Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

There’s Just Too Much

May 10, 2022

So, after abandoning “Hearts of Iron”, I wanted to get back into playing other video games.  I mused about it for a while, as is my wont, and then decided that I’d be clever and schedule in finishing off that run of Dragon Age Origins with all of the expansions and playing as Spencer from “Pretty Little Liars”.  And, well, so far I’ve booted the game up once to see where I was.  Now, one of the issues with my picking that up again is that it’s the PC version and I have a subconscious — and probably invalid, since it wasn’t an issue when I started playing the game — paranoia that I won’t remember how the controls work and so won’t be able to do well in the fights (this is also the reason that I never returned to a character in VTM:  Bloodlines, although in that game that fear is more valid).  But another issue that I was having was that there still were a lot of options that I was musing about to fill my rather limited video gaming time even after I had supposedly made up my mind.  I keep thinking about playing “Star Wars:  Rebellion” again as the Rebel Alliance.  I’ve mused about picking up “Wizardry 8” again, since I was having fun with my last run.  I’ve thought about picking up some of my PS2/PS3/PS4 games again.  I’ve thought about picking up games like “Icewind Dale”, or Might and Magic, or the Gold Box games, or other older RPGs (I’ve been reading the CRPG Addict again, which makes me think of that).  I’ve also pondered hooking up one of those classic consoles and playing some of those games. Thus, one of the things that’s stopping me from committing myself to Dragon Age Origins is all of the other games that I have in the back in my mind that I could be doing instead.

So the only game that I’ve been playing regularly is “The Old Republic”, and the only reason that works is because it slots into a specific time slot that I have set aside specifically for it and almost nothing else (occasionally, errands).  It’s not that it’s an MMO because I haven’t been playing “Dark Age of Camelot” for a while despite having a semi-set time slot for it.  No, the main reason I can play it is because I have a specific set of characters I want to get through and I have a time set aside for it and nothing else.  But when I have time slots that cover more a specific hobby rather than a specific instance of that hobby I often can find myself not doing any of them because I can’t decide which of them to do.  In fact, my scheduling things exist because of this, because when I left time slots open I found that I spent so much time deciding what to do that I didn’t do anything that I wanted to do.  At least here this only happens for specific hobbies or things to do.

This hits video games the worst — I mean, I’ve even managed to have specific “Wizardry 8” runs shortcircuited by my coming up with another party that I want to try instead — but, yeah, it can in theory hit anything.  The main reason that I haven’t hit it with DVDs for the past while is that I create a specific time slot and a specific stack to watch them, and so all I do is proceed through the stack.  And since I in general want to finish a series to talk about it, I have another incentive to stick with it and not switch to anything else.  And yet when I switched to rewatching Babylon 5 in December the urge to pick something else, even while watching it, from the stacks of things I wanted to watch again rose.  For books, again right now I have a stack of historical books to read in my general reading time and a set commitment to Shakespeare in a specific time set aside to read those sorts of things (while doing laundry) and so far that’s working, but at one point not so long ago I ditched finally reading the “Heroes in Hell” books because, if I recall correctly, I wanted to re-read the “X-Wing” series more.  Right now, I have shelves of books that I want to read in that time and hope that when the time comes to get around to them the stack and commitment to the stack will help me stick to them (again, there are some book series that I started and wanted to finish but never got around to finishing).

But, yeah, video games are the worst.  I was busy this week and used my video gaming time for other things, but I hope that when it starts up again I’ll finally be able to commit to something.  Otherwise, I may not be playing games for a while.

Out of Practice

April 26, 2022

While musing about which games I was going to play after abandoning “Hearts of Iron”, I started thinking about a big difference between the games I played when I was younger and the games I play now.  Most of the games I played back then were games that I had to in some sense practice in order to play well.  The one that most reminded me of that was my recalling an attempt to play a quick game of “Defender of the Crown” and then recalling that I’d have to learn the mechanisms again, such as learning how to use the catapult to knock down walls, or learn the jousting mechanism again, or learn the fencing mechanism again for raids and to rescue the fair maidens (and actually get a bride with I couldn’t with the C64 version which had a bug in that scene that crashed the game when you did that).  I also remembered that I really love “Pirates!” but then recalled that in order to do well with it I would have to learn the sword fighting game and the ship combat system again.

Now, in my younger days I was really, really good at these mechanisms.  I was good enough at jousting that I could eliminate most of my competitors’ lands just by jousting them for land.  The catapult part was automatic:  three rocks and then three Greek fires and then attack.  In “Pirates!”, I was so good at swordplay that I could attack when greatly outnumbered and win just by beating the enemy captain, and only remember one case where that failed when the numbers were hugely against me … and I almost won that one, too.  So at the time I was indeed able to play and practice enough to get good at these mechanisms, and in fact not only good but exceptionally good.

But when I think about the games I play now, I don’t think I play any games where that is required, and the necessity to practice mechanisms seems to turn me off of playing those old games.  Sure, there’s learning that I had to do, at least, in playing the Persona games, but that’s about strategizing, not about practicing to get the right muscle memory.  Dragon Age and Mass Effect are games with more real-time combat systems but I’m not in any way mastering it and am still mostly in button-mashing mode with the strategic activation of abilities, and I gripe about the real-time systems in both of them.  I’ve gravitated away from sports games and more action-oriented games to games where strategy is more important than actual reflexes, and when I consider playing sports games or other games like that I don’t feel that I have the patience to take the time to learn those mechanisms, which is why I prefer playing sports games on a difficulty that’s too easy for me than go up another level and have to learn or relearn the mechanisms to get good at that level.

There are a couple of games where I still have to do that, specifically “Pinball Arcade” and “Everybody’s Golf”.  However, both of those games either start easily enough or have enough easy tables that I can for the most part start out doing well enough that it doesn’t bore me and so I can develop as I go along.  Since there were other elements in games like “Pirates!” and “Defender of the Crown”, I guess that might have been the case there as well:  while learning the strategy of those two games I was able to do just well enough to not get frustrated at my constant failures and keep playing for fun until I was able to master the mechanisms.  So perhaps my fears are a bit overblown, and are fostered not by not being able to do well enough to have fun, but instead by not being able to do as well as I remember myself doing and not wanting to take the time to get back to my practiced level, since time in general and game-playing time specifically is too precious for me to try that.  However, I still do have an aversion to games that require practice to master their mechanisms to make progress.  So I suppose I definitely should stay away from “Dark Souls” …

Abandoning “Hearts of Iron”

April 19, 2022

I tried to pick up “Hearts of Iron” on my vacation as I promised, and it just didn’t work.  A big part of that was that I made a mistake in my scheduling.  When I played Persona 5 Royal the same way, I had a very set schedule for my mornings where I knew when I’d quit and so knew that I would have the dedicated time to play the game, so it worked.  I didn’t do that on this vacation, and so found that my mornings kept drifting into the afternoons and so I ended up not having the time I wanted to play.  This wasn’t helped by the fact that curling was on — albeit men’s — but it was incredibly convenient to have that on while eating and then just keep watching it while doing other things.  So the schedule itself wasn’t really conducive to play “Hearts of Iron”.

That being said, a main reason for not playing it was because, ultimately, it wasn’t giving me what I wanted.

I think I’ve talked before about the little things it does that annoyed me, like that you can’t set the production sliders absolutely and that changing the game speed is not at all easy, if it’s even possible.  But what I was hoping for was that when things got going I’d be able to at least see what was going on and watch its history play out.  Now, one thing that really annoyed me was how it displayed information.  Attempts by a country to influence another country got a pop-up, along with when someone gave you a technology.  The latter was only meaningful because if you were researching that thing you stopped researching it, and the former were generally meaningless and were incredibly frequent.  But I could have accepted that except that there was also an area that displayed messages, where those could easily have gone.  And really important things like, say, the decisions that countries made on the various historical events were dumped in there, which is how I found out that Czechoslovakia was wiped out.  They could easily have made those pop-ups and dumped the others into the message box.  Even worse, though, was that the outcomes of battles weren’t displayed anywhere.  I found this out when after Germany annexed Poland I happened to scroll back up to Europe — I was playing as Australia at the time — and noted all sorts of land and sea battles happening in and around France.  This meant that in order to find out what was going on I would have had to watch the areas closely, which was manageable when it was just France but once North Africa got into the mix it was getting problematic.  Once Japan entered the war, it would have been utterly insane.

And they would have, because it seems like “Hearts of Iron” drives things by events rather than gameplay.  French, British, Canadian and South African troops were engaging German, Italian and Spanish forces in Europe and while they weren’t doing great they were holding on and then all of a sudden Vichy France declares independence and they were all gone.  And when I say “Gone” I mean gone.  I couldn’t find them again.  So it looked to me like this was a preset event and choice that happened at the right time and trumped what was happening in the actual theatre, which bugged me.  And then the Allies invaded Italy and while outnumbered seemed to be holding on and the North Africa campaign seemed to be happening and … I was caught between what seemed like either stupid changes to history or events that would wipe it out and started to lose interest.

See, the thing was that I was playing as a nation that wasn’t directly involved because I wanted to see how things turned out.  But not having the updates made it really hard to just watch.  I could go to a country with more options like the United States but again simply watching wouldn’t be a lot of fun.  So I’d need to get directly involved.  But that was pretty much Germany, the Soviet Union or France, unless I wanted to take on a smaller country like Poland that was going to get overrun.  But then those countries might be hit by events which would undo what I had done.  And I wasn’t interested in that happening.  Maybe the post-war era would have been fun, but that was five years away and I didn’t have the patience for it.  I had wanted to try to finish at least that run, but just couldn’t muster the interest to do it.

So, on coming back from vacation I needed to figure out another game, and it wasn’t going to be one of these.  I’m at the end of my WWII books and so won’t get a push from them anymore, and while the other Hearts of Iron games or Paradox games would probably be better I really wanted to do something else.  I considered trying to do the Wizardry 6 – 8 run, but the graphics and gameplay of 6 is too different from 8 for me to get into that right now when I was really interested in 8 and was only looking at 6 and 7 to pull that off.  So I abandoned that idea.  I think I’m going to try to play my human noble in the PC — with full expansions — version of Dragon Age Origins and see if I can get through that.  It fits into my rearranged game playing schedule and is something that I really should get through.

So that’s it for Hearts of Iron, at least for now.  We’ll see how RPGs, my first love, go.

A brief video game update

February 2, 2022

I had made it a bit of a priority to play some video games in the New Year, and for the most part it’s been working.  I’m going to take a little bit of time to talk about some of the odd things I’ve noticed with them.

I did ultimately decide to do an exploration run with the first “Hearts of Iron” game.  I started a play as Australia, which was a pretty good choice because it has just enough resources to be able to do some things like research but not so much that it was constantly having events come up and things completed so I didn’t get overwhelmed.  However, it also didn’t have any events so at times things are going slowly, so that while playing I’m more watching game shows on TV than playing the game itself, letting the game run while most of my attention is on the TV.  I thought about increasing the speed, but I did kinda like the slower approach and the game’s speed controls are not as intuitive as Star Wars:  Rebellion’s — there you can simply select a drop down and pick the level you want, while for Hearts of Iron they claimed that it was a keyboard command that I tried at one point but think changed the map zoom instead — and didn’t want to get overwhelmed if things started to happen, so I left it there.  At that speed it is kinda relaxing, and it does mean that I don’t get swamped with all of the “Country X did Y influence to Counter Y” messages.

Which raises another issue with the game.  I was in 1939 and was starting to wonder if there were any kind of events or if there was any real link to history at all, because it didn’t seem like anything was happening.  Then I happened to notice in the events status bar at the bottom of the screen that it seems like Czechoslovakia indeed had some events and choices to make, and in fact they happened to chose the option that takes the Czechs, at least, out of the game.  So, they can constantly put up meaningless influence messages, but leave the main historical events and even an event that would eliminate a player in the status window?  Really?

I also find the sliders a bit annoying, because they are a mix of absolute and total values, where you have to set those values to above a certain value to be able to meet all your commitments, but every time you change a value it automatically adjusts the others to try to accommodate that, and at times it dropped a certain slider below the line even if it could have taken the values from somewhere else, and freeing up some space so that you could use it for something else ends up forcing you to adjust all of the other sliders to try to get it right.  It’s a very painful process to adjust those sliders if you need to fine tune them to get just the right set of values so that you can do everything you want.  Right now I’m working at a level where I only need to make minor tweaks, but if I end up needing to switch from prioritizing research to prioritizing production it will not be fun.

My biggest worry right now, though, is that with my calculations on how many more hours I have to finish this run given the amount of hours I can play at this speed it looks like it will take me another couple of months to finish this run, which means that exploring this will take up much more time than I wanted.  That’s something that I’ll have to think about over the next couple of weeks.

I’ve also found that for some reason “The Old Republic” is playing havoc with my schedule because its timing is really inconsistent.  I’ve already talked about how it had extended its interlude and surprised me, but then the time left for that was much shorter than expected, but too long to combine with a planet run.  And just lately I had a planet run and interlude that were again longer than expected but then sent me to Quesh which is a shorter planet, but I didn’t have the time to finish that in that session but didn’t know about that beforehand so that I could have done the interlude along with it and just quit after the planet.  This seems to be happening more than it did in the past, although that might be because I’m remembering the late game which might be more set (although I remember having issues with that on my last run as well, which was in the late game).  It’s not really a bad thing in itself, but it messes up my schedule for the things that I’m supposed to do after that, either making it so that I have spare time that I didn’t expect or that I bleed into that time and so can’t get as much of that done as I’d like.

And for “Dark Age of Camelot”, I was quite annoyed as I headed out to Caer Ulwych and did some quests there, but forgot to bind, got killed, and ended up back in the Camelot Hills, a long way away, especially since movement speed is not quick in this game.  And then I finished off some quests and headed back, but ended up trying to go cross country, got swarmed, and died again before I could bind again.  That being said, after getting back there and binding I figured out how to split the combat and general message windows out from each other so that I could see what’s going on in each, so that’s good.  It’s also interesting that I’m still playing my human paladin and haven’t created an alt or an alt in another realm, because when I first played the game I had alts all over the place.  I think the influence of TOR plus the fact that I always have quests to do and haven’t had to grind is responsible for this.  If I didn’t know what to do or had to grind levels I do suspect that trying out another realm would be suddenly sound far more appealing.

Anyway, that’s what I’m doing with games lately.

Persona 5 Royal: Maruki

January 19, 2022

So in this post I’m going to talk about the other new S-link and story important character, the school counselor Maruki.  Again, I’m going to talk about how he fits as an addition to the original story and about his specific story, and so again I’ll be spoiling his story (and Yoshizawa’s as well) and so again if you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read past this point.


Time and the Casual Gamer

January 18, 2022

So in the new schedule I have set aside dedicated time Saturday mornings to play The Old Republic, before getting into doing the other things I need to do on a Saturday.  This past Saturday, due to weather conditions — incredibly cold — I found myself able to start playing it earlier in the day than normal, which gave me more time to play than I normally had.  Also, I tend to like to do a planet in one session, but also to try to do the chapter interludes in that same session so that the next time I come back to a game I can just start at a planet and do it.  Basically, I always want to be starting a planet at the start of a session if at all possible.

So I finished Alderaan and decided to do the chapter interlude, which involved running back to Dromund Kaas and meeting with intelligence and then running a mission on a dreadnought, and then returning to Dromund Kaas and finally getting some time off, which immediately leaps to the next chapter — well, you have to access the holocomm, I think — with a new set of missions.  The main quest asks you to go back to Dromund Kaas and get new instructions, which I would have been able to do and almost certainly would have led to the next planet.  However, at the same time, companion Kaliyo — whom I strongly dislike — sets up another quest to deal with the problems from her past that were caused because she ticked too many people off and is somewhat cavalier about dealing with them by killing them off (which is one of the main reasons I really dislike her).  But I always do want to finish all the companion quests and bonus quests if I can, and so could have settled in to finish them off to start clean in the next session … but I was already over an hour over what my end time would be and didn’t really know how long all of that would take, and I actually did need that time to do other things.  So I quit for the day.

But this got me thinking.  When we talk about casual gamers, we tend to talk about them only having time to play in short, stolen blocks of time around other things.  Which is indeed common to a lot of them.  But as a Not-So-Casual Gamer, I share some traits with casual gamers, and what I find is that, for me, it’s actually easier at times to carve out one long block of time to play something instead of a bunch of small gaming sessions.  And it’s easy to see that this could apply to other casual gamers as well.  Someone who works long hours might be able to carve a long session out on Sunday afternoon and not have any time to play during the week.  Someone who is married with children — go Bundy! — might find some time some evening or some weekend when the kids and the wife have run off to activities that they don’t need to go to and don’t need to take them to.  And so on and so forth.  So to make a game casual friendly for them, you’d need to think about how to make a game that can be played in one long session a week instead of in a bunch of small sessions a day.

This hit me with Dragon Age:  Inquisition and the War Table.  At first glance, the idea seemed really good:  send agents to complete missions — some of which are necessary to advance and some of which produce resources that are needed to advance — but the missions are completed in real-time, and so if you start a session and only play for two hours, you can kick off a bunch of these missions and they will be completed by the time you start the game up the next day.  Sounds great!  Except that I ended up carving out my long play session and noted that playing longer didn’t mean that I could complete more missions a lot of the time, because they were just long enough to carry over to the next session.  And if I needed the mission to complete before doing something else I wanted or needed to do, that meant that I had to fill that one session with less important or interesting things — or quit for the day — and come back next week.  This was a mechanism that worked well if you could play for a couple of hours every day or for long sessions almost every day, but poorly when you could only play one long session every week.

What this and my The Old Republic experience showed me is that for the casual gamer the actual amount of time something takes is less important than making it clear just how long something is going to take before they commit to it.  In DAI, if someone cleaned up all the small quests figuring that they’d then run the mission to open up the next area in their next session, discovering that that mission would take longer than they had could ruin that play session, as they’d have nothing left to do until the mission completed but not enough time to see that mission finish and be able to do anything interesting.  For TOR, if I had known how many quests there were and roughly how long they’d take I could adjust for that accordingly by, for example, quitting after Alderaan and running all the interludes in one session instead of trying to finish it all.  And that’s not even mentioning my getting suckered into a marathon play session of Persona 5 Royal that I could have avoided if it had been more clear what the epilogue involved before I started it.

If a game is in general divided into segments that can be completed in one to two hours, that will of course benefit all casual games because those who work on one longer play a week instead of a bunch of smaller ones can just concatenate segments together until they hit their play time for the week and will definitely feel like they’ve accomplished something.  But what is more important for all casual gamers is knowing how long something will take.  If one of those segments suddenly leaps to four hours, knowing that can prepare those who can only get in short sessions for having to take two or more sessions to get through it, and can allow those with longer sessions to schedule that segment in one session instead of trying to start it halfway or almost all the way through one and then having to abandon it.  This sort of scheduling is important because one of the reasons causal gamers are casual gamers is because they always have something else they could or should be doing, and so even if they have to stop early it’s not like they’ll be left with nothing to do, although they might chafe at having their precious gaming time taken away, but if it’s from their own choice they are more likely to accept it than if the game itself forces them with no warning to do that, like in the DAI case.

Video games are in general pretty bad at doing stuff like this.  Sometimes it’s for good reasons:  the time it will take to finish something very much depends on the skill of the player and so it will depend on how often you have to retry sections or bosses.  It’s also difficult to do that for story beats without spoiling the story bits by telegraphing that things are going to be more complicated than they were before.  I will say, however, that other than for the endings and epilogues the Persona series is pretty good at it, since for the most part dungeons and the social aspects take roughly the same amount of time all through the game making it easy to plan for (my plan with Persona 3 was to take one night to do a dungeon and then one night to do all the S-link and school stuff, and keep alternating that until the boss, which worked really well for me).  TOR is pretty good at this as well since planets all tend to take in the 4 hour range if you do the story quests and the planet quests, but the interludes and endings, again, can be a problem.  DAI, on the other hand, was terrible for that because clearing an area varied wildly between areas, player skill sets, and resources the player had.  I wonder if that’s another reason that I’ve played Persona 5 four times now (counting my Royal run) and have only played DAI once …

Persona 5 Royal: Yoshizawa

January 12, 2022

So, as promised in my post talking about Persona 5 Royal in general, I’m going to pull out the two biggest additions and talk about them in detail.  This time I’m going to talk about Yoshizawa.  I’m going to talk about her — and Maruki — in terms of whether they fit in well as additions to the story and whether their stories work, so I’m pretty much going to be spoiling everything about their stories.  And since the stories are connected, I will probably spoil some of Maruki’s in talking about Yoshizawa’s.  So if you think you will want to play these additions in the next while and don’t want to be spoiled, you probably should stop reading now and not read either of these two posts.


Return to Camelot

January 11, 2022

As I’ve mentioned before  during my vacation I returned to my first MMO, Dark Age of Camelot.  At first, I found it to be quite old school and was wondering if I’d end up enjoying it, but eventually I got to the point where I actually do quite like it and plan to play it on a fairly regular basis.  In this post, I’ll talk about why that is.

The big problem that I was having with it was that it was indeed really an old school MMO.  A number of the quests didn’t have any quest markers and weren’t at all clear about where you were supposed to go and what you were supposed to do, which necessitated finding a site that outlined what you were supposed to do and where you were supposed to go.  And then for some of them they gave co-ordinates which I think are out of date because the co-ordinates where I found the things didn’t align with what they told me.  The combat was also fairly uninspired and repetitive (although you could indeed easily say the same thing about The Old Republic).  So it didn’t start out all that great.

But I ended up enjoying it by, I think, making a mistake.  After the initial quests when you are released into the world, you can do a few quests in the starting area, but once you gain a few levels your trainer tells you to head into Camelot to talk to the trainer there to get a special item (they give you a really good weapon for your level).  While there, you were probably supposed to pick up the quests inside Camelot that are for around your level.  But I didn’t do that.  I picked up and finished as many of the quests as I could in the local area, which also led me to at least a couple of new areas.  Once I had done everything I could there, I went into Camelot and picked up my weapon and my quests from my trainer, as well as the Camelot quests.  But I was a higher level than I would have been if I had gone there right away, so those quests were easier than they would have been otherwise.  I was also able to fill my quest log, which meant that I always had lots of things to do and spent my time running around trying to do quests, and so was always working towards a goal.  And that was really fun.

The other thing that does for me is give me a more flexible playtime for DAoC than I have for TOR.  In TOR, the areas and quests in areas are more tightly aligned and so you don’t want to quit for the day until you finish an area.  Before the various XP boosts, I was taking about three hours to finish a section, but now I take about four hours to finish an entire planet, which is better because I don’t have to return to the main area to get into the cantina to get Rest XP.  So it makes sense to finish an entire section in one go, and if I stop in the middle of a section it makes for a slightly awkward game experience and makes things slightly awkward when I play the game the next time.  It’s obviously doable, but at least for me it makes for a far better experience in TOR to play through an entire planet in one session.

That’s not the case in DAoC.  I’m not finishing one area and moving on to the next, but am simply knocking quests off my list.  Some of them in the later areas will be too difficult for me to complete and so I’ll move on to a new area.  At one point, I had picked up a number of quests in a new area but decided that I should clean off some of the lower level ones first, even if they weren’t all in the same area.  So I work to finish off a number of quests and I can stop playing at any point when I’ve finished the current quest or quests that I’m working on and feel like I’ve accomplished something.  So my play sessions in DAoC are a bit shorter and yet I feel like I’ve done something useful, which is really, really nice for me.

The thing is that I’m quite sure things weren’t this way when I first played the game.  I recall being herded from area to area and ending up with a set of quests that I was too low level to complete and so having to grind XP to get a level to be able to do the next set of quests.  I haven’t grinded in this run at all, and am already at a higher level than I was able to achieve with any character my first time around (I had a real problem with altitis, which TOR seems to have cured).  There seem to be a couple of reasons for this.  One of them is that despite being overleveled for my quests and so not getting any experience from killing things, I still seem to get some decent XP from completing the quests, which means that most of my experience comes from doing quests instead of killing things (which wasn’t the case the first time around).  The second is that I think DAoC added quests to give characters new things to do as the game went on, and so there are now lots and lots of quests to choose from, and so my completionist approach to the quests — I’m trying to do every quest that I come across — means that I can pick up a lot of XP from quests without having to kill anything that I don’t need to.  And the third is that they seem to be giving out a fair bit of bonus XP in those areas — probably to help players who are leveling alts — which gives me more XP from doing the quests than I would have been getting in the beginning.

So as it stands I’m able to gain levels and advance by gathering up all the quests that I can and just running around doing them.  While travel speeds in DAoC can be a bit slow — minstrels can speed you up — that’s still actually pretty fun for me, and it also allows me to look at the time and say that I will finish this quests or these sets of quests and stop for the day instead of looking at the time and thinking that I hope I can get the planet done in a reasonable amount of time, meaning that DAoC is more amenable to being controlled by my schedule rather than controlling my schedule like TOR does.  I haven’t had a game like that in a long time.

Thoughts on Persona 5 Royal

January 5, 2022

So as I outlined in my vacation update, I played through an entire run of Persona 5 Royal.  It took me about 92 hours — according to the save file — and my original runs of Persona 5 tended to take me about 80 hours.  The difference, then, maps neatly to the extra time I spent on one day thinking that, hey, the new palace wouldn’t take that long and I should be done before I wanted to go to sleep (which, of course, didn’t happen).  I was glad to play it and glad to finish it.  Again, unlike Dragon Age Inquisition, I thought at the end of it that I’d like to play it again, but also unlike Persona 5 I quickly realized that there was no way I could possibly start a new game immediately, given my schedule and the fact that, well, it would take me 92 hours to play through.  So I liked it and wouldn’t mind playing it again, but find that I can’t play it again.

I’m going to talk about the game in three parts.  This part will talk about what new things Royal adds, if Royal is worth getting if you already have Persona 5, and some general comments on the Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal gameplay that struck me while I was playing.  The next part will talk about the new character/S-link that was added in Yoshizawa and how her S-link and her link to the new palace worked out, and the last part will talk about the new palace and the new character/S-link that drives that one.

So, first, let me comment one the elements that mean that replaying Persona 5 Royal will not work in my new schedule but worked out really well in my longer vacation time.  The first is that the game took me about four weeks with five four or five hour sessions a week.  So I played it for about 20 hours a week to get through that.  On my new schedule, I only have about 10 hours a week, and so to finish it would take me at least 2 months if not more to finish … and that’s if I didn’t play anything else in that time.  So as I’ve wondered before the sheer length of the game seems to make it more difficult to replay, even as them adding more elements and S-links makes it more desirable to replay the game.  The second is that it is difficult to fit a session where you feel that progress is being made in the two to three hour sessions I’d have as opposed to the four or five hour sessions.  To do a palace will take at least that (I rushed through them and tended to get one palace done in a session).  To do a Mementos run to clear a new area and clear off requests easily takes that long.  And the time in-between finishing a palace — if you finish it as quickly as possible as I tend to do — and the story advancing can take about that long, especially if you clear the initial story elements and so take it up to the beginning of the palace.  To try to do pretty much any of that in two hours is simply not going to work, so for me I’d either have to take another day to finish the palaces than I normally would or else would have to save at a save point and continue the palace and Mementos the next day.

I could do that, of course, but then I don’t particularly care for the dungeons and combat parts of the Persona series.  I see them as necessary evils that I need to get through so that I can get on with the story, the S-links, and even the activities.  So as I noticed when playing Persona 3, if I don’t get a palace or section finished in one session and need a second session to get through it I don’t look forward to the next session.  The ideal, then, is for me to get through those sections in one session and then spend the next session advancing the story and S-links.  This is the approach I could take during my vacation here and it worked really well, as it allowed me to define my sessions around what I wanted to accomplish in that session — finish the palace, do a Mementos run, get to the palace — and so it gave me a reason to keep playing until I hit that accomplishment but also a reason to stop for the day.

Now, what we’ve seen in Persona 5 is that each individual element has gotten more advanced and more detailed (and Royal adds things to each area).  This, then, is a bit of an issue for me because what seem to be two of the main elements here are ones that I don’t care for.  The palace model is the evolution of the dungeon gameplay where we have personal dungeons that have very specific final bosses and layouts, and so can accommodate more puzzles and more cutscenes that advance the story.  Mementos, then, takes on more of the random combat where you fulfill requests and recruit new Personas (although in Persona 5 it seems like you could get all of them in the palace and had no need to recruit the ones in Mementos), and also provides a place where you can grind XP if you end up being a bit underleveled or a bit poor in terms of either money or equipment, or if you really, really like the combat and want to play it more than the open world stuff.  This leaves the life simulator section, encompassing the S-links and the activities, all of which are used to advance your Social Stats.  And all of these are mandatory.  You cannot advance the story until you finish a palace, but you have to go through the open world sections — at least the class sessions — to get to the palaces.  Even though you could technically grind Mementos every afternoon and never touch the S-links, the S-links and activities are too useful to the palace and Mementos sections to ignore, giving bonuses to Persona fusion and adding useful items and abilities to use in the palaces and in Mementos (the coffee and curry, for example, from Sojiro’s S-link can allow you to grind dungeons longer by restoring SP, and most of the S-links now have abilities that are directly useful in palaces).  And you have to finish Mementos to proceed to the ending.  So three elements that are lengthy and detailed that you nevertheless are required to spend a lot of time on to complete the game.  As these get more and more detailed, more and more time and effort is spent on them, which makes it bad if you don’t like one or more of them but really, really like one of them.  And each of them are indeed fairly unique, and so if there’s one aspect that you really like but can’t stand the others, you aren’t likely to be able to just go and find another game that only has the aspects that you like.

And they’ve added quite a bit of detail to these things in Royal.  In the palaces, you have a new tool, the grappling hook, which is used to get you from place to place — and so also to complete the palace — and also to pick up things like treasure chests and the new Will Seeds.  It also can be used to add to your ability to ambush enemies by catching them from a longer distance than you could normally (once an S-link advances sufficiently far).  Will Seeds themselves are desirable because they restore small amounts of SP — which can thus allow you to continue a run in a palace where you couldn’t before — and once you find all of them they combine into a useful item that can be upgraded in Mementos (more on that later).

In terms of combat, Royal made guns more useful by making it so that you don’t have a set amount of ammunition for an entire session, but instead have a set amount per battle.  While this makes groups of enemies who are all vulnerable to gunfire trivial, it does mean that you can, well, actually use guns in palaces and in Mementos as a regular strategy.  They also added exploding monsters, which are monsters that won’t attack you unless you attack them, but if you attack them and don’t target their weakness they will immediately attack you, but if you kill them they will explode and distribute the damage you did to them to all the remaining enemies.  While I played on “Easy” which would make things, well, easier, it was a useful strategy to target them with their weaknesses and if that finished them you’d usually wipe the board, and if it didn’t you could use a Baton Pass to power someone else up — often with physical attacks — and then attack them again and get them to explode and wipe the board.  In fact, one hilarious sequence that happened more than once was that I targeted an exploding monster, hit its weakness, and then passed the baton to Ann who did fire attacks on everyone, one of whom was healed by fire, who then had the scripted reaction to laugh … and then the exploding one exploded, taking it out.

In terms of Mementos, the big thing that was added as far as I can recall — other than the combat changes — was flowers and Jose.  You can go around in Mementos gathering flowers as well as items and when you come across the strange kid Jose you can trade the flowers to him for items.  There are also stamp stations added — there’s always one at each level exit, and some in other places on a level as well — and when you collect enough to them you can trade them for things like more XP or more money or more items from encounters in Mementos.  Given that my main strategy is to win through massive overleveling and that I’m always cash poor, I put all of my stamps into increasing XP and money.  Did it have an impact?  I didn’t pay enough attention to say for sure, but I will note that I was in general overleveled for everything without any real grinding, so it may well have had an impact.  Anyway, the other thing he does is convert the item you get from collecting all three Will Seeds into a new and more powerful item that you can then use, making a link between him and the palaces.

In terms of the everyday world sections, as usually they added more activities and added more to the activities.  There are more batting cage machines than there were in the original game.  There are three new S-links that you have to directly manage — Akechi, Yoshizawa, and Maruki — and that play an important role in the new palace and epilogue to the story.  Oh, yeah, and they added a new palace and story that also includes a Mementos run and took me about 12 hours to finish.  There are new shops for you to explore as well (supposedly there’s a maid cafe somewhere that I never managed to find).  And the original activities and places to go are, as far as I can tell, still there.

I did manage to explore some new places as part of this run.  One of them was the new jazz bar, which Akechi takes you to during his S-link and that you can take your team mates to afterwards.  If you do so, you get a conversation with them — that I think mostly repeats — that will alter the stats of them and their Personas in good ways.  The one that’s the more interesting to me, however, is the sports bar, where you can go in and play billiards or darts with your team mates.  If you play billiards, it gives you a boost to one of your stats and brings you closer to them (meaning that it will help advance their S-links), but it’s just a scene and you don’t actually get to play.  If you play darts, you actually get to play darts with your team mates.  Now, I used to watch darts when it was on TV and the game is remarkably similar to that, and at least on Easy your team mates are actually pretty good when it comes to their turn.  It also has a real benefit, as it gets you closer with your team mates but also levels up their Baton Pass to various levels to give them more damage and some SP recovery.  There’s only about two levels to level it up to — at least at the base level, as there’s supposedly a book out there in a sports shop that maybe can do more, but I could never find that shop — but it does seem to have an impact on the game.  And for the most part, I actually really enjoyed playing the darts game, and it’s an incredibly good mini game for a game like this.

The thing about the mini games for me is that there are a number of them that I like playing — the batting cages, the darts, and I think I would have liked the fishing game if I had had the time to actually play it — but I don’t really seem to have the spare cycles to do that.  In any new game — as my first game of Royal had to be — I always have to spend time building my Social Stats, and while the mini games can do that they aren’t usually the most efficient way to do so.  Plus, there are always a lot of S-links that I’d want to get that doing the mini games would stop me from getting.  The Persona series is really starting to suffer from having way too much going on and forcing the player into tough choices about how to spend their time.  That wouldn’t be a problem except that they keep making the things have different benefits for the other part of the game and so the choice is less about what the player would rather do and more about the benefits that will have to their game, which works against the model of the game that I like best of someone going through their life doing what they want to do and hanging out with who they want to.

That being said, Royal adds a number of new things, including an extra twelve hour epilogue and new S-links and activities.  Even though it was a full priced game, that’s pretty much the Persona model and Royal definitely adds as much to the game as the others did.  I’d say that it’s worth it even if someone has already bought Persona 5.  It’s not a new game, but there’s enough new things interspersed between the original events that it doesn’t feel like you’re just playing the old game all over again.

What I Finished, What I Played in 2021

January 4, 2022

As I’ve mentioned a number of times on the blog, this was not a good year for me for playing video games.  I didn’t have a lot of time to play games as various things kept getting in the way, so most of my actual new game playing happened in the very last month of the year while I was on vacation.  So I blame my manager for the fact that I don’t play video games much anymore [grin].

Anyway, the two big games that I played were Ring Fit Adventure and The Old Republic.  They worked more because I was able to schedule them in specific times that meant that I got some good time in, and they are also games that work really, really well with sessions of a specific length — about a half hour/hour for Ring Fit Adventure and about four hours for The Old Republic — but that skipping one session didn’t matter all that much.  For Ring Fit Adventure, it helped that it was a nice way for me to get some extra exercise, which was something that I was looking for.  I didn’t like that the New Game+ had a blocking area for me, but restarting it was fine.  I intend to play both of these into the New Year.

I also tried playing Huniepop 2: Double Date, but I found the gameplay to be a bit too complicated for me and, worse of all, I didn’t actually like any of the girls that I was supposed to be dating, which caused me to drop it.  I also tried playing Mass Effect again once I got the remastered version, but ran out of time to actually play it, which also hampered my attempt to play Dragon Age Origins (the PC version with all the DLC).  I also tried playing some Wizardry 8 and started Champions of Krynn but again couldn’t find the time to dedicate to them.  I’m also sure that I tried playing some of the Star Wars games again and again ran out of time and interest.  So much of the year was spent trying desperately to find a game that I wanted to play and could fit into my schedule.

Ultimately, the last month was the best.  I played The Old Republic some more, but also managed to play and try out Dark Age of Camelot and Star Trek Online, and I liked both of them for the most part.  I ran into an unbeatable battle in Star Trek Online that soured me on it a bit, but collecting more and more quests made me enjoy Dark Age of Camelot more.  I will likely try to fit in some MMO time into my schedule for the New Year.  I also managed to finally finish a run of Persona 5 Royal, but since that took me over a month playing games about 20 hours a week I don’t think I will be replaying it any time soon.  I also played through the tutorials in Hearts of Iron, which is probably what I’m going to start the year off with.

So, other than the last month, it was a pretty sparse year for me playing games.  I hope that will change in the New Year.