However, things quickly go from bad to worse, as the other half of the network starts to experience a slight malfunction… causing some of the machines to go berserk and begin wrecking not only the Resistance camp, but the machine village as well. 2B and 9S manage to stay them off, buying enough time for them to strike at the source itself.NieR:Automata_20170402001732

Putting an end to the chaos.

Broken and battered, 2B still manages to kill off the other side of the network and bring the machines back to normal (whatever that is.), but payment must be paved twofold, as they say…NieR:Automata_20170402003629

And that’s simply just the first ending. There’s a set of five main endings, and twenty-one non-canonical endings, for a grand total of twenty-six endings and off-shoots. The fun’s just beginning here.NieR:Automata_20170408021357

The choices are yours, and yours alone.

Armaments of a fighter.

There’s three distinct game play styles. The first one you’re introduced to is vertical shooter style, which probably could have been taken out and not have anything lost. This only ever applies to whenever you take a Flight Unit for scripted battle sets, and even then, it only applies to half of each set.

More prominent than that, however, is when your Flight Unit transforms into a Gundem-light knockoff. Your controls become that of a twin-stick shooter at that point. This is not only the other half of your Flight Unit sections, but is also the control setup for the hacking minigame. It’s a little awkward to get used to it, however, and precision is a bit of a chore for controllers. In addition, most of the challenge doesn’t come from unique challenge, but rather how many bullets can you slide around, which may be a bit overwhelming for people who are not used to this type of third-person shooter content.NieR:Automata_20170403005825

Still, it’s a lot easier than real world hacking…

The main gameplay style you’ll be working with, however, is more traditional hack-and-slash combat. It’s set up like a mix Devil May Cry and God Of War. There’s no style ranking, so it’s less about combos and more about finding your openings between enemy attacks to take them down. There’s four weapon types than handle differently, and you’re able to assign two different weapons to a Light and Heavy (Square and Triangle respectively) attack, which can do different things both seperately and when mixed together depending on your weapon type. Holding down R1 fires off your Pod, which faces in the same direction as the camera. It’s a strange design at first, but you can effectively damage two fronts at once after you learn to set up. L1 uses a Pod’s equipped program, a sort of extra attack you can perform on cooldown. These range from really useful (Hammer) to siuationally useful (Spear), to almost useless (Gravity). There’s enough variety to let you find something to compliment your play style however. R2 lets you perform an evade, and evading just before an attack hits sets you up for a counter attack that does something different depending on which attack button you hit. You’re going to be evading a lot in this game, so learning when to prop an enemy into the air or simply blowing it up is key to helping improve your combat life. L2 lets you lock onto an enemy, but, honestly, I found it to be a hindrance in this game. It’s designed to help aim your Pod easier, but this game sometimes has targeting issues where you’ll sometimes lock onto an enemy halfway across the field instead of the one right in your face that you wanted to lock onto. In addition, harder difficulties actually disable your ability to lock on, so it becomes a double-miss in my book. The combat isn’t built around requiring singling out enemies, however, so you can take or leave it as you will.NieR:Automata_20170401235155

Combat can be as fast or as methodical as you like. Just be careful of getting tossed into the air.

Throughout your adventure/genocide of all things mechanical, you’ll come across Plug-In Chips. These define everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) your android fighter is capable of doing and seeing. Like with Pod Programs, there’s a fair amount of variety to them, but some are going to be more clearly useful than others, especially given the limited space you have to install.

As far as moving around in the world, X lets you jump. Pressing X again in midair gives you a double jump, and holding down X lets you grab onto your pod to glide down to safety. Yes, there is fall damage in the game, but you kind of have to go out of your way to encounter, as you’ll often land on your feet anyway. Pressing R2 lets you perform an evade, even outside of battle, and I mention this because after an evade dash, you’ll run instead of jog, and after enough time running, you’ll move into a sprint that lets you cover ground the quickest. The game doesn’t tell you this, it’s something you’ll have to learn on your own (or by having someone like me tell you that you can do this.) The world only consists of five major areas and a couple additional side areas that the plot takes you to, so it’s a rather condensed world. Despite that, however, I wish that there was a little more inter connectivity between the areas, especially with the desert. A lot of side quests either take place, or take you back to the desert and there’s only one way to get into the desert. Granted, you will get access to a quick-travel option to help cut down on walking, but that happens halfway through the first playthrough, and by that time, you’ll probably have missed a few sidequests in that time. The same thing could be said of the abandoned factory as well and overall these two areas could have been better interconnected with the rest of the world.NieR:Automata_20170323195736

By the end of your first go around, you’ll probably be sick of all this sand.

Walking the streets of a ruined Earth

Despite the general inconsistency in running between areas, exploration can be a rewarding things. There are chests and item spots scattered all over to help reward you for going off the beaten path. While you’ll mostly get materials for upgrading weapons from these, you’ll also sometimes find brand new weapons in general, or even a little backstory lore for your trouble.

You’ll also find a bunch of side quests throughout the world as well, and these range from world-building, to outright silly, to some combination of both.NieR:Automata_20170323200534

Yes. Escorting a machine clown parade is one of the many things you can do.

Side quests will also give you materials and weapons to work with for your trouble, as well as occasional other things like new Pod Programs or Plug-In Chips. It’s worth going out of your way to do them, but a lot of them are missable, so it may take you a few playthroughs to track them all down.NieR:Automata_20170323202122

Want to know what happened here? Just another of many side quests you can do.

Parting Notes

The time you’ll spend in NieR: Automata is most likely going to spent deciphering the rabbit hole. Some things are more easily picked up than others, and others will have to be pieced together in order to discover what’s really going on. By the end, you’ll most likely wonder just what, exactly, you were fighting for, and I believe that was the point. This not a story of a singular good versus a singular evil, of great conquests or epic battles. This story is about two androids and the loss and struggles they have to contend with as they undertake their missions in the name of YorHa.

The gameplay is a solid experience throughout, with no glaring flaws to look at, the world is constructed to tell an experience with it’s side quests and environments, and the facts you find are not always directly given to you.

If you appreciate a story that doesn’t pull punches, and a solid combat experience to accompany it, I’d recommend giving Automata a try. You won’t be disappointed.

~Komoto Raynar