Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

The List – Year 6

July 26, 2017

So, this is the sixth year of my list of games to finish. As I type this, I haven’t run the numbers yet, but I expect to see very little progress made because my impression of this past year is that I spent more time poking around with various things and less time finishing games. However, I know that I finished at least one game, Persona 5. So let’s see what happened this year. Maybe I’ll be surprised.

So, this year, I’ve finished 23 games out of the 49 I have remaining. That’s a 47% completion rate, which is just slightly better than what it was last year. Assuming that I’ve been updating the total including drops properly — as new games need to be added to the total — I have a 35% completion rate, again just slightly better than last year. To put this in the least complicated terms possible, however, as far as I can tell I … finished two games last year, one of which was Persona 5. And the other was probably Huniepop.

With my video game time curtailed and The Old Republic tempting me again, I may not finish too many more games this year. It’s just not the priority for me that it used to be. But let’s see how things work out.

The REAL burning question of Persona 5.

June 14, 2017

I don’t care what you say anymore this is my waif(u)
Go ahead with your own waif(u), leave mine alone!

Okay, so the other constant big question in Persona 5 is: is there a canon or semi-canon love interest?

In general, in game, the Persona games don’t have a canon love interest. You can pick whichever girls you want to date or not date and not much, if anything, changes in game. However, Persona 3 seems to have broken that, both for its own game and for the previous game, Persona 2:

1) In Persona 3, there’s an S-link based around an MMO version of Persona 2 that links Tatsuya and Maya, and that S-link, when completed, links to a romantic interest (that is never consummated, even as an implication).

2) In the Answer, it seems at least clear that Yukari had strong feelings for the MC, and was jealous of Aigis for that reason (which is also what drives Yukari to want to go back and interfere in the final battle). The implications of that can also make Aigis a canon romantic interest.

Some will argue that this only means that they cared about the MC, not that the MC cared for them, but that’s a shaky argument. And there are some arguments that Jun might be more canon than Maya in Persona 2, but given Persona 3 I find that hard to swallow.

In Persona 4, there doesn’t seem to be a canon love interest. Yukiko is the one that is presented as being closest to the MC in story, but Rise is the one who is most aggressively pursuing the MC. There’s also Marie from Golden. But Golden and Arena didn’t make any strong hints about relationships like the Answer did, and so it’s pretty hard to determine if there is a canon love interest there.

So what about Persona 5? We don’t have any works that expand that universe yet, and so we don’t know if they are going to steer this towards a conclusion like they did with the Answer. But there are arguments for each:

1) Joker, when he first sees Ann, is struck by her looks. She also is said to be the most aggressive at expressing her feelings for Joker and pushing the S-link towards romance. The counters to this are that her main character trait is striking looks and in the other story sections she doesn’t really seem all that interested in Joker, and vice versa.

2) Makoto gets in story seemingly romantic scenes with Joker, like when she turns to him to protect and comfort him while frightened in Sojiro’s house and when he shoves her out of the way of a falling rock in Futaba’s palace. You can say that those are just scenes and aren’t canon, but her being the one in that situation has to mean something. Her S-link also treats the romance part like a bit of an aside.

3) Futaba’s S-link directly takes on the romance option. However, a lot of the interactions are more brother and sister than romantic.

4) Haru is probably the most upset if you turn her down for a romance. However, there’s really nothing else to indicate that she’d be the canon love interest.

My opinion? If there is one, it’s probably Makoto, because of the focus that she gets in the game itself and because of those extra scenes. Futaba would work as well, but the relationship with her and Sojiro really seems like Nanako and Dojima 2.0, so making that the canon romance might be a little awkward. I’ve always found Ann to have more chemistry with Ryuji, and again there is little in story to indicate that Joker and Ann might be interested in each other. And Haru comes across as too minor a character to make the canon romance. And the other, non-party S-links are too easily ignored to count as canon romances.

That being said, unless and until we get expanded universe works that make one of them canon, the Persona series has been incredibly good about making each love interest viable, which means that you can pick the one that makes the most sense for you and the story/character you are playing, even if that happens to be Haru. So go on with your own waifu … and leave mine alone [grin].

The burning question of Persona 5 …

June 9, 2017

So, now that I’ve finished it and read around online a bit about it and talked a lot about Social Justice angles wrt Persona 5, seemingly the key question is this: should Persona 5 or Persona 6 have a female protagonist?

Note that there are two main ways to do a female protagonist in this series, and the Persona series has done both. First, you can give the player the choice of whether or not they want to play as a male or female protagonist, which is what they did with P3P. The other way is to create a game that only has a female protagonist, which they did with Maya in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. So, since they’ve done both before, surely they could do at least one of them again, either in an extended Persona 5 — which given P3 FES and P4 Golden is almost certain to happen — or in Persona 6. So let’s look at how and if that might work.

In Persona 5, there are a lot of anime cinematics. If you wanted to give the player a choice of protagonist, you’d have to do scenes for both the male and female protagonist. Also, you’d have to make sure that any line that refers to “he” is also re-voiced to use “he” or “she” for the appropriate protagonist, or else try very hard to never actually do that like they do for the protagonist’s name, which is going to be a lot more work. And then you might have to rework a number of the S-links, including the dating ones, allowing pretty much any character to be romanceable — and thus have Christmas and Valentine’s Day scenes reflecting that — if you don’t go the better route of rewriting them to make sense for male and female protagonists. For example, Iwai is far less likely to involve a teenage girl in his conflicts with the Yakuza and Ohya is not all that likely to pretend that she is dating a female protagonist to hide the fact that she’s investigating her partner’s disappearance (even if she leaned that way). In short, making a dual protagonist is a lot of work, and some story elements won’t work as well if you do that. So, in general, I think that for the most part they should pick one and have that as the main for the entire series. While I enjoyed the option in P3P — and found that the female protagonist was a more interesting character than the male one — I can see that adding the option again would be too much work for what you’d get out of it.

Okay, so then should Persona 6 go with a female protagonist? At first blush, my first thought was that it wouldn’t be a problem at all, given how much I liked the female protagonist in P3P. But on reflection, I noted that it would cost me something that I really liked about the Persona series: the ability to react to it roughly like how _I_ would have reacted to it, including who I hang around with and, importantly, who I dated. Obviously, with a female protagonist I wouldn’t be able to do that, and so would have to base it entirely on what character I was playing at the time. Which isn’t generally a problem for me, but it would take something away from the Persona series that’s pretty unique for me.

Now, people can say — rightly — that at that point I’d know how female players feel wrt the series, since they don’t get that. And that’s a fair point. But the issue here is that, for me, the Persona series has been that way for me for so long that I wouldn’t quite get the feel from Persona 6 if they did this that I got from the other games, which can’t help but feel like a let down. While I’d almost certainly be okay with it, other fans might not. Thus, that might hurt sales or the impression people have of the game and the series, which will hurt the franchise. Are there going to be enough female gamers deciding to jump onto it now for their unique experience to make it worth the risk? I doubt it, personally.

And so I think the best advice here is to let Team Persona decide what they want to do with the series. If they want to tell a story that works best with a male protagonist, let them. If they want to tell a story that works best with a female protagonist, let them. And if people really want to see a Persona-like series with a female protagonist then starting a new series with that is the way to go. After all, we’ve seen a number of these “dating/life sim JRPGs” starting up since Persona 3 at least partly rode that to success, and so a game that takes the Persona elements but starts with a female protagonist from the start should be do-able, if there’s a sufficient market for it. And since if it is done well there’s a good chance that I’d buy it and play it, this would be the ultimate chance to prove that, yes, there’s a market for these kind of games.

I suspect that the typical “Social Justice” objector will bristle at this suggestion, but hopefully some company will think that maybe they can get some mileage out of this — if the market is really there.

And the winner is …

June 7, 2017

… Dragon Age: Origins.

For a long time it really seemed like The Old Republic was going to be the game. Other than the possibility of wanting to park in a cantina when stopping for the night — and so having to travel back to it from where ever I happened to be at the time — it seemed to fit reasonably into the schedule — I’d probably be able to finish one planet each session, while having to leave the inter-planet quests for the next one — and had interesting stories to work through that I hadn’t gone through in a while. I’d be able to create new characters and do different things, which would be interesting. So it seemed a pretty good choice.

And then I remembered about the updates. Typically, updating after a long period away takes hours, and so at least one session. Updates week-on-week might not take that long, but then there might be periods where I had to put the gaming on hold for a few weeks due to other issues, and thus I’d end up spending that session updating and not playing, which isn’t fun. Or I could try updating the evening before, which I don’t have time to do. None of that really worked for me.

Dragon Age: Origins has none of that. Its biggest detriment is that I might want to play Inquisition after playing Dragon Age 2 to complete the set, and I trust myself to either not play Inquisition or resign myself to slogging through it again.

I started as a Noble Dwarf Warrior, and made it out of the intro story and through Ostagar, ending my play session when arriving at Lothering. I’m playing on Casual, and so far Alastair almost got knocked out by the ogre (troll?) in the first tower, but otherwise my health is good. We’ll see how long that lasts. I enjoyed the intro story, and so far am playing my character as an incredibly polite, loyal and dedicated person who has a dry sense of humour and is a little bitter about all the betrayals, and so comments when Alastair suggests going to Arl Eamon because Eamon is honourable that, hey, Loghain was honourable, too. But I loved the comments he can make like calling Alastair a very strange human or, when Alastair goes on about Callain getting him to wear a dress and dance some kind of dance that Alastair has a very odd idea of the king, while knowing that Alastair was being sarcastic.

He was also very polite and respectful to Morrigan and Flemeth, which they both appreciated (and I managed to surprise Morrigan with that, which makes me actually like her more than I did on my first playthrough).

So, that’s the game I chose, and the reasons for the ultimate choice.

My Thought Process on Choosing the Next Game To Play

May 31, 2017

So, as I said while talking about my second playthrough of Persona 5, I need to choose a different game to play because while I could play Persona 5 again, the time I have to play games is shrinking and I’m not convinced that I could play Persona 5 for 5 months without either getting distracted by something else or else having Persona 5 take over those times when I really should do something else. So, I’ve been musing about that off and on while things compile and install for the past days, and my thought process seemed fairly … unique. So since I’ll need a post anyway I thought it might be nice to let you guys into my head for a bit to show you my thought process on this.

Note that I very much hope to have decided this by the time you see this post, since my time to play video games is Thursday and this is set to come out on Wednesday. So comments here might or might not influence my decision.

Anyway, I have a block of about 3 – 4 hours once a week to play video games. I really don’t want to extend or be terribly tempted to extend those hours for at least the next 3 – 5 months or so, because there are many, many other things that I want and need to do that I’ve put off for too long. I should have started this back in January, but as usual got distracted and was aware that Persona 5 was going to show up in April which, well, was going to throw everything out of whack. So I definitely don’t want to distract myself again with something else that will take up that time, especially since I’m facing work pressures and won’t have the time to waste. Which ironically means that I probably don’t want the game to be too good, since I’ll want to play it when I shouldn’t be.

Because I have so limited a time to play during the week, I also don’t really want to play a really, really long game either, because it will take too long for me to finish at that rate. Persona 5 fails both this and the “too good a game” criteria, because at 4 hours a session for a roughly 80 hour game it would take me 20 sessions or 5 months to finish, which is a long time for me. I’ve been musing that three months is probably the limit, and even that is shaky (but I’m willing to give it a try).

But another consideration is that if I can only play for 3 – 4 hours a week, I have to be able to feel like I did something in each session. It’s fine to only grind to get to the next couple of levels or open up missions if I’m going to play it again tomorrow, but if I’m going to stop for a week I really want to have had a lot of fun doing it and/or have really accomplished something. Plus, since that 3 – 4 hour time span is both a bit variable — I may have slightly less time one week and slightly more the next, depending on work and what I need to do when I get home — and is a fairly hard limit — I have to stop at a certain point to do other things like going to sleep — the game has to both get somewhere in that time period and can’t have really long sections where I won’t be able to save the game and stop for the night … or, at least, it has to let me know what those are so that I can prepare and, well, stop for the night before getting into it and leave the long section for the next week.

Another factor is that I’m going to go home, eat, and then play the game, because that’s already my Thursday schedule and the gaming is going there mostly because right after eating a large meal I usually don’t want to do anything that requires walking around. And since I tend to pace while writing, that includes writing on the blog. Thus, console games work well in that slot because I can — and have, with Persona 5 — eat and then immediately sit down and play the game, gaining anywhere from a half-hour to an hour in the process. This also means that console games are slightly preferred because I game on my sofa and that’s a really good place to be right after eating. But that’s not that major a factor.

Another minor factor is that I keep thinking that if I’m going to pick a game to play here, it should be one of the games that I have lying around that I want to finish. Like one of the games on the “List of Games to Finish”. This is counter-balanced by my whims and distractions, which I’ll get to in a minute when I go through some of the games I’m thinking about. These are minor, but ultimately will have an impact on how I feel about the game and so how long I manage to stick to that game.

So, I considered starting over with Persona, which I played for a while but never finished. It’s a bit more reasonable in terms of length — 50 hours average main story plus extras — and then I could go on and replay all of the games again, which I really do want to do. But to do all of them would take me over a year to finish, probably even if I cheated. Even with there being five different games to play, that’s probably too big a commitment to make right now, and Persona itself doesn’t interest me enough to just play it for itself. If I was going to do that, I’d just play Persona 3 or 4 … but those are 80 hour games as well.

I’ve mused about playing Shadow Hearts or Shadow Hearts: Covenant again. They fit neatly into the time frame and are games that I really liked playing. I’m a bit worried about some sections and not being able to either stop in time or get something done, though, and I’ve already played both, so it’s not a game that I would be finishing.

From the list, I’m definitely thinking about playing Fatal Frame and then the two that I didn’t finish. The biggest problem with this is that I’ve very walkthrough dependent with these games, which means I’d have to run the computer, too, and I’m not sure that I’ll always be able to save when I want to. The same thing applies to the Silent Hill games.

Record of Agarest War and Conception II are games that, are. of course, ruled out for being too grindy.

I was originally thinking about playing Saint’s Row The Third, but I’ve never played it before, don’t know how long the missions take, and am not good at more FPS and action-focused games. There’s just too much risk of this being a disaster, so I think I’ll save it for some time when I’m on vacation.

I’m considering Bloodlines again, although it gets a slight knock for being a PC game. But it has “Save anywhere”, which is good … but I haven’t played it in so long that I’m thinking of starting over, which means that I’d have to do the warehouse again, which is very, very bad.

I also recently re-watched a lot of the video game videos at SF Debris, which has gotten me feeling like I want to play some of those games again. I’ve considered Knights of the Old Republic, but I recently replayed the first one and when I tried playing Sith Lords right after I found that it dragged. So I’m considering resubscribing to TOR and going through one of the story missions again, as I can finish a planet — or at least a few areas of one — in about the right time now and it would only take me about three months to finish one run through Corellia. I’ve also been tempted to play Dragon Age: Origins again, but if I did I’d want to play Dragon Age 2 again, and then maybe Inquisition again to finish out the series … and, as you all know, I definitely don’t want to do that. Fortunately, I feel no real reason to play Mass Effect again, at least not yet.

I’ve also recently re-watched .hack//Sign and Liminality, which then gets me wanting to play the games again (I managed to get part-way into the fourth game). It’d be a console game and each game is about 20 hours if I recall correctly so it fits into the timeline, so it’s definitely a possibility. I’m just not all that fond of its gameplay.

I’ve considered playing another full season of baseball again, but the season is so long that it falls into another 5 month plus commitment.

I’ve considered just playing Pinball Arcade again for a while, but that’s more a time waster than an actual game. It thus risks grabbing me too much so I don’t quit in time, and also I really want to, well, actually kinda play something where I make progress, which doesn’t happen that much with that game.

I’ve thought about playing Star Wars: Rebellion again, but that is a game that definitely and absolutely makes me forget about time, so I’d waver between not feeling like playing it and getting so caught up in it that I don’t go to sleep on time.

I’ve considered the Hearts of Iron games, but there seems to be a lot to learn with them from what little I’ve played with them and I’m not really up for that at the moment, especially for a game that I’m mostly interested in seeing how things might change rather than in playing out the strategic parts.

I’ve actually thought about playing the Gold Box D&D games again, as they should be short enough and I should get somewhere in a couple of hours.

There are also a number of other games that I’ve bought from GOG.com that I think might work, like some of the Star Trek adventure games. And probably a few on consoles or the Vita to consider. I hope to decide very, very soon, and will tell you when I do.

Thoughts on Persona 5 After Playing it Twice

May 26, 2017

I’ve played Persona 5 on “Easy” and finished it twice. I have already put almost 150 hours into the game in the two months since I got it. And yet … I could start a third game, right now, and the only reason I’m not doing that is that I need my weekends and weekend afternoons back to handle mounting work pressure and other projects that I really need to start working on, and so only have about four hours a week to play video games, which would mean that it would take me five months to finish. Which either means that I’d have to keep interested in the game for that long and not want to play anything else or, more likely, that I’d decide to play Persona 5 in the times when I really, really should be doing something else. So, I have to put it away for a while.

But that, to me, is the beauty and wonder of the Persona games. No other game series has had that quality, where I can simply restart the game and keep playing it for hours and hours and hours. I have easily put over 1000 hours into Persona 3 and Persona 4 combined, and almost certainly will play them again at some point in the future. I will indeed play Persona 5 again. If they release a P5 Golden or FES or whatever version of this game, I will buy it and play it. I am quite likely to, at some point, play it with a main character based on Phil Coulson from “Agents of SHIELD”, which is the big temptation I have right now. For whatever reason, the combination of the life/dating simulation where S-links balance with the main plot — and impact it — and also balance with a relatively easy and painless battle system — on “Easy” — that you still have to think about if you want to be at all efficient and so isn’t generally simple “Just hit them until they go away” really, really resonates with me. And the Persona series does this better than any other game series I’ve ever played, including Conception II and even Trails of Cold Steel, which I tried but ended up stopping because the second class trip paired me up with characters and conflicts that I didn’t care for. And it’s social aspects aren’t as strong as Persona’s either.

So, the Persona series has an embarrassment of riches at this point: a game built around three aspects that all generally work and where a significant number of gamers will really like at least one of them, and where all of these elements improve from game to game. But this, it seems to me, is potentially causing issues for the series, since the improvements end up making each aspect more complicated and more prominent in each game. If you really like or can at least tolerate all three aspects, these improvements are good for you across the board; you’ll just like the game better because everything in it got better. But if you don’t like one of the aspects, then the increasing complexity and prominence and importance of the elements will likely bore and annoy you. For me, the combat and dungeons are the least interesting parts of the game, and so often, especially on my second run, I found myself slogging through and generally dreading the palaces, to say nothing of Mementos, which I found incredibly boring. But I liked the S-links and even the other activities, and both wish there were more of them and that I could focus on them earlier (especially the activities) because at the end I was looking forward to finishing the game — I needed to finish it on the long weekend to, again, be ready to do all of the other things — and so ended up deciding that it wasn’t really worth trying to learn them and take extra time that I might need to finish the final fight. Which, BTW, I remember being a slog but which was much easier this time, especially considering that I managed to figure out that you can attack the final boss’ extra arms. The first time through, I focused on the main boss and then had to keep taking all the extra attacks, but here I managed to let Ann and Makoto kill off most of the arms to prevent that.

But, any way, back on topic. The thing is, as the combat and bosses and dungeons get more complicated, people who were willing to put up with it to get back to the things that really interest them might not be so willing anymore. One of the reasons that I don’t go back to Persona 3 as often is because the dungeons are, in general, more about grinding than anything else, and the grinding is, in general, very boring for me. But in reading around on this game, there are a number of people complaining about the life simulator and S-link portions. As these get more prominent and more detailed, these divides are going to get even sharper, as more and more people find at least one part of the game that annoys them but that they are forced to go through if they want to go through the parts they, well, actually like. The worst case scenario is that everyone really likes one part of the game and hates the other parts, making the game feel mediocre at best. That’s not going to ensure the long-term success of the series.

The best way to counter this would be to make the other elements far more optional, where there is limited need to delve into them if you don’t want to. However, Persona 5 makes things more integrated, as the S-links provide great benefits for dungeon crawling and Mementos is required for S-links, for example. If this continues — and it seems likely to — then the exact opposite will happen; each element will be more integrated and so more necessary to do in order to complete the game. So either the game will have to make each element be more interesting to people in general or people will feel that they have to or at least are encouraged to do those other elements that they dislike in order to advance in the game. Or, as I call it, grinding. The former risks losing what made some people like them in the first place, and the latter is generally boring and annoying.

Persona 5 is a good game, but it doesn’t seem to me to have the same feel as the other games. It often feels like it’s merely emulating features and storylines from the previous games rather than adding to them or using them properly. Makoto is a shallower version of Mitsuru, for the most part (and note, before anyone complains, I really like Makoto as a character, and romanced her exclusively my second time through and enjoyed every bit of it. But her role in the game and in her S-link is very much a simpler and shallower version of Mitsuru, without the arranged marriage part that appeared in Haru’s). Sojiro, Futaba, and your becoming a member of the family is a less emotional version of Dojima and Nanako from Persona 4. The negotiation, brought back from Person and/or Persona 2, is more shallow and less fun (I have played both Persona and Persona 2: Innocent Sin, albeit briefly). There are a lot of plot and S-link and gameplay references to previous games, but they don’t really seem to capture what was great about them. I guess there was a push for some of this because of the anniversary (20th, I believe) but I don’t think it really did this game a favour by failing to capture the spirit of what made those parts memorable and demanded by the audience.

Still, Persona 5 is a worthy Persona game. I look forward to putting over 500 hours into it over the course of the next few years, like I did for the previous games. This game, itself, will make buying the PS4 worth the price.

Phantom Thieves in Cincinnati …

May 19, 2017

So, at one point in Persona 5 they ask you to enter a name, and point out that this name is what people will see online. I had no intention of going online, and so didn’t really care about it, and didn’t have any idea that this would come up, and so didn’t have any name prepared. But I was musing about watching the show WKRP in Cincinnati, and so decided that, meh, that would do. So I entered “WKRP”, and went on with the game.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that that would also be what your team was named. And thus, when sending the calling cards, I would get things like “We are going to change your heart and reveal your horrible crimes! Signed, WKRP” and on the TV I would get things like “The police are being asked to pushed to deal with the terrible criminal organization WKRP!”. Which, of course, I found rather hilarious knowing what WKRP really was (a small time radio station full of utterly bizarre characters). So, on my second playthrough, I decided to keep that name.

And since I have indeed been watching the show — I plan to post about my impressions of it once I finish it — I was musing about whether I could actually map the characters from the game onto the characters in the show. This sounded amusing to me, but there’s an issue: there are nine Phantom Thieves — not counting Akechi — and only eight employees of WKRP. And Herb is too unsympathetic to fit with a lot of the characters. But I still kinda wanted to try it, and noticed that for some of the Phantom Thieves there’s more than one character that fits, and some WKRP characters fit more than one person. So I then thought that maybe if I did two WKRP characters per Phantom Thief, I could reuse characters and so could fill out all nine Phantom Thieves and even include Akechi. So, I’m going to try that. I make no promises that these will actually work out in any real interesting way, but it might be kinda fun.

So lets start:

Joker: 1 – Andy Travis: If play Joker as the one who is cool, confident, and who generally knows what’s going on, then Andy fits. Andy is also known as quite the ladies man but isn’t incredibly aggressive about it, which also fits the vast number of Confidants Joker can date. About the only difference here is that Joker is pretty much the official leader of the Phantom Thieves, while that role technically belongs to Arthur Carlson at WKRP. And speaking of which …

2 – Arthur Carlson: On the other hand, if you play Joker as generally well-meaning but mostly clueless — and since you get to choose your reactions, you can — then Arthur Carlson, the nice, well-meaning, but somewhat clueless leader who wants things to succeed but doesn’t really know how to do that fits. And as he was very happily married throughout the series, he best fits a Joker that is a one-woman man.

Skull: 1 – Dr. Johnny Fever: Brash and loud, marches to the beat of his own drummer, but generally a good guy at heart. Can be abrasive and rub people the wrong way, but is generally entertaining enough that most people like him.

2 – Herb Tarlek: However, if you find Ryuji annoying and someone who too many people don’t like very much, Herb fits well. And the fact that Herb would hit on every woman he encountered in a pretty sleazy way fits Ryuji a lot of the time.

Panther: Jennifer Marlowe: Jennifer is very attractive, is treated as such by everyone, and has access to a fairly luxurious lifestyle, like Ann. She’s also, however, very kind and cares about everyone, and is willing to help everyone out whenever she can. She also almost had a “nude incident” as well.

2 – Jennifer Marlowe: Okay, this is kinda cheating, but Jennifer and Ann really are a pretty much perfect mapping.

Morgana: 1 – Venus Flytrap: Because they’re both cool cats! And both were often used to explain things that someone needed to know but that it didn’t make sense for anyone else to know, like the episode where Venus reveals that he was a teacher and explains atoms to the cleaning lady’s son, or financial planning to Johnny.

2 – Andy Travis: He can also be seen as the competent and informed member of the party who knows things and does the planning if Joker doesn’t step up to the line. Also, he often tells Joker what to do and what not to do which is what Andy tried to do for the DJs as programming directory.

Fox: 1 – Les Nessman: Exceptionally serious and naive, eccentric, and excessively passionately attached to their chosen field (art for Yusuke, news for Les). Yusuke is just in general actually good at art, but Les, when he gets past his own peculiarities, can pull off the news, too.

2 – Venus Flytrap: This fits mostly because Venus is serious, has a unique — and yet culturally appropriate — wardrobe, and is generally popular with the ladies, like Yusuke.

Queen: Bailey Quarters: Bailey is smart, responsible, dedicated, ambitious, attractive, knowledgeable, generally and genuinely cares for the others, and although she’s shy and often slow to speak up for herself she has quite the temper when she finally gets riled up.

2 – Andy Travis: You can also see her as the competent and intelligent one who turns the team around once she joins by supposedly making them actually have plans.

Oracle: 1 – Les Nessman: You can go with the extreme eccentricity that Futaba and Les both display, with incredibly odd thoughts and fixations that permeate pretty much every interaction with them …

2 – Bailey Quarters: … or you can go with the extreme social awkwardness coupled with being very good at what they do, and better than anyone would expect them to be, at least originally.

Noir: 1 – Bailey Quarters: A shy and sweet girl who when she can escape that role has deep passions that she can let run wild.

2 – Jennifer Marlowe: Or the classy, wealthy woman who despite all that genuinely cares for other people.

Crow: Herb Tarlek: When he joins the team, no one really likes him at all, but they kinda warm up to him as things go long. He aims for flash over substance most of the time, and wants to prove himself and succeed almost no matter who it hurts. Herb’s quite a bit less of a villain, but they have both the same underlying desires and similar methods for achieving them, which leads to very similar reactions from everyone else.

2 – Mother Carlson: Going off the main board here, just for the fact that both of them provide critical aid and support to the team supposedly to help them, while in reality they were hoping and planning for the team to fail in the end.

Persona 5 vs Dragon Age: Inquisition

May 17, 2017

So, my first run of Persona 5 took me about 80 hours, and when it was done I immediately started playing it again (and am now just over half-way through). I also put about that much time into my first run of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and yet said that if I never play it again, it will be too soon. So what explains the difference here? Why is it that I can get through two 80 hour runs of Persona 5 without feeling incredibly bored and frustrated, but couldn’t make it through one of DA:I without feeling that way?

One of the big issues is what I was doing that dragged out that time. In Persona 5, in general I’m following the story and building S-links. In DA:I, I was generally doing the area quests to ensure that I had enough experience and enough levels to be able to continue the story, while stopping occasionally to talk to people and run War Council missions. Thus, DA:I felt like grinding to me: doing things that I didn’t find fun just to be able to do the main story content, which greatly spread out the story content, which meant that the story content always felt like a bit of an aside; it was important and definitely prominent, but I spent so much more of my game not doing it than doing it. About the only things that I had to grind were the personal stats, which I didn’t need to do at all in the replay because they carried over. For the dungeons, on “Easy” going through the story missions killing everything in sight and then going into Mementos and wandering through it only to finish the requests gave me enough XP to beat the game relatively comfortably. So I never felt the need to actually grind.

The other thing is that there’s just so much to do in Persona 5. Even grinding out your stats can be done in varied and more or less interesting ways, from direct working out or reading to S-links to fun activities. Sure, you want to focus on the most bang for your buck, but there’s still a lot of choice and a lot of ways to get things done. In DA:I, while there are a number of things to do the big ones are simple non-story-related quests, where you go out and kill and find things until you have enough and then do it over again until there are no missions left. So there’s not all that much choice over what you want to do, and you can’t really decide to skip the things you really dislike and focus on things you like more unless you’re sure that you don’t need them for XP, influence, or items.

Ultimately, when I play Persona 5 it is very easy to just keep playing because I always want to do something else, either advance an S-link, advance an ability, clear a story dungeon, complete Mementos requests, or whatever. In DA:I, most of the time I had one goal: clear the quests out of that area. That goal, in general, took long enough to feel like grinding and didn’t really seem to give any kind of closure or satisfaction when it was completed. Instead, I just moved on to the next one or on to the story mission as appropriate. In Persona 5, the goals tended to be shorter, and gave me a sense of completion when I finished it. That’s why DA:I felt like grinding and Persona 5 doesn’t.

Tropes vs Women: The Lady Sidekick

May 10, 2017

So, here we are, finally, at the last “Tropes vs Women” episode, on “The Lady Sidekick”. Originally, Sarkeesian claimed she’d have it all done in a year; it took her five. Even the last season — which was far more shallow than the first one — was supposed to be done in a year and ended up taking her about a year and a half. So at least you can say that Sarkeesian did not know what she was getting into when she started the project. But, here we are, at the last one, which means that this is my last post on that series as well. So how does it work?

Well, not well. The main trust here is about how female sidekicks and companions are portrayed in games, with a segue or acknowledgement on how that’s how sidekicks and companions are portrayed in general, which she proceeds to criticize. The problem is that her extremely narrow focus means that she misses all of the games where what she seems to want to see has already been done, and at times contradicts herself in what she wants or things acceptable, and at the end of the day promotes an idea of making companions human that, in fact, would in general be more annoying than helpful, especially since there are other, less annoying ways to do that that are already being done.

So let’s start with her first example, that of Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite. The problem here seems to be that while Elizabeth is indeed a critical character to the plot and gets development, in gameplay her abilities are pretty much passive:

Elizabeth possesses the incredible ability to open portals to other timelines, an ability that plays a significant role in the plot as Booker and Elizabeth hop forward and backward and from side to side in time, leaping from one version of Columbia to another and sometimes thrusting Booker into the past or the future. So as a plot device which drives elements of the game’s narrative, she’s very significant. In gameplay terms, however, Elizabeth serves a different kind of role: that of a glorified door opener.

As with most shooters, Bioshock Infinite often puts you into situations where you can’t progress until you’ve cleared an area of enemies. The way it frequently does this is by blocking doors to the next area that can’t be opened by Booker. Only Elizabeth can do this, which she does only when all the enemies have been killed. For all of her tremendous powers, Elizabeth is reduced by the game’s mechanics to doing the most basic and menial of tasks, and waiting around for her to open a door becomes a significant aspect of how players experience her character.

Of course, she performs other actions as well, sometimes tossing Booker ammo, first aid or other useful items, or opening tears through which he can have her summon things like weapons or killer robots to help him in combat. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of characters who play a supporting role in combat situations. But Elizabeth is an example of a female sidekick who is reduced to a tool. There aren’t gameplay mechanics that allow you to have meaningful interactions with her. She just opens doors and dispenses useful things, and her tear-opening powers are not her own, but yours to call on and control with the press of a button.

So, on the one hand Sarkeesian claims that there’s nothing wrong with supporting characters, but then complains that these supporting characters — again, who are not combat characters — have a generally passive role in the gameplay. So, in the gameplay, you “order” them to do things and they, well, do them. What’s the alternative here? I mean, surely you’d want to be able to at least ask them to do things and have them do it, right? If you have them refuse to do those things, then if you need them to do it desperately in order to survive they could cause you to, well, die and have to load from a previous save. And at least any refusal is going to cost you time. If you make it follow from their personality — and not be random — then it could be seen as a story point … but Sarkeesian is talking pretty much about gameplay here. And the only other option is to simply have them open things automatically when the objective — in this case, clearing the area — is pretty much done. At best, that adds little to their character and at worst has them take actions that the player is not prepared for.

Thus, we can translate Sarkeesian’s complaint here as “Why doesn’t the gameplay do more to annoy the player?”. To which the answer is “Because it annoys the player!”. Giving the player control over their sidekicks and companions allows them to better plan their strategies and tailor the gameplay experience to their own abilities and how they like to play. Handing “agency” off to the companions can frustrate players unless those companions always do things the way the player wants them to, at which point you might as well just give the player direct control. As an example, in Persona 3 you couldn’t tell your companions what actions to take in combat, and so they acted on their own. You could tell them how to act in general — heal, conserve SP, etc — but you couldn’t give them direct commands. But when in Persona 3 FES, I believe, they gave you the ability to give direct commands, the change was universally welcomed. This was not because players wanted to or even did see the companions as primarily tools. The Persona series itself is built on the strengths of the personalities of your companions and how you feel about them, as well as those of your other S-links. No, the reason this was welcomed was because the AIs would quite often do incredibly stupid and even out-of-character actions in combat that could cause you to lose that battle. For example, the intelligent and capable tactician Mitsuru might cast Marin Karin — a charm spell — instead of attacking or healing … and, from what I understand, might do it on bosses that in general are immune to the ability. Wanting to be able to give her direct commands, then, isn’t a desire to order her around, but is instead a desire to be able to manage the combat the way you want to manage the combat.

And that’s the big issue with Sarkeesian’s thesis here: when players give these direct orders in gameplay, they are, in fact, thinking of these as gameplay mechanisms, and not story or character mechanisms. That the player leads the team in Persona 3 is an odd example of “Gameplay and Story Segregation” that is handwaved: Mitsuru should probably be the one giving orders, but as the PC has the ability to change Personas and is competent it can be argued that letting him decide what the others do makes sense, since his versatility means that what the others do will always depend on what he can do and what he can cover, which even extends to team selection (if the PC doesn’t have a Persona who can use fire spells, he’ll likely want to bring one along to trigger the weakness in those enemies. He’ll also want to pick which weaknesses get hit in a mix of enemies to ensure that they all get knocked down). But none of this means that the P3 PC is really the leader of SEES. That is indeed Mitsuru, and everyone acknowledges that. So even if in gameplay what Elizabeth is doing is what the PC tells her to, that doesn’t in any way invalidate what impression the players have of her throughout the game. Players can indeed note that things work differently in gameplay and in story, as that TV Tropes link above suggests.

Sarkeesian also goes on to talk about the “Damsel Escort Mission”:

Damsel escort missions occur when a female character joins the male player character, but is largely helpless, and rather than being a clear benefit to the player, she feels more like a burden. In ICO, players free Yorda from a cage early on. She then joins Ico on his journey, and much of the game consists of solving puzzles so that Yorda, who can’t make leaps or climb walls on her own, can traverse the environment. Meanwhile, players also need to protect her from the shadow monsters who sometimes try to whisk her away. Spoiler alert: yes, in the ending cutscene, Yorda carries Ico out of the crumbling castle, but what the narrative tells us or shows us in the end doesn’t undo the impact of how we experience a character through gameplay. Another classic damsel escort mission occurs in Resident Evil 4, where Ashley Graham, the president’s daughter, has caused players tremendous frustration over the years by burdening them with the need to protect and manage her.

Or, as most gamers call them, “Escort Missions”. The only distinction here is that Sarkeesian limits this to female characters being escorted, but all of the attributes are the same, as are the frustrations. Thus, what Sarkeesian is complaining about here is, at the end of day, that women are used in escort missions. She’d potentially have a complaint if she showed that women were used in that role more often — which is probably true — and in general she pushes the line that having that role fosters stereotypes in a way that it doesn’t for men, but this doesn’t really work. For one thing, as I have noted a few times, it’s easier to have a female character that needs to be protected, even at times, remain a sympathetic character than it is for a male character. And second, the way to overturn those stereotypes is to present other female characters that don’t fit that stereotype. Sure, you might have to escort a “damsel escort” in a couple of missions, but if your party includes your competent female companion that’s not likely to make you think that all women are like that, now is it?

And the issue is that you simply cannot do it right by Sarkeesian. She criticizes ICO for having Yorda be mostly an escort throughout the entire game and comments that even her saving Ico at the end can’t make up for that, but then she later criticizes Ellie in “The Last of Us” for having presumably a small number of scenes where she needs help across the water despite being in general an active character the rest of the time. So a character that was built up as being active and competent and thus breaking the stereotype but that sometimes needs help? Bad, if it’s female. But a character that was mostly passive but that has some character development at the end and so can be seen as being more active and subverting the stereotype? Also, bad, if it’s female. So one active scene can’t undo the experience, but one passive scene absolutely can. And to top it all off, Sarkeesian has no idea if most people really did experience the character that way. My bet is that most people didn’t.

Where this gets all the more ridiculous is when Sarkeesian tries to talk about companion mechanisms in general:

Companion dynamics in games almost never model what equal footing, cooperation and collaboration in a relationship might look like, but instead serve to make the player feel like the center of the world, the one in control, which is not at all a model for healthy relationships.

Of course they don’t. Sarkeesian can only find a couple of good examples:

When women function as competent companions whose skills are more-or-less equal to those of the player character, it can challenge these ideas. The Last of Us goes against the grain by giving us the character of Tess, a somewhat rare and refreshing example of a woman who fights alongside the male protagonist, and the later Gears of War games do a decent job of including female squad members who are on equal footing with their male counterparts. And thankfully, we are seeing more games that complicate and subvert the old patterns, providing players with relationships with supporting characters who don’t function as mere extensions of the player but who feel like separate, individual people.

And while Trico in 2016’s The Last Guardian may not be a human character, he does possess some of the characteristics we’d like to see more of in human companions in games. Asking Trico to do things isn’t a simple matter of pushing a button and watching him immediately obey. He’s not a simple tool, not just an extension of the player. Sometimes he’s hesitant, reluctant, even frustrating. But this makes it feel more like he’s a living, breathing creature, with thoughts and feelings of his own, and by taking time to pet him, you can sometimes express your connection to him in ways that fall outside the requirements of the gameplay and the story. And crucially, Trico is often the one protecting the player, rather than the other way around. He does not exist to fuel a power fantasy, but to allow for gameplay mechanics that focus on cooperation, care, and helping each other.

So, let’s start with Trico. I’ve already commented that companions refusing orders is annoying unless it’s story or character based, and Sarkeesian does not limit Trico’s “frustrating” part to those cases. But we’ve had a long history of companions that protect the player already. In Persona 3, Persona 4 and Persona 5, if you get their S-links up to a high enough level, your companions — male or female — will take a blow for you in battle that would kill you otherwise. Persona 4 uses this as a major — and heartbreaking and horrifying — plot point in the final battle. In Suikoden V, Lyon is the protector of the PC explicitly, and fights alongside him throughout the entire game. The combat system of the Suikoden games involve combinations, which thus involve two or more characters cooperating and working together. Even the passive “Mission Controls” in the Persona series — Fuuka, Rise and Futaba — have special powers and abilities that sometimes can be triggered and sometimes trigger randomly to help the player, often accompanied by text that really reflects the character. In fact, even when you order around the characters, they tend to attack in ways that reflect their character, with catchphrases and even attack styles that make them distinct and show them to be a character that is doing something, and not just a tool to be used.

And companions, male and female, that fight alongside the main character and are equal participants are not exactly now. Baldur’s Gate had companions that did so, like Jaheira. Wizardry 8 had Vi. Knights of the Old Republic had Bastilla and Juhani. Sith Lord has Mira, Visas Marr, Handmaiden (Brianna) and the character that we know Sarkeesian knows about: Kreia. This trend continues into games like Neverwinter Nights, and into the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, with Tali, Liara, Morrigan, Leliana, Wynne and then a host of others in the later games. TOR had female and male companions for every character class. The Persona series has always had female party members that fought alongside the main character, all the way back to the first one. So has the Suikoden series. Shadow Hearts has Alice — who ends up sacrificing herself for Yuri, the MC — and Margarete, while Shadow Hearts Covenant has Karin, Lucia and Anastasia. This is not new. And Sarkeesian criticizes the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games enough that she really ought to know that those characters exist. And yet … there is no mention of them. There isn’t even mention of one of her favourite characters, at least as evidenced by the other videos in the series. Maybe someone finally told her that Kreia is actually the villain of the game.

So these examples aren’t as uncommon as Sarkeesian thinks they are.

The last thing to comment on is about having companions who just do whatever you say and go along with whatever you do regardless of their own views on the matter. And, of course, games are already working on that as well. In Sith Lords, for example, Visas Marr will not wear the slave girl outfit no matter what you say, and Mira flat-out refuses to date you. In the series as a whole, companions will comment on your actions before and after you do them (Carth, at one point, comments that you are being incredibly petty if you take a specific Dark Side action). This carries forward into The Old Republic, where you will lose or gain affection based on how you respond to characters and situations in the game, and the reaction depends on your personality. This was also present in Dragon Age. In Mass Effect, the commentaries are also there, and in ME2 how you interact with your companions and which ones you choose to do certain missions have a critical impact on how the mission turns out, and who lives and who dies. In Persona 5, at boss fights there is an opportunity to send companions to do something, and who you send is at least claimed to matter. So what we can see is that games, for the longest time, have been trying to insert the specific details and traits of characters into the gameplay for a long time, from having them have different skills and abilities that follow from their character traits to having the personality show up in various ways. That Sarkeesian thinks this is new just reveals how little she actually knows about games.

Ultimately, again, this is a shallow analysis, and seems to come down to Sarkeesian griping about things she doesn’t like, especially since here there’s no real clear trend or set of traits that we can look at. Gaming is already pretty much doing all of the things that she seems to want it to do, except for the ones that are really annoying. It’s easy to stand on a soapbox talking about “cooperation” and “healthy relationships”, but her narrow focus leaves us very thin on examples and again we have no idea if Sarkeesian isn’t referencing the other games because she thinks they’re bad or because she doesn’t know they exist. At the end of the day, maybe Sarkeesian can leave games behind and move to areas where she actually knows something about the media she is examining.

Or maybe not.

Thoughts on Persona 5 After Playing it Once

May 5, 2017

So, I recently finished Persona 5. It took me just under 80 hours, and I almost immediately started over again once I finished it, for reasons that I’ll get into in a bit. But there may be spoilers for the game below this point:

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