YamiShikiMoon's Blog

Sarcastic girly nerd that talks about anything Anime, Manga, Game related that is of interest.


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Final Fantasy XV Rant and Thoughts

This rant was made prior to all the recent news of upcoming DLC and other things as I’ll primarily talking about the ending mostly. Beware of lots of capslock rage and incoherent words haha.

And of course it goes without saying Spoilers warning!

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I have never cried so fucking much over a final fantasy.

THAT IS NOT FUCKING FAIR. FUCK YOU ARDYN. ABSOLUTELY FUCK YOU. SHE WOULD HAVE LIVED. I FUCKING HATE YOU. IT’S NOT FAIR IT’S NOT FAIR IT’S NOT FAIR AND I’M SO FUCKING MAD LUNA DESERVED SO MUCH BETTER. I THOUGHT SHE WAS GOING TO DIE HEROICALLY. I KNEW SHE WAS GOING TO BUT NOT LIKE THIS ITS SO FUCKING UNFAIR THEY NEVER GET TO REUNITE UNTIL THE END WHEN THEY’RE BOTH FUCKING DEAD.

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LITERALLY THEY NEVER INTERACT I HATE IT. I LITERALLY RACED THROUGH THE GAME TO SEE THEM TOGETHER, EVEN FOR A LITTLE BIT, IT’S NOT FUCKING FAIR. I HATE HIM. I HATE HIM SO MUCH I’M LIKE SOBBING. POOR NOCT. I CAN’T. I legitimately like, felt like I was going to throw up. I’m so mad. I just want Noctis to come to me and let’s pretend like this didn’t happen. Or, kind of like 13, EVERYONE COMES BACK AND IT’S FINE. LET’S LIVE IN THE NEW WORLD. PLEASE I DONT WANT THE CANON.

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I’m still so emotionally drained from World of Ruin, the ending etc. Also, Noctis expressing his gratitude to his friends at the campfire. I cried so hard. The last game to manage that was Crisis Core. (Which was directed by FFXV’s director HOW FUCKING IRONIC)

The ending was very abrupt, and you could definitely feel that they didn’t get everything done that they wanted to (remember, older Noct hadn’t been modeled until June according to many sources). I’m not happy with the way it was handled, or part of the ending itself really… I understand that Noct had to die to avoid him becoming like Ardyn, but the guys shouldn’t have died. It’s a giant plot hole. They got killed by Iron Giants??? We’ve fought so many of those. Also, weren’t they just knocked out inside the palace? So Noct went inside to get them, went back out, and then left them for dead while he went to his own death? Why did they need to fight them anyway? Daemons couldn’t get inside the palace, they could have just stayed inside and waited for the sun to rise. They should have been with him when he took the throne. They threw away their whole lives getting him there and should have been with him when it happened. But no. Off screen death. I’m bitter.

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Personally I think there were just so many things that weren’t mentioned properly and also many things that seemed to contribute nothing to the story at all.

Examples are:

Why does Gladio leave the group? Only reason I see is to make a point for the DLC.

Why bring the fact that Prompto is a magitec up, solely for the point of him being able to unlock one single door?

Why and how did Ignis lose his eyes? Again, that would be only necessary for the DLC.

What about Ifrit? If you don’t read anything outside of the game, he has no point in being there, as he wasn’t explained at all.

Where was Noctis all these years? We just see him 10 years later and Umbra gives him a letter from his friends, like they waited exactly 10 years to contact him.

There’s so much they could have added, like flashbacks of Ardyn’s past or the events leading to the Imperial capital being overrun by demons and Ledolas ending up dead.

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I’m also kind of disappointed about the fact that only Noctis was the one suffering from the start? Like what’s Gladio, Ignis and Prompto’s pov when insomnia fell? They looked so awfully calm and things got worse and worse but they didn’t show anything. Also when they fought on the train I wanted to see Gladio and Noct talking it out and get on good terms like there wasn’t even a hint of it because I saw Gladio eternally pissed at Noctis.
Also I felt Ravus should’ve had more screentime as he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Just having him there for one short scene with the guys and another scene with Luna before killing him off-screen wasn’t fair.

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I can’t help but think of how amazing and epic it would have been if when Noctis found Ravus, and he was still alive and well, once he claimed his father’s sword, the two of them could have fought side by side as the brothers they really were meant to be. Noctis and Luna’s marriage would’ve made Ravus officially apart of his family and, in Ravus’ last days he finally came to understand Luna and Noctis really needed him. HE CAME THROUGH FOR THEIR SAKES. He was the whole reason Noctis reunited with Regis’ sword. Ravus safe guarded it for him. And since the bros weren’t able to fight alongside Noctis during most of his venture into that dark and sad place, Ravus would have been a perfect ally.
To me, that’s how it should have ended and if Ravus did have to die, then why not let him die by Noct’s side, protecting him, fighting beside him, and being “physically” there with him and for him since Luna could not be. He would have been remembered as a hero. In my opinion, that would have made Luna and his mother so proud of Ravus and he could have shown so much potential as a fighter. We already saw how strong he was when he appeared to the boys at the base attack. Even Gladio was weaker against him. And if his tragic end wasn’t bad enough, we never got to see him as the hooded man Square said he would be. DAMN IT. WHY? WHY DID THEY HAVE TO DO HIM SO DIRTY??? I don’t get it at all. And go back to Kingsglaive where his mother died to save him and the fact he was the only person “deemed unworthy” to put the Lucii Ring on and live to tell about it. He deserved better. MUCH BETTER. Simple as that.

I went into FFXV after watching Kingsglaive thinking I don’t care for Ravus, he need to go somewhere or just die.

My thoughts on him after beating FFXV? Ravus did not deserve that.

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Same goes for Luna, they did so much advertising for her before the release, but in the game she barely gets any screentime and when she does, she dies literally 10 minutes later.
I wished they would’ve showed more of a Noctis that’s scared and overwhelmed by the whole situation. He doesn’t even question it a single time. Cor shows up and says you have to gather these weapons and Noctis is just like yeah whatever. This game is beautiful but they didn’t make a really good story out of it. With this plot, the story could’ve easily reached the 40-50 hours even if you just rush through the main story. Its fault is that literally half of the stuff that has an impact on the overall story happened off-screen. I think XV could’ve used a little more of cutscenes to better explain the story (No, not like the Omen cutscene, that scene contributed nothing to the story at all)

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Took 33 hours for me to complete the main story. I cried so hard at the end especially during the scene where you have to choose a picture from Prompto. The gang’s comments on some of the pictures really hit me hard… It felt like 10 years really had passed in real time for me. Looking back on the memories with them feels nostalgic for some reason. I love how the game devs really made them feel so human.

What was the MOST disappointing for me though… (Adding on the list lol)
It is that the game took them 10 years to create… It’s just the story and the main quests seems really off and it feels like when you make a project and you keep on editing bits and pieces here and there and you end up with each part as stunningly beautiful but as a whole looks inconsistent and wrong… I dunno… Very disappointed. The game is above average definitely… But the story feels really short… I guess my expectations was too high… (Unlike Kingsglaive, it was a masterpiece for me. Ie the movie’s part of the story appealed to me more)…

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I actually enjoyed Kingsglaive and made me hopeful/excited to explore and learn about this world and how the story would unfold.
Moving on to another point, am I the only one hoping that the ending is a ‘Bad ending’? Not literally but in a way that there’s multiple endings, good and bad. Obviously we got the latter.
The tagline for the game is “Reclaim your throne”. The buildup right to the end kept hinting that Noct will head back to Insomnia with the gang to restore it to its former glory yet the game forces you to witness a 10 year time skip and ultimately ends the story by killing everyone.

I’m saying isn’t that sort of a really bad scenario where you did something wrong in the past, leading to it? Just like most games that have multiple endings.

10 years and Square Enix still killed everyone off WTF…what kind of fantasy is this…

10 years and this is the best ending they could come up with?

…It’s a slap in the face.

Personally I prefer happy endings but I’ve also watch ones where the sad ending has such an impact was so memorable it had me brawling my eyes out. This one just left me feeling so empty.

I’m just hoping the upcoming DLC has an option for us to continue our journey from the past in an alternate timeline where Ardyn doesn’t exist. This’ll provide more screentime/development for Emperor Ledolas and the other Niff higher ups. It’s disappointing that we didn’t really get to know them as characters in the game. Now because of the ending I have a really hard time picking up my controller to continue finishing off the side quests/extras in the game… Need to cooldown for a bit.
For now I’m just going to keep telling myself that the ending for the game is a ‘Bad Ending’ and hope that the upcoming DLC will include the proper more fleshed out story/ending we all deserve.

I am left with a bitter after-taste.

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Like how we were supposed to collect the swords, but it didn’t matter whether you do so or not. It was not given any importance. Upgrading the regalia was optional. You don’t get to visit the other cities, even part of it. I was hoping to explore the world. Some people complain Final Fantasy X was linear. But at least we got around everywhere, and interacted in different ways. But here… I feel disappointed. I was hoping to see a reason why the empire was hell-bent on invading lucis. But that was all Ardyns doing. Yeah go figure. What? That’s all we get? Really?

Those little tid-bits of the story that were missing from the game made it really… sad for me as a FF fan from a long time.

All the other FFs had a lot of story, a lot of conversations. A lot of explanations. I missed that.

I feeel so depressed after the game now because everyone dies. I was expecting so many things about the marriage, Noctis is going to be the new king. But NOOOOoooooo!! The ending is just a dream that he got married with Luna.

I was personally very interested to see how relationship between Noct and Luna would play out but after seeing what actually unfold I have to say it was extremely weak and god damn she had more screen time in Kingsglaive movie than the main game. I mean seriously? You don’t just kill off main heroine literally a minute after she finally gets to meet the main protagonist. I know Tabata is all in for tragedy but that was just laughable.
I bonded with everyone of the members and enjoyed the trip, I just didn’t expect it was the last trip to enjoy his life with his friends and meeting his beloved one last time. It hurts so much thinking Noct to die on his fate.

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The last Royal standing to save the world and his Kingdom. What will happen to Insomia after this? I want to know what happened to the people and everyone. Did they bury Noct and his friends? It now became part of their History books. It’s just sad okay, just sad. But I have to say the game is good, I like the game but when you get to the point of everythiiing -_- It’s just sad and depressing.

I don’t know how to feel. I fucking loved the game. I have no words. But now I just feel empty. I have a serious case of post-game withdrawal. The 10 year time skip really messed with my head and my emotions. When Luna died I figured Noctis would follow suit upon saving the world, but knowing that 10 years pass since her death, and everyone will have had to live with the knowledge that there is no more Oracle. Prompto, Gladio and Ignis.
They all had to live for 10 years in darkness without Noctis. 10 years is a really fucking long time (I think we all know exactly how long it is, lol). And just thinking about having to live like that. I just became depressed throughout the rest of the chapter. You know that nauseous feeling you can get when you miss someone or something so desperately? That. This game messed with me on an emotional level no other game has done, right now I just feel so emotionally devastated at what happened to these fictional characters, I don’t know what to do with myself.

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Overall, I think it could have been so much better with all those 10 years of developing time.


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Games and Anime highlights of 2016 (Part 1)

I’m not gonna sugarcoat this, 2016 sucked as a year, just as a year in general. Not specifically animated or gamewise. Just fuck 2016.

So many good people died, tragedies have happened all across the world, USA got Donald Trump as a president and it’s terrifying and just so many things happening this year that it is probably going to go down as a year to be remembered. And not in a good way.

Thankfully though for anime and game fans, we actually had quite a good year and had some really awesome games and anime that I think are worth mentioning.

This is not going to be a Top10 or really a list per se, but just me telling you guys my personal favorite anime and games that have come out this year that I loved.

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If a particular game or anime you’re looking for isn’t here, the most probable answer is I have yet to play/watch it because I have been busy with other things and I maybe got stuck playing a boss in some rpg lol who knows

Anyway let’s roll and I’ll start with games in this one!

FIRST OFF, some honourable mentions of games that i haven’t played personally (more like watching other people playing it lol) but I still count as highlights of the year regardless and will probably play once I got the money and time for it:

Overwatch, Uncharted 4, Watch Dogs 2, The Last Guardian, Project X Zone 2, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, Steins;Gate 0 and Ace Attorney − Spirit of Justice.

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God Eater Resurrection and God Eater 2: Rage Burst (PS4)

I played Gods Eater Burst when it first came out back in 2011 on PSP and was one of my fave rpgs on that console and just as an rpg in general. So imagine my surprise 5 years later when we didn’t just get the sequel localized, but an enhanced remake of the first game as well. I just really love these games for many reasons and I’m just happy that even after waiting for that long and giving up hope, we actually got these games. Just bless.

Speaking of waiting for long…

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Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

Oh. My. God. Did we wait long for this game. TEN WHOLE YEARS IN FACT.

Was it worth it?

…Kind of?

I mean I love the game, there are many things I love about this game but there’s also a lot I don’t like about it in regards to the development cycle and the so many “this could have been in the game” that made me… “Slightly” angry haha… but, nonetheless the fact remains that we actually got the game out and I could actually play it. so gg Squeenix, now I’m just waiting for the story update and the DLC lol.

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Pokémon: Sun and Moon (3DS)

I haven’t gotten so far as I just got it for my christmas present and I haven’t played a lot but my general impression is that I quite like it! And I just want to give Team Skull a hug.

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Valkyria Chronicles Remastered (PS4)

Not much to say really, I just love both the first and the second game so much that I had to play it again dammit, and oh man the memories were coming back…

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Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (PS4)

Another remake and remastered game, of PS2’s Odin Sphere, with new animation, stages, changes to gameplay etc. It’s just a really pretty game and I’m so happy that they wanted to make it prettier lolol

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Bravely Second: End Layer

I absolutely loved the first game, I loved the visuals, the characters, the music, the gameplay and now when we got the sequel i squeeled with joy. Truly an awesome rpg game that everyone should play.

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Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)

Throwback to my Awakening review, I loved that game and now we got a new saga with new characters (with also some similar faces returning) and with similar gameplaydesign. I enjoyed playing Conquest and Revelation (have not played Birthright) and it was a very good game that I think everyone will enjoy regardless if they like strategy or not.

And this was it for Part 1 and in Part 2 i will talk about Anime and will probably be much MUCH longer hahaha

What were your game highlights of 2016?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Fire Emblem Awakening Review

“It’s so nice to feel special for once!”

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Fire Emblem: Awakening is a strategy based RPG that covers the story of a war between several fantasy nations. It is very strong across all areas of the game, having particularly good character development and interaction, engaging gameplay and high quality music.

Story and Characters

This game is set in a traditional fantasy setting, covering the story of the wars between Ylisse, Plegia and followers of the Fell Dragon Grima. At the start, you create an avatar, which will be the main focus of the game. As you progress through the game, you are joined by several other characters, notably Chrom, the lord of Ylisse, to join his cause to win the war. Your character plays a very important part in the storyline, as you are in control of what the other members of your army decide to do.

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There are many decisions that you have to make, both gameplay and story wise, which means that if you play the game again, you can have a totally different experience from last time. While the main objectives remain the same, the way it unfolds is different due to the different ways characters can develop. Characters can build relationships throughout the game, which unlocks support conversations which give an insight on each character’s thoughts. It is even possible to get characters to marry each other if you are dedicated enough.

One thing I liked about the support conversations is that most of them are unique and that they strengthen how each character is portrayed. There are a few stereotypical character designs, such as a clumsy girl and a hero, which are implied to be paired together. There are also some character designs more typical of Eastern culture, such as a crazily obsessed girl, so it may seem odd to Western players. However, this game, unlike some other RPG games, allows you to break these typical setups in many ways through your decision making. It is even possible to get your character involved as well, with some quite interesting results and conversations.

The main story is quite strong and that game does a good job in putting you in the shoes of your avatar. There are many emotional highs and lows throughout the game which give you feelings of empathy for the characters. I also found it easy to identify with some of the characters in the game, which made it much more enjoyable and gave a feeling of purpose to the story.

There are many subtle lines of dialogue that add to character development here. For example, there are random conversations in the barracks, conversations while fighting enemies and even a short sentence when you buy items at the shop.

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Overall, the story and characters are developed very well. Unlike other stereotypical RPGs where you just defeat the villains because you have to, which just passes through your head without a second thought, Fire Emblem: Awakening gives you a compelling reason to go through and make decisions.

Gameplay

The main story consists of fighting enemies on a grid like map in turn based battles. Each side takes turns in moving their units in order to attack, defend or reach certain areas of the map. At certain points in some battle, the enemy can send in reinforcements, which act immediately on harder difficulties, so some prediction is required. Good planning is crucial to clear the maps near the end. At first, you’ll only have a choice of a few people to fight against the enemy, but as you progress, you have to choose which units to bring in. You get a full preview of the map beforehand, so it is up to you to choose which units the use, as they all have various advantages and disadvantages. There are 27 main battles, which mainly consist of beating all enemies or just the boss. There are also a number of side scenarios where you can recruit other people, including children once your characters get married.

There are initially three difficulty settings, with a choice to play either Casual or Classic Mode. Each difficulty level increases the complexity of the maps and enemies, meaning you’ll need to be more careful with planning. While Casual Mode is forgiving, Classic Mode makes your decisions even more meaningful, because once a character dies in Classic Mode, they are unable to battle for the rest of the game (although you can reset if you really want to).

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Each unit has different abilities, weaknesses and strengths depending on what class they are in. For example, the Tactician class, which your character starts off in, can use magic tomes and swords and is fairly balanced overall. The Pegasus Knight can move further in a turn, has high speed and good resistance against magic, but is weak against bows. This means that you want to position your characters carefully on the map in order to avoid being sniped, which you’ll quickly learn if you place a Cleric (healer class) in range of the enemy.

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Characters can also change to a more powerful class, or even switch to another class to a limited extent. This becomes useful, as each class has different skills. Some skills provide simple stat boosts, while another skill, Vengeance, allows you to deal more damage when your health is low, which can be risky but rewarding. You don’t have to grind for particular skills to succeed normally, but choosing the right skills and classes can definitely make the game much easier.

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You’ll also want to watch out for enemy skills in order to avoid being killed. One such example is Counter, which causes counterattacks when the holder takes damage from an adjacent square, which can end up killing your unit. There are a few random elements in the game, such as accuracy, critical hits and skill activation, but success mostly comes down to your strategy, as you can see all stats, abilities and weapons of the enemy. These additions to the combat system give much more depth.

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Resource management is also fairly important as you only start off with a limited amount of money. Weapons and tomes break after a certain number of uses and items allowing you to promote units are single use. Only certain enemies have drops throughout the story, so it is essential to manage your weapons well. There are also treasure chests which are only available in certain battles. Occasionally, you can get random battles with various item drops and a chance to gain additional EXP and items. You can also spawn enemies if you think you need to level up a bit more with an item called the Reeking Box, although on harder difficulties, the cost outweighs the reward you gain, which makes good planning necessary (unless you have the Golden Pack DLC, which exists solely for extra money and EXP, although you don’t need it to beat the game). This adds to the planning aspect of the game.

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The Support system in this game allows you to pair up two units in combat, giving a boost to the lead unit while protecting the supporting unit from attacks. The more you use them in battle as a pair, the stronger their support becomes as you unlock their conversations. These support actions include making a second attack and blocking an attack for no damage. These effects become stronger as you level up. This system was done very well, adding additional layers of strategy to the game and also adding to character development.

StreetPass allows you to send items and even your own team to other players to challenge them to a battle. The incentives to winning these battles include gaining extra Renown, which opens up a range of useful items, as well as recruiting guest avatars. There is also content available through SpotPass, such as enemy teams from previous games in the Fire Emblem series, as well as 6 extra characters from the game that can be recruited. There is also DLC available for the game, which mainly consist of extra scenarios and some of the most challenging battles. This content gives you many things to do, even after you’ve finished the story.

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Graphics and Sound

The graphics have been done quite well in this game. It uses an anime based art style for the character portraits as well as having 3D character models. What I liked most about the animation was the combat animations. In particular, when a character is knocked out, there is a slow motion animation of them collapsing to make the scene more dramatic. In addition, when a skill that causes instant death activates, the screen goes red with shadows of blood. 3D graphics were used very well in this game for the combat animation and maps and was not overused to the point where it ruined the art style.

The music in this game is nothing short of a masterpiece. The music in Awakening really fits the mood of different times with some being happy, strong/pumping up, sad, epic and even happy-go lucky. There are parts in the game though, where it really shines through setting an environment up (along with the story and characters) where people are moved to tears by how much emotion is put into it. I’m very impressed with the sound and love the music.

In particular, the music that plays when your avatar or Chrom dies in combat was done well, as it feels like you’ve failed to accomplish your goals and that doom is impending.

Another important part is the voice acting in the game. The voice acting is nothing but astounding. It has got to be one of the few games which I had played the game with the characters to have their english voice acting rather than the japanese voice acting (the game gives you the option of both). The voices actually fit the characters giving off one of the best voice acting I’ve heard in years!

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Other Features

There are a few other minor features. One of them is the Hubba Tester, where you test the compatibility of two units. This result is random, so it can lead to somewhat hilarious results sometimes. The other feature is Double Duel which allows you to co-operate with another player to defeat some enemies, although there is no map. I didn’t find myself using these features too much, but it’s a nice way to have some fun.

Final Thoughts

The story is the strongest part of Fire Emblem: Awakening. This game is one of the few games where I actually felt actively involved with the story and character development. The gameplay is also strong and adheres to the genre very well, requiring thoughtful planning while being more forgiving on the easier difficulties. It’s definitely not a casual game by any means, but it definitely gives a challenge to hardcore gamers while being accessible to players that enjoy strategy or RPG games.

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The game can take 20 to 40 hours to finish and if you want to truly complete everything, you’ll be playing through many times in order to unlock the support conversations. One strength with this game is that every playthrough is different in some way, so it is harder to get bored.

As someone whose main interest is RPG games, I tried this game out and enjoyed it thoroughly. If you are interested in strategy or RPG games, I recommend that you buy this game. If you aren’t interested in either genre, you may find this game hard to enjoy though.

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Let’s Survive! Devil Survivor 2 review Part 2

You know, it seems like every time someone brings up Atlus on the internet, it’s shortly followed by praise, adoration, or gushing.  Or alternatively — or simultaneously — declaring Atlus as the greatest gaming company around…whether that’s in regards to JRPGs, or just games in general. If nothing else — if you learn nothing, or take away nothing else from these posts — then you have to learn that Atlus’ love is unquestionably deserved. What “The House of Jack Frost” lacks in resources or raw graphical power, they make up for with overwhelming style, enthralling stories, and gameplay that’ll make you want to take a sledgehammer to whatever system has the misfortune of loading up one of Atlus’ bosses.  (I still can’t believe I managed to clear Catherine.) Just think about the amount of playtime you can get out of one of their titles. How is it that a triple-A game might not last you through the weekend, but a game with a fraction of the budget can give you anywhere from fifteen to eighty hours of gameplay?  Similarly, how is it that a game designed to be a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish can barely be remembered a month after release, but a game infinitely more sedate has sequences, worlds, and even conversations I’ll remember for years to come?  I doubt any Persona 4 fans will forget the King’s Game anytime soon…among other things.

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So yes, Atlus is more than deserving of praise.  From a technical perspective they’re not the most impressive, but the limits imposed in one area drove the developers to excel in others. There’s a definitive creative vision in virtually every product they put out, one that has been and will continue to be appreciated by fans. My biggest gripe?  I need more news on Persona 5…but then again, I’m more than willing to wait.

Now then, let’s get back on topic, yeah?

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WARNING: there will be spoilers.

One of the things I couldn’t help but praise last time was DeSu2’s forward-thinking.  The underlying question was “how do you rebuild the world?”  And it’s a valid question — one that I wish more games would tackle instead of fading to black with little more than flimsy promises of hope and better days once the big baddie’s buried.  Mind you, this wasn’t just something tacked on in the last hours of the game; this is an overarching element of Desu2’s story that, while not the key element at the outset, is still one that weaves its way through the entire game.

The choices therein are as much a slew of interesting story routes as they are a judge of character.  Given the choice, would you support a world of absolute equality, where everyone supports one another but there’s no drive to excel or improve yourself?  Would you support a world based on merit, where the strongest and wisest are given their rightful chance to rule, but at the cost of using a pile of bodies to build your ladder to the top?  Would you forgo the chance to remake the world (even for the better) just so you can bring back the status quo?  Would you kill a god regardless of the consequences?  And even beyond all those options, would you fight — and even kill — a friend just for the chance to realize your vision of a better tomorrow?

There are difficult questions being asked here, without a doubt.  Now, admittedly, I think that the issues at hand (meritocracy vs. egalitarianism) are incredibly simplified versions of their usual selves, or at least what Wikipedia might suggest.  There are probably a lot more societal and political issues here, and plenty more beyond that.  But even so, it’s not a deal-breaker; after all, the new world is going to be created by a supreme administrator that looks like a fusion between a giant ice pick and a dreidel and has no qualms about brainwashing humanity to suit your needs.  Likewise, the people proposing these ideas — JPs chief Yamato and riot-starting detective Ronaldo — are repeatedly called out for being too extreme and too stubborn for their own good.  It’s only natural that they oversimplify things and assume that their ideals will fix the world’s problems.  (It’s worth noting that in Yamato’s route, he willingly admits that it doesn’t matter if he’s the one ruling in his merit-based world; all that matters is that the best man for the job takes the throne.)

As it should be, the deciding factor for whose world ends up being built — note that I didn’t say “who’s right” — is the main character.  Or rather, the player; it’s through the efforts of said main character (who for the purposes of this post I’ll start referring to as Hibiki Kuze, in honor of the DeSu 2 anime) that the game not only gets its ending, but a couple of its stongest weapons.

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Hibiki’s presence, first and foremost, contributes to the idea of “leadership” that runs throughout the game.  Whether you agree with Yamato/Ronaldo or not, there are others in the game that do, and for valid reasons.  Maybe they wouldn’t if the status quo wasn’t in place, but the world has been wrecked almost beyond repair, and the implication is that beyond Japan’s borders, there isn’t even a world anymore.  In times of crisis, the people need strong leaders — and there’s no one better for the job in this case than the man spearheading an organization designed specifically to counter the threat of demons and alien invaders.  Well, except for the guy who’s doing his damnedest to gather food and medical supplies and offer his own counter-offense against demons and the organization that’s trying to hoard supplies.  In any case, they’re men with vision, passion, intelligence, charisma, and most of all power.

And that’s where Hibiki comes in.  See, in the DeSu games the stats of the main character are decided solely by you.  Every level-up gives you one point to put into your strength, magic, vitality, or agility.  In theory, this means that with enough patience (i.e. grinding), you can build a character that’s well-rounded, or even one without any weaknesses.  Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut I’m convinced that the best build for these games is one that maximizes two stats: magic and vitality.  I find magic to be more useful in these games than physical attacks, because you gain easy access to elemental spells that’ll let you hit enemy weaknesses/earn extra turns, AND boosting your magic stat boosts your highly-critical MP.  Meanwhile, boosting your vitality stat boosts your HP and defense, and — much like boosting the magic stat — gives you access to some of the best offensive and defensive skills in the game.  Think about it: one of the biggest dangers of using a mage in most RPGs is the fact that they can’t take a hit.  If you remove that weakness, then you’re left with a character that can dish out huge damage, hit enemy weaknesses, and not only have the defense to shrug off most blows but also equip skills that further reduce damage from all but one or two attack types.  Simply put, my Hibiki was nigh-unkillable.  Except if he got turned to stone and then got attacked.  Then he shattered like an egg.

The takeaway from all this is that, if you build a proper character and make use of the possibilities available, you’ll be able to make Hibiki into the most powerful member of the entire cast.  You’re ensuring that the potential he has is fulfilled, and justifying his ability as a frontline fighter.  But it’s not just strength that makes him the main character; thanks to the player’s guiding hand (assuming that you can pull off a win), Hibiki is a tactical genius that ensures victory after victory.  Even if Yamato and Ronaldo are the visionaries, and even if they have talent in their own right, it’s Hibiki who’s got the leadership qualities needed to save the world.

And I mean that quite literally.  See, there’s a catch to rebuilding the world via Polaris: the administrator will only do it if humanity’s will is unified.  That is, those with the ability to even make it to his throne have to have a singular belief.  If Yamato goes to the throne with aims of creating a meritocracy, but Joe comes along and he wants equality, then it doesn’t work.  Everyone present has to believe in a singular vision (the lack of which may what caused Polaris to start erasing the world in the first place).  So, how do you get the best of the best to reconcile?  How do you get them to forgo their own beliefs without slaughtering them outright?

Easy.  You use Hibiki’s second great weapon: kindness.

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One of the major additions to DeSu2 (though admittedly one ripped right out of Persona 3 and 4) is the social link Fate system. Basically, the more you talk to the cast outside of battles, the more bonuses you all receive. They’ll get elemental resistances, the ability to trade demons on the fly with Hibiki, and unlock more powerful demons for you to use, assuming you get strong enough demons to fuse into them. Really though, it’s the player to actively seek out character development moments — a dirty trick on Atlus’ part, but a smart move all the same. The option to get closer to your party members was there in DeSu1, but the sequel takes it up a notch. Each character gets a mini-episode to get fleshed out and face a development-inducing dilemma. Joe has to deal with the pressure of facing his sick girlfriend in the wake of a collapsing world.  Daichi learns to be a man, and learns that his inaction could easily lead to the death of the weak and helpless.

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But special mention has to go to Io, who not only learns to become more confident, but (if you’re with her at the right time) gets to find the corpses of her dead parents.  And she’s just in time to see one of them die before her eyes, all while surrounded by rows of body bags. Consider that just one of several kicks to the balls delivered by DeSu’s narrative.

But the key to advancing each character’s fate (from rank zero to rank five) is going out of your way to heal the wounds in their hearts and minds.  The more kindness you show to your comrades, the stronger they — and you, by extension — become.  If you get them to rank four, you’ve got comrades that’ll follow you even if you don’t align with their ideal of choice.  Anything less and they become impossible to recruit.  I’m pretty much convinced that if you don’t rank up at all, some of them will outright DIE.  And while you’ll have a few strong party members to pick from no matter which path you take, by the time you’ve reached that point you’re probably got a go-to party you want re-assembled ASAP.

In any case, it’s Hibiki’s kindness as much as — and likely more than — his strength and intelligence that wins people to his cause.  Remember, Yamato and Ronaldo are extremists; the former is damn near villainous in his pursuits, the latter is a verifiable terrorist, and both of them are destructively determined.  It’s also worth noting that there’s an unmistakable hollowness to both their creeds; Yamato is in control of JPs precisely because his family and lineage put him there, i.e. the exact thing his meritocracy is partly trying to remove.  Meanwhile, Ronaldo is trying to create a world of equality, but incidentally he’s the leader because he’s the strongest and most capable of the bunch.  Neither leader comes even close to being relatable…at least, compared to the kind, considerate, trustworthy kid roped into this mess like everyone else.  You know, the same kid who’s been roped into the situation as everyone else, and has a first-hand account of what’s going on without any dilution via the lens of power, and goes well out of his way to form precious bonds with everyone.  We should be thankful Hibiki didn’t try to install his own new world order.

In any case, the overarching message here is that even beyond societal ideologies, the key to making a better world (or just plain restoring it) is kindness.  Being able to trust in one another and cooperate is a key element, regardless of what you believe in.  Say what you will about society at large, but I think there’s merit to my words considering the amount of effort and manpower it takes just to build a house.  Hibiki’s presence lends an element of humanity to whatever side he chooses; hell, just being around Yamato probably works wonders for mellowing out the chief’s self-confessed coldness.  Ultimately, that’s the developers’ end goal for showing how to rebuild the world — an idealized and optimistic version, sure, but if nothing else it makes you want to believe and play along.  It’s thanks to Hibiki’s efforts — YOUR efforts — that, no matter which ending you get, you’re bound to have a glimmer of hope sparkling before your eyes.

But for all my praise up to this point, there’s still a major issue I have with the presence of Hibiki — and you can consider this a problem that extends to the Persona games and the original Devil Survivor.  The thing is…well, Hibiki is pretty much a messiah.

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I mean, really.  That’s what he is.  He’s almost immediately established to be one of the strongest demon tamers.  He immediately earns the respect and trust of every character — even Ronaldo, who at the outset is irrevocably an enemy.  Damn near every girl shows some level of attraction towards him, whether you max out their Fate rank or not.  Even beyond that, the fact that only Hibiki can sort out their emotional baggage (male or female) is kind of distressing.  You can shift his characterization to be a straight-laced and intelligent leader, a hot-blooded fighter, or a moron, which I approve of…but if you try and act intelligent, too often the game will give you answers to questions that, occasionally, you have no way of knowing the answer to…and yet the others will applaud you just as quickly.  Actually, they’re quick to applaud you for pretty much waking up in the morning.  There’s being kind and trustworthy, and then there’s being worshipped like a deity.

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Now, I know that this isn’t exactly a universal problem; it’s more of a matter of preference.  And indeed, there are theme-related reasons for making Hibiki out like this.  And on top of that, the whole universe doesn’t revolve around him; he’s a silent observer most of the time, and the other characters are more eager to interact with each other instead of just you.  But I can’t shake this feeling that the game’s narrative is warping around to accommodate you and Hibiki, making it so that it’s incredibly difficult to do something wrong.  It doesn’t matter what the other characters want; it’s all about what you want.  And this feeds into making the Fate system a little insincere (again, a complaint that I could make against the Persona games).  Are you helping Hinako rediscover her passion for dance because you genuinely care about her, and want to hear her story?  Or are you just doing it so you can tick off numbers on a list, or get bonuses in battle?  Do you even care about Jungo’s cat, or Fumi’s research, or Otome’s daughter?  Or do you just want to build their trust so they’ll follow you down your path?

I’m willing to let it slide because these points aren’t game-breaking.  Nor are they things that detract severely from the quality of the game.  But they’re still things that should be considered, especially when the point of the game is to rely on and establish strong leaders.   How are we supposed to fully understand and accept the elements here if there’s an inherent selfishness to the proceedings?  How are we supposed to believe that we’re pulling together as a team when your actions are borderline saintly?  Taken on a deeper level, DeSu2 runs the risk of undermining itself by way of its game-based, player-aggrandizing elements.  What if I want to work a little bit harder to build bonds with comrades besides just being a yes man?  What if I want my comrades to disagree with me?  What if I want to struggle to find an answer to the problem, and not just have the best result handed to me?  What I’m getting at here is that (outside of the punishing gameplay, because Atlus secretly gets thrill out of the pain it brings its players), you don’t really have to work for your happy ending.  It’s just a matter of choosing the right option, or the option you want, from a handful of items. And in a game where there IS no right answer that’ll save the world absolutely, that’s a bit of a shame.

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That’s not to say that DeSu2 is completely worse off for it.  It isn’t.  But know this: in spite of all the praise I heap on the game, it’s not perfect.  There’s no such thing as a perfect game.  Nor is there a perfect movie, or a perfect book, or a perfect story, or a perfect anything.  And to that end, I present to you, in an unsorted list that’s by no means indicative of severity or quality…

WHY DEVIL SURVIVOR 2 IS SIMULTANEOUSLY

THE MOST AWESOME AND MOST INFURIATING GAME

CREATED IN THE PAST EIGHT-ISH YEARS OR SO

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Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand…cue music!

Yamato

1) Yamato Hotsuin, and why I like him. (This is going to be long…)

Easily my favorite character by a long shot. (And is not beacuse of my hot guys with white hair fetish *cough*)

Let’s get Yamato’s personality problems out of the way first, since he does have them. I think Yamato turns a lot of people off largely because of his personality and the way he initially interacts with others; he comes across as arrogant, dismissive, and condescending.  As the leader of JP’s, he expects to be obeyed immediately and without question, and tends to dismiss those who differ from his own opinions, ideals, principles, and goals.  He doesn’t flinch at the thought of sacrificing lives for a greater good, has an unfortunate habit of referring to his subordinates and allies as “pawns” and “trash,” and seems utterly incapable of handling anyone with kid gloves.  Additionally, his goal in both the game and the anime is to lead a society fundamentally based on merit, a system in which the strong thrive and the weak struggle to survive. In comparison to likeable, affable Diachi, buoyant Hinako, selfless Io and good old egalitarian Ronaldo, Yamato’s a ready-made antagonist, the sort of guy a lot of people love to hate…

…unless you’re able to place his actions and his identity in context.  If you do, what you’ll find is a deeply flawed character whose ideals have risen from his own struggles and his own observations of power and weakness, who does desire friendship and express affection, and whose upbringing and bloodline has irrevocably altered his understanding of the world and the way he relates to others.  Let’s take a look at this, shall we?

To understand Yamato, it’s important to take a look at his upbringing.  First, let’s just remember – he’s seventeen.  Seventeen.  Yes, in the anime he’s voiced by Suwabe Junichi and he sounds and behaves as though he’s thirty, but he’s seventeen.  So from the very beginning it’s apparent that he’s young, he’s highly unusual, and he’s carrying a big burden for someone his age.  Unfortunately, the life he’s lived up to the present moment in the game/anime reflects that burden.   In the anime we’ve received glimpses of his earlier life via flashback: a tiny (and cute!) Yamato reads giant books, summons Cerberus, and gazes at the rest of the world from his vantage point in an expensive car.  During that scene in the car when young Yamato peers outside and wants to know what’s happening in the “normal” world, he’s essentially told that having fun isn’t his concern.  In another flashback as he summons Cerberus, the viewer sees him surrounded by power-hungry – but profoundly incompetent – adults.

Yamato’s childhood and upbringing was a strange and lonely one.  In a conversation with Diachi that takes place in the game, Yamato mentions he never went to school with other children.  He admits that instead he was taught by a large and knowledgeable staff of personal tutors who schooled him in whatever he needed to know.  Daichi expresses disbelief at this, at the fact that Yamato’s never had normal friends or done something as simple as play kickball.  Later, Yamato’s isolation from normal life is highlighted again in an amusing conversation with Hibiki; he confesses he’s never tried takoyaki and refers to it disdainfully as a “civilian foodstuff.”  When he finally tries it at Hibiki’s request, he’s shocked by how good it is and ends up stuffing his face. The memory for him is evidently a special one, as he eventually supplies his group with a takoyaki feast before they begin to take out the other factions and later attaches a picture of takoyaki to a friendly email he sends to Hibiki. (Aww.)

He never had a proper childhood, nor a particularly normal life in any sense of the term. Ergo, he’s never had normal relationships with people.  Ever.  Certainly this doesn’t always excuse Yamato’s behavior, but I think it places that behavior in a context where it’s a lot more understandable. It’s not necessarily that Yamato’s incapable of affection, care, or interaction with others; he’s never experienced those things and he doesn’t know how to show them.  He’s only ever had subordinates, not friends – and so that’s how he relates to people.

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Additionally, Yamato isn’t quite the dismissive jerk he seems on first glance, though this isn’t emphasized in the anime nearly as much as it is in the game. In  the game, when his subordinates screw up he tends to forgive them or brush aside their failures unpunished – to his mind, failure is punishment enough on its own (and usually results in death anyway).  He shrugs off Makoto’s confession that she took Hibiki and his friends to Fukuouka without his permission and dismisses her without censure; he doesn’t fire JP’s members when they make mistakes.  During his investigation of the neurotoxin spreading throughout Japan, he even warns one of his subordinates away from one of Alioth’s poisonous eggs (though the subordinate does not listen and dies, earning a rebuke from Yamato for his sacrifice).  And if you choose Yamato’s route in the game, he’s willing to let Hibiki persuade the others to his side rather than to kill them outright, and indeed allows the others to fight him to prove the strength of their ideals.  Intriguingly, he makes no real move in his route to kill Ronaldo and only does so in retaliation when Ronaldo charges him in one last, desperate attack. Yamato certainly can be violent and uncaring – and he’ll annihilate true threats when pressed –  but he takes a surprisingly light hand to the organization he runs and seems willing enough (as per his philosophy) to let the world sort itself out among the weak and the strong.

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In Yamato’s route, even if you don’t look at matters through shipping goggles it’s fairly evident that Yamato has an immense fondness for Hibiki.  He moves, throughout the game, from calling Hibiki a “pawn” to “his greatest pawn” and then, finally, to a “sworn friend” and an equal.  He promises to reward Hibiki with a seat at his side.  He praises Hibiki constantly.  And inside the praise, he also makes telling comments about how Hibiki understands, how Hibiki is one of the few who can grasp what he’s trying to do.  By the end of the game, Yamato practically refers to Hibiki and himself as one unit; it’s always “Hibiki and I will…” or “Hibiki and I want…”   The sense you receive from Yamato in his route is that he’s relieved and delighted to have a companion who tries to see his point of view, someone strong enough to walk beside him.  As a result, he comes to view civilians differently as well. Because of Hibiki’s existence and strength, Yamato understands that there’s a lot of potential and strength that exists in the world beyond his purview and seems open to discovering it. Makoto acknowledges this during Yamato’s route when she admits that Yamato seems to have changed for the better.

One more aspect of Yamato’s personality to touch on, now – and this pertains directly to his goals and his ideologies.  Let’s forge forward into why the heck he wants a merit-driven world so much.

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In DeSu2 – at least in the game, though the anime seems to be setting things up differently – the central choice for the protagonist revolves around what sort of world he wants to see in the future: a meritocracy (championed by Yamato), an egalitarian society (championed by Ronaldo), or a sort of normal, middle-ground society (as it exists in Daichi’s route).  Ronaldo’s way at times seems fairer and fluffier (though Ronaldo is as pigheadedly stubborn a character as you will ever come across) and Daichi’s friendlier and more balanced.  Certainly Yamato’s desires seem harsh and potentially devastating, especially since he tends to couch his goals in terms of “power,” “trash,” and “pawns.”  I’m not interested here in discussing which outcome is best – I think that’s subjective and will differ from player to player – but rather in giving some context to Yamato’s desire for a meritocracy and what it really means.

What Yamato desires isn’t a naked power grab.  In the game, the other characters seem to think this; they view Yamato as bossy and demanding anyway, and his desire to lead a society where the strong thrive certainly seems to play to his strengths. Many of the characters assume he’s setting himself up to be the de facto leader of a new, dog-eat-dog world.  But Yamato himself doesn’t see it that way.  As he tells Hibiki, he simply wants the strongest and most capable to lead, and he doesn’t particularly care whether he’s that person or not.  In fact, as his route progresses, he defers to Hibiki more and more.  So it isn’t that Yamato wants, for his own fulfillment, to become leader of the free world.  Rather, Yamato insists on a world in which the strongest and most capable person – whoever that might be – leads society. Why?

The answer, I think, lies in Yamato’s experiences.  In the anime, there’s a brief glimpse of him sitting at a dinner table with a group of people who seem to be politicians or authority figures.  They’re chewing with their mouths open, concerned only with saving their own skin and their own positions, and they possess no ability to fight on their own.  These are the people Yamato must deal with; these are the people who run Japan.

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He’s obviously disgusted by it, in the anime, and even by the people in his own family who, despite the Hotsuin bloodline, seem terrified by his capabilities.  He refers frequently in the game to the “corruption” of the world, and expresses his desire for a society where power is not determined by bloodline or heritage, but by strength.  In that view, Yamato advocates for the destruction of the very system that supported his own rise to power.  Rather than depend on the Hotsuin blood or the Hotsuin name, he desires a society where his own abilities and his own will determine who he will become and what he will do.  His desire for a meritocracy is a rejection of the current system he despises.

This also makes clear why Yamato has such an interest in Hibiki. In a way, Hibiki himself is the emblem of Yamato’s perfect system, and this might be why Yamato fixates on him so much if you choose his route.  Hibiki has no particular bloodline or birthright (and no special demons, though the anime wants you to think so); he’s simply capable of getting the job done when the situation calls for it.  Yamato’s meritocracy allows for this potentiality.  In Yamato’s eyes, a system where power is based on merit and strength would essentially invert the social order by taking power away from those who expect it and giving it to those who earn it outright – people like Hibiki, whose abilities far surpass their circumstances and might have gone forever undiscovered.

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The argument against this, of course – and the argument Ronaldo and some of the others make – is that Yamato’s system will effectively kill off the weak and the incapable, that it isn’t fundamentally “fair.”  The former detective would rather create a system wherein everything is distributed equally to everyone and no one is treated as more or less powerful due to their abilities.  The problem with this system, as Yamato points out, is that people are inherently corrupt: throughout the game, they riot and steal and destroy – even when Io and Daichi attempt to pass out food to them (though this is de-emphasized in the anime).  In Yamato’s view, giving resources to those who will waste it is foolishness and will deprive others who can lead of the vital things that they need.  Whether his assessment is correct is up for debate, but it’s fairly plain to see that Yamato’s view of the world – and his dream for what the world should be – hinges on his own experiences with the corrupt, the power-hungry, and the privileged.

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I also think it’s worth noting here that Yamato can be persuaded to amend his ideals, even though they mean so much to him that he would die for them. In the Anguished One’s route, Yamato commits suicide rather than sacrifice his desire and his vision for the future of society.  In Ronaldo’s route, he also opposes the protagonist – though, as he dies during the collapse of the tower, he tellingly manages to save the lives of Hibiki’s team.  But in Daichi’s route, Yamato can be persuaded to join the group.  He’s not completely inflexible, and he’s open to compromise to a degree. Additionally, those compromises change him as a person, and in that route he starts to wonder if he might be able to understand the way civilians think – along with a society he’s never really been a part of.

2) Jungo is pretty cool, too

And then there’s this guy.  Man, I love this guy.

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This man is the definition of friendship. Even if he was alone just like Keita, he never felt alone. He grew really strong believing in friendship and always try to bring everyone together whenever it seems like the bonds between them are breaking. Usually quiet and gentle, Jungo enters a trance-like rage when he sees that his friends are being threatened.

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He’s just this simple-minded chef who wants to be friends with everybody and loves the cat he finds…but he will absolutely wreck anything that crosses him.  Make him one of your main combat units, and you’ve got a guy who can smash damn near everything in the entire game.  Make him an enemy, and he WILL one-shot you for a critical hit that does nearly two thousand damage…and by that point you’re lucky to have four hundred HP.  Long story short, if you need something smashed, JUNGO SMASH.

 

3) Keita and Airi are kind of…bleh

To be fair, not everyone in the cast is a winner. Opinions may vary on who’s cool and who isn’t, but I personally don’t have much praise to give Keita and Airi.  They’re not terrible, mind you, and they do get their moments, but they’re probably the weakest of the bunch.  Keita is pretty damn surly from start to finish, and while he does soften up a bit if you boost your Fate rank with him, getting the most out of his character requires you to kill off Jungo.  And I ain’t havin’ that.

Airi, meanwhile…well, if you know what a tsundere is, you’ve pretty much got a good 80 percent of her character pegged.  She’s very emotional at times, and usually the first to fly off the handle.  Luckily, I think that the developers saw the accusations that would arise, and stemmed the tide beforehand — that is, Airi is pretty much everyone’s whipping girl.  She gets very little respect, is often the butt of jokes, and even bursts into tears if people poke fun of her.  It also helps that there’s no dedicated romancing option in the game, so (as it should be) the focus is on fighting off demons and saving the world, not trying to win the affections of a violence-prone fifteen-year-old.

 

4) Physical attack-based characters have been supremely buffed

In DeSu1, the viability of physical fighters was dubious at best.  Unless you had a very specific setup, they were more likely to do damage to themselves than to opponents; it didn’t help that there were fewer physical attack skills, half of which were nigh-useless by endgame.  I’d argue that it’s outright better to have a team of mages instead of a more balanced team.

Not so in DeSu2.  In fact, the proper skills on the proper characters can let you instantly win a number of skirmishes.  The redheaded dancer Hinako has a stat build that prioritizes strength and agility; if you give her the skill Multi-Strike, you can not only have her attack first, but have her attack every enemy with a good five to seven hard-hitting attacks at once.  Or if you give Keita the Assassinate skill, he’ll be able to bypass enemy defenses, instantly kill an enemy leader, and as a result immediately win a battle.  So yes, having some fighters on hand isn’t as bad an idea as the first game.

I still think a magic/vitality-based character is the build of choice, though.  The reason for that is…

 

5) It’s VERY easy to create broken characters with the right skill setup

Fumi HAS to be the best character in the game.  Sure, she can’t take a hit, and her physical attack power is pitiful, but she maxes out her magic stat way before anyone else — which is to say she maxes out her magic stat, and no one else ever does.

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Here’s my layout in my most recent playthrough.  Command-wise, give her Holy Dance, Shield All, and Samarecarm.  The last one will instantly revive fallen demons/party members with full HP, which is both something you’ll need and something Fumi can handle with her huge MP count.  Shield All works exactly how it sounds, blocking one hit for each member of the party.  Holy Dance is the only attack spell she needs, which can randomly hit an entire party two to five times — or just do massive damage to a single target, using an element that can’t be resisted or defended against (outside of hidden stat bonuses).  For her passive skills, give her Mana Surge to give her an MP boost, Victory Cry to let her regain HP/MP after a fight, and Swift Step to give her the first turn in a fight.  And as an added bonus, set her leader skill to Magic Yang to cut the MP cost of skills in half.  What this means is that you not only have a unit that can do massive amounts of damage and almost always gets the first turn to either wreck an enemy team or completely nullify attacks (which can and often will result in Extra Turns that then allow you to use Holy Dance), but you can do all that with a dramatically reduced MP cost, to the point that you’re actually gaining more MP than you lost from one fight to the next.  Simply put, you can make Fumi a high-damage, nigh-invincible, infinite-MP healer who turns your party’s deaths into an inconvenience.

In spite of all that, it’s STILL not enough to make the game any easier.

 

6) Unfortunately, you pretty much HAVE to be broken to survive

I’m not kidding.  If you aren’t exploiting the system for all it’s worth, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Never mind that this is a game content with throwing infinitely-spawning enemies at you when the most you can have out at a time is a party of four.  There are enemies that can prevent you from healing, snipe you from long range, one-shot you, cut your accuracy in half, turn you to stone, halve your HP, ignore your defenses, heal themselves to full power even after you’ve left them with a modicum of HP, clear massive distances, reduce your movement range to one square, put on shields that will immediately reflect your physical or magical attacks (and come in teams that have both those skills equipped), and escape from battles and end a skirmish whenever they want…even if it’s your turn.  I hope there’s a special section of hell reserved for the developer who thought it was a good idea to let some enemies get two, three, or four turns in a row before any given party member even gets one.

 

7) Get ready to scream “WTF!” at the top of your lungs at any given moment

And likewise, get ready for some genuinely-infuriating moments throughout this game.  If you let bosses go unchecked, then they’ll be free to pick you apart from six spaces away, making full use of their ability to attack as many as three times in one turn.  And since they have the initiative, they’ll get an Extra Turn, and thus six damn attacks in one skirmish.  That’s not exactly a pleasant experience.

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But where I had to cry foul was when I first tried to clear the game.  The big whompin’ final boss entered its ultimate form, with a certain mission stipulation at hand: if Hibiki died, it was an instant game over.  “Okay, that’s manageable,” I told myself.  “I just have to keep him healed up and out of danger.”  Except as soon as the final phase of the fight started, one section of the boss (with infinite attack range, natch) targeted Hibiki and killed him instantly.  And bear in mind that I didn’t even get a turn to prepare myself; no, as soon as the fight started, Hibiki got smacked, immediately resulting in a game over and forcing me to start the entire mission over again.  And it’s a long-ass mission, one that you can play for an hour or more and still lose.

Shortly thereafter I turned off my DS, slammed it shut, and went to bed.

 

8) Escort missions are pretty much gone

Thank Odin for that. The escort/protection missions of DeSu1 were an absolute drag to play. Considering how broken enemies can be in this game, you wouldn’t want to be a non-empowered survivor in the midst of all this…and yet, time and time again the original game tasked you with protecting an initially-suicidal rock singer.  I don’t think you know how many times I had to do those over, and I’d rather not try and count.

 

9) Unfortunately, there are still a few “stop that guy from escaping!” missions

In their place, however, we have missions that pit your team against rioters and such who’ll try to escape with stolen food, or alternatively the dragon-slaying fists of Makoto.  They’re more than doable, and not nearly as frustrating as the other game’s missions, but it seems like they add more tension than there needs to be.  Like while one of the rioters tries to make a getaway, there are punks that use Evil Bind to drop your movement range down to one. And in some cases you start out pretty far behind the escapee, so unless you have Devil Speed to catch up quickly you’re likely out of luck.  Hell, I think in one mission the rioters get to move before you do.  How is that even remotely fair?

 

10) The Septentriones are a good-ass idea

I didn’t know what to make of the Septentriones when I first heard about them (and I still don’t; calling them alien invaders almost feel kinda weird).  But you know what?  Strange as they may be, I get them. I get what the developers were going for.

There’s an element of “facing the unknown” that’s woven through the narrative thanks to the Septentriones.  These are incomprehensible, irreconcilable creatures that have neither the desire nor the capacity to compromise.  They’re beings created solely to destroy the planet, or at least have it sink into the void as part of Polaris’ task force.  Their power and their very presence are to be feared (and indeed, whenever they show up several characters have the “Oh SHIT!” reaction).  A huge part of the game — pretty much every day of the story — is dedicated to finding countermeasures against them…and said countermeasures get bigger and more destructive as time passes, to the point where the main cast is semi-responsible for the end of the world.  They’re more than just bosses to be conquered; they’re a vital element to the game.

 

11) Fighting them, however, is a pain in the ass

It’s possible to create your own broken teams, as I said.  However, you can only become broken in the context of player limitations.  That is, there are skills that enemies have (and the combinations of such) that are not only 100% inaccessible to the player, but turn plenty of skirmishes into downright slobberknockers.  And guess who’s usually on the receiving end?

Pretty much all the Septentriones share the ability to attack from several spaces away — something you can do with certain demons on your side, but with significantly-high restrictions…restrictions that these bosses outright ignore.  So unless you have Devil Speed on hand (and you won’t), it’ll take one turn to get close to a Septentrion, and then another to actually get in attack range. And by that time, you may end up so battered that challenging them with a half-dead Daichi and two dead demons is a pretty sappy idea.  Not that they care; they’ll just pick you apart before you can even land a hit.  This guy here will vaporize you with a huge-ass laser if you so much as stand in front of it.

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12) Even with skill and strategy, there’s always going to be an element of luck

Look.  I know that I just said that the Septentrion battles are all about “facing the unknown.”  And I stand by that.  I support it.  But in a strategy game, where “losing at the select screen” is a real possibility, there is absolutely no way to prepare for some of these fights on your first playthrough.  And even beyond that, there’s no way to remember what enemies will do, or are weak against when you encounter them again.

I guess the idea here is that you have to adapt to the situation as it changes, or that you should have your characters optimized for any situation, not just to exploit enemy weaknesses.  But how do you adapt to situations where enemies roll around and force you to chase after them while you’re getting sniped?  Or when enemies have two distinct and absurdly-powerful forms?  Or a boss where only demons can attack and do damage, and if your demons aren’t strong enough (or die) you’re ruined?  DeSu2 doesn’t just skirt the line between being challenging and cheap; it gleefully backflips back and forth across it.

13) At least the music is cool

Nothing more needs to be said.

14) The interface is neat, too

There’s an argument to be made that Persona 4, a game released well into the PS2’s twilight years, doesn’t even come close to tapping the system’s power — and as such, the graphics are nothing to be proud of. And while it’s true that plenty of Atlus games may not have the fanciest graphics, they tend to compensate with some striking visual design, whether it’s in game or just in the menus/interface.  In this game’s case, it’s a stylish fusion of technology and mysticism, befitting what’s on display in the game.  Fans of the color blue will be quite pleased; there’s a lot of information you’ll have to keep track of, but accessing each bit of data is an easy and clean matter.

But special mention has to go to the map screen, which manages to foreshadow the encroaching Void.  If you look up at the top screen from time to time, you may notice that the outline of Japan might shift from the last time you glanced up.  It’s subtle enough for you to ignore at first, but once the plot starts coming together it’s a nice little touch.

 

15) The actual graphics are…serviceable

To be honest, I really like the maps — they’re pretty detailed, and certainly manage to capture the spirit of a land in ruin…well, not on every map, but enough times to capture that essence.  And while there are some reused assets from DeSu1, the new stuff really shines in its own right.  That said…

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The same can’t be said for the character sprites.  They’re not bad or anything, and in terms of the number of animations, they’re expanded from DeSu1.  But still, I feel that they’re not as good as they could be, especially since the DS is GREAT at handling sprites.  I’ve seen sprites across the internet that looked both manageable and masterful; is there really no way for this game to have stepped it up a bit?

 

16) This game is more lighthearted than DeSu1

This is something that’s to be expected.  Part of the pressure and stress on the cast of DeSu1 came from them being completely without creature comforts — food, shelter, electricity and of course a safe place to sleep at night were all in short supply. In DeSu2, however, Yamato has accommodations prepared for the cast from the night of Day 1 onward.  It contributes to the disparity between the demon tamers — Japan’s newfound cream of the crop — and the unlucky civilians/rioters fighting to survive.

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So yes, you get a bit more downtime and ability to relax than the original game. And because everyone’s not stressed all the time, it creates more opportunities for events that wouldn’t be tonally consistent in a more serious game.  So if you ever wanted to see, say, one whiny Hindu deity get flung into the sky to be shot by another Hindu deity, then you’re in luck.  Or maybe an event where an Osaka mascot murders demons to take their money?  Or a sequence where Hibiki, Daichi, and Joe get the chance to peep on the girls during their physical exams (in an event called “Secret Garden”)?  And that’s ignoring all the moment-to-moment jokes and conversations that’ll put a smile on your face. Or just freak you out.

 

17) This game is also notably Japanese

Okay, this isn’t exactly what I’d call a fault, but it’s something worth noting.  As you’ve probably guessed, ALL the action in this game takes place in Japan.  And while you won’t need a travel guide to know who’s who and what’s what, the more important issue is that, yes, DeSu2 can feel like something you’d expect from Japanese creators. I guess if I had to pare it down, what makes this game so Japanese is that it has some notable and familiar styling.  Part of the humor comes from some characters being offbeat, and other characters reacting (or over-reacting) to it.  Some people might find the interactions a little unrealistic, or the archetypes therein to be too out there — like Airi’s, for example — but unlike other, significantly-worse JRPGs I could name, these characters are more than just archetypes.  If you’re willing to treat them as more than just digitized doodles, you’ll be well-rewarded.  That I promise you.

 

18) The phrase “improbably buxom” is one well-worn in the DeSuVerse

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Nobody can ever mention this game without talking about the ladies’ chests, so I guess I have to as well.  I should start by saying…really guys?  This is what you zero in on?  This is how you try to devalue the game?  Okay, so the girls are packing some above-average adipose in their shirts.  And they’re not exactly the most realistic.  So what?  Does it make the game any worse?  It’s just a stylistic choice by the artist.  This is not a fault in its own right.

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Nope.  Nothing faulty here.  Uh…probably.

That’s not to say that it’s a benefit, of course.  In the same sense that Squeenix’s deluge of pretty boys is harmful to the brand, (but not for me!) so too is it the case for the art of character designer Suzuhito Yasuda.  When you make every character improbably buxom, no one is improbably buxom.  Hinako is the only one who should have been sporting generous goods by virtue of her personality, and even then that’s a stretch (as a dancer, you’d expect for her to be a lot more…er, lean).  Though it does raise an interesting line of thought: in a world where everyone is improbably buxom, what does that mean for those that are different?

Eh, no sense in worrying about it now.  I guess we’ll find out the developers’ intent in DeSu3 if they add a hot springs scene. (Which I hope in that sense have both man and woman service!)

19) It’s edutainment!

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I actually didn’t know about this until I started fiddling with the menus, but apparently you can find out more about the demons you summon/buy through an option in the compendium.  That’s actually pretty interesting, because a lot of names might be familiar to you.  Thor, Odin, Heimdall, and Fenrir all get expanded details (though it seems like the definition of “demon” has been broadened here), so Norse mythology lovers might get a kick out of that.  I haven’t exactly gone through every description — and can’t until I start a new file — but from what I gather, pretty much every demon in the game is based on a supernatural creature/deity that exists in a real-world culture.

Take Hamsa, for example (otherwise known as MY SWORN MORTAL ENEMY).

Just a pain-in-the-ass duck soldier, right?

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Nope.  Have a gander at this:

“A holy white goose which serves as the steed of the Hindu god Brahma.  During winter, geese migrate over India. These majestic white figures flying through the sky became symbolic of Brahmin dignity as they tried to reach Brahma, the god of knowledge. This may be how Hamsa came to be seen as Brahma`s steed.”

See?  It’s actually a goose.  The more you know…

20) Go buy this.  Just go buy this.

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Really.  What the hell else can I say?

I will gladly admit that this game isn’t perfect.  I know that it’s got some flaws.  I know that it’s hard.  I know that it’s not the most visually impressive.  I know it has a distinct Japanese flair (which I still can’t believe is a problem for some people, but whatever).  But a good product has the right elements to overcome its flaws, or at the very least make you ignore them.  And to that end, Devil Survivor 2 succeeds.  IN SPADES.

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This is a game that’ll make you think long after you’ve put it down.  Even if you clear the game, there’s still plenty of content you’ve likely missed out on. The sheer number of combinations available encourages freedom and experimentation.  The challenges on parade here will put you to the test, and push you well beyond your limits.  The characters who you’ll meet will stick with you, and drive you to do everything to help and protect them…because rest assured, if you drag your feet in certain sequences, they WILL die.

A lot of people will tell you that the JRPG is dead, or that they’re all too clichéd and obsolete to be worth anything, or that they’re all incredibly infantile when you get down to it.  That, or just an offhand remark about schoolgirls.  But don’t you even THINK about making a mistake on this one: Devil Survivor 2 is a fantastic game, regardless of its style, genre, difficulty, flaws, or whatever reason you might have to avoid adding this to your library.  Seek it out and get your hands on it, no matter who or what stands in your way.

See if you have what it takes to survive.

Or check out the manga and the anime if you have the time, you might find them enjoyable~

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(I realize now that should have told you about it in part 1, but whatever…)

Speaking of which, I applaud you for “surviving” this ass-long text and until next time! He-Ho!


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Let’s Survive! Devil Survivor 2 (and a little DeSu1) review Part 1

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WARNING FOR MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE GAME. (and a little bit from Devil Survivor 1)

You don’t need to have played the other Shin Megami Tensei games, or even the other Persona games to enjoy Persona 3 or 4.  It’s hard to say if the lax application of continuity is unique to the Persona series, the SMT games, or Atlus in general, but what’s important is that the games stand up on their own merits.  SMT Nocturne/Lucifers call, Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2, Persona 3, Persona 4, Catherine, Devil Survivor 1, and of course Devil Survivor 2 are all games that are not only enjoyable in their own right, but in my opinion are games that NO GAMER, regardless of tastes, should go without.  In the worst-case scenario, you can pick pretty much any one of those games and be satisfied.

And for the moment, I will personally recommend Devil Survivor 2 right now.

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I remember first hearing about the spinoff franchise a few years back, and immediately finding myself intrigued.  Granted, there were only a few magazine scans to go by, so I couldn’t form too strong of an opinion — and when it comes to gameplay, I would rather see or play a game for myself instead of have an article describe it to me.  So for the most part, I was willing to give Devil Survivor 1 a ride; I’d been well-treated by P3 and P4, and I needed a boost to my DS (and 3ds, with DeSu Overclocked) library.  So when the reviews started coming in — not as many as I would have hoped, — with good news, I was sold.  And I was rewarded justly.

Let’s talk about the gameplay first, because in general the two Devil Survivor games are largely identical in that regard. You can think of it as a fusion of Fire Emblem and Earthbound; you bring four party members with you on a mission, navigate a map of varying size and shape, and engage with demons (and humans!) on a regular basis. Where things get interesting is the actual fighting; once you move a character within range of an enemy, you enter a sort of turn-based battle mode — your human character and two helper demons flanking him/her, versus up to three demons or another human/demon team.  Thing is, instead of a full-fledged battle, you only have one guaranteed turn to do some serious damage — and after that, the skirmish ends and you’re back at the map. The key word here is guaranteed; by landing critical hits, hitting an enemy’s elemental weaknesses, or just having a high agility stat, you can give your individual team members one “Extra Turn” to finish off a target.

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It’s a quick but strategic battle system, in the sense that you have to pick your targets carefully; you can hit enemy weaknesses, but your enemies can do the same to your demons, which not only deals extra damage but also has a chance of removing your Extra Turns (though you can do the same to them).  It’s not a hard system to grasp, but it is one that demands a sound tactical mind…primarily because the Devil Survivor games are INCREDIBLY hard.  You can shift the odds in your favor by equipping passive abilities and fusing demons to create more powerful allies — in other words, you have to abuse the system for maximum results.  I’m convinced that the only way to beat these games is to create a quartet of game-breakers; you can only bring four humans with you to a map, and it’s outright expected of the game to not only pit you against double that number of enemies, but have reinforcements step in at any moment.  Enemies have skill combinations that make them nearly invincible, capable of dealing high damage, and after a skirmish can heal themselves back up to full health…sometimes with all three of those abilities at once.  Bosses can pick you off from a distance before you even get in range, and it’s common for them to have hyper-broken abilities as well.  Special mention has to go to one late-game boss in DS1 with INFINITE attack range.

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The difficulty of the game is, by default, several notches higher than most games this generation — and as far as I know, there’s no way to lower it.  But even if there was, I wouldn’t recommend it; just because Devil Survivor is HARD doesn’t mean that it’s BAD.  The entire point of the game is to survive, and overcome the struggles in both a gameplay and story aspect; offering anything less than unerring pressure would be a detriment to both.  And of course, the games are hardly unbeatable; they occupy a space that challenges, but rarely annoys (though DS2, admittedly, takes it too far a few times).  Overall, I would call the gameplay for this spinoff series a success.

But where the games excel is — you guessed it — in its story.

Now, in order to explain why the Devil Survivor games have good stories, for starters, the world actually feels like one that’s lived in, because there are actually other characters besides the main cast.  Granted the main cast is pretty large — especially in DeSu2 — but the presence of extras is one that lends credibility to the whole “the world is coming to an end” angle, because it’s through their fear and panic that we players know that things are getting bad.  Of course, the games have a nasty habit of reusing and re-coloring assets, but keep in mind that they’re DS games (and games I suspect weren’t properly funded until the second, given how much music gets recycled in the first game).

If you’ll let me borrow a phrase from the Zero Punctuation lexicon, what’s important to note about the DeSu games isn’t that “humanity is fucked”, and certainly not “pre-fucked” from the moment you turn on the game.  Things start out normal and degrade over the course of about a week (barring some backstory shenanigans that make the game’s events possible).  What this means is that we have some twenty hours of game time to see things go from A-OK to OH MY GOD DEMONS EVERYWHERE YO and appreciate the difference between the two states.  Let me put it this way: in Gears of War, humanity is already in a bad spot, and the planet is essentially wrecked; the COGs are just trying to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.  That’s not necessarily a bad trait to give your setting, but there are problems; the effectiveness and malleability of your setting are capped.  Where do you go from “the world is wrecked”?  Gears’ answer is “Well obviously, you just wreck the world even more!”  It’s a possible answer, but it’s not automatically the best; it’s an artificial way to raise the tension, considering that outside of a few instances the world is pretty much just a backdrop for firefights.  My basic argument is this: how are we supposed to care about a world that’s already destroyed and get only occasional glimpses at life in this war-torn world?

Not so with DeSu.  The degradation that takes place over the week is almost palpable.  People — office workers, gang members, and even cops — start abusing the summoning app just to survive.  Food and medicine run low, demanding skirmishes in the middle of a street.  Power outages beget civilians gathering into shelters and parks, which beget mass demon attacks…and of course, more riots.  The SDF quarantines a hefty part of Tokyo, and will go so far as to shoot anyone who tries to escape (and one of the bigger reveals of DeSu1 is figuring out just what role the government plays in all this…and how much they knew before the outbreak).  In the original game, there’s a cult running amok trying to enact a divine trial, there’s a competition between archdemons to become the king of all God’s unholy creatures, and before game’s end the sky rips wide open.  And throughout all of this, you get to see people from all walks of life react to — and collapse because of — the disaster.

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It’s not just NPCs that are reacting to the disasters you face; it’s your party members, too.  Some of them are just one event away from crumbling (and some of them leap over the line, to the point of committing suicide or enacting some very messy vigilante justice).  Characters start to question their world and themselves, with past mistakes and decisions rearing their ugly heads in the face of adversity and certain death.  Oppression tracks these people no matter where they turn, either from external sources, internal struggles, divides between one party member and the next, and good ol’ fashioned horrific hellspawn from realms unimaginable.  I don’t know about you, but I prefer a cast that reacts to things — the world or otherwise — instead of a cast that…well, doesn’t.

Okay, that’s enough of that.  So what’s the story behind DeSu2?  It’s fairly simple, actually.  You’re a high school student hot off preparing for exams, and heading home with your buddy Daichi by your side.  As you head for the subway, you run into the school idol, Io.  Just as Daichi tries to get in close to Io, you all get mail on your cell phones — apparently, from the Nicaea site you’ve all heard rumors about.  Lo and behold, it does just what a “dead face delivery site” is supposed to do: it shows a clip of the three of you dying brutal deaths.  And in the same subway station you’ve just entered.  Thankfully, the three of you manage to avert grisly fates, but only for a moment; you’re attacked by demons, and while you handle them with relative ease, that’s the worst of your problems.  You head topside to find Tokyo in absolute ruins, with communications almost immediately cut off.  What unfolds is a multi-day struggle to survive, dealing with rioters, the mysterious organization JPs (rhymes with “chips”), and of course the Septentriones — extremely powerful creatures that are more or less incomprehensible genocidal aliens.

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Now, at this point I have to answer a question that I’ve had in mind since I first played DeSu2: did anyone learn anything from what happened in DeSu1?  Outside of a few differences here and there, the opening hour or so of DeSu2 is identical to DeSu1.  Even beyond that, the setup is remarkably similar.  Demons start turning Japan into a disaster zone.  You use a demon summoning app to fight back against demons and humans alike.  Shit gets real.  What worried me the most is that there are absolutely ZERO references to DeSu1 at all.  None.  They share similar ideas and plenty of demons, but it’s as if the original game never happened.  And I thought to myself for the longest time, “Why?”  It was a question that I needed to have answered, because otherwise it meant that nobody was paying attention during the near-cataclysmic “Tokyo Lockdown” of the first game. But hey, even if the DeSu2 hold the title of “2” doesn’t mean it have to be a direct sequel, but still, wouldn’t it hurt to mention atleast SOMEONE from the first game. Let’s just move on…

Those Septentriones I mentioned earlier?  They’re in the employ of the world’s administrator, Polaris — and having believed that humanity has lost its will to live, Polaris decides to erase everything.  You’re going up against the guy who makes and maintains the world; in fact, one ending suggests that by killing Polaris, the damage done to the world can never, ever be repaired.  What’s left of humanity is all you’ll ever get…and you’ll just have to deal with it.  Rebuild society and all that.

By the way, that “damage done to the world”?  It’s not just demons and alien-type things smashing buildings.  Polaris has been erasing the world by having it sucked into a spreading black nothingness nicknamed “The Void”.  Kill him, and The Void goes away…to be replaced by nothing but a sprawling ocean.

And The Void has pretty much sucked up everything but a small section of Japan.

Yeah.

…Remember not too long ago when I said that a key part of JRPGs is eventually tracking down and killing a god?  That’s probably not too good of an idea in this case.

But you know what?  Honestly?  I actually think that’s one of the best things I could have hoped for.  See, when I was thinking about this post I was going to mention that the first ending I got — the “Liberator” route with Daichi, I believe it’s called — was kind of a cop-out.  It’s the quintessential third option, where a small portion of the cast branches off to find a new path; that is, they don’t want to resort to extremes to create a new world, and certainly not by way of demonic urban warfare.  So they opt to march up to Polaris’ throne and take out the administrator (who, much like the Septentriones, looks like a geometric nightmare creature) on the grounds that a world free from the control of some inhuman administrator trumps anything else.  Speaking on a long-term level, it might work.  Somewhere along the line, humanity might gain enough strength and wisdom to rebuild a world forcibly left as 99.9999% water.  But in the short-term, it’s a remarkably shitty idea — not only is there a currently-capped amount of resources and supplies, but the ending heavily implies that there’s now no god of sorts to protect you from danger…so if there’s anything out there even nastier (i.e. a key enemy in a potential DeSu3), they’d better hope that the last remnants of society are up to the task.

It’s a harrowing ending — bittersweet and not necessarily heralding the end of humanity, but the implications are there.  Still, the reason that I considered calling it a cop-out is because, in many ways, that’s what it is.  The route is the “third option”, a medium between extremes.  It’s something there that I think appeals to the player sensibilities — it’s the most peaceable path (relatively speaking), and one that upholds peace and the status quo instead of drastically changing the world.  And maybe that’s its biggest problem.  DeSu2 being a video game, taking a third option is as simple as picking your endgame route from a menu.  It’s all too easy to assume that it’s a right, not a privilege.  But in a real-world context, what if there WASN’T a third option?

What if, in spite of good intentions and a desire to avoid hurting the feelings of friends (or worse), opting for a different path wasn’t just difficult, but outright foolhardy?  Daichi and his supporters end up getting called out for being so naïve and childish — and while the oldest member of the cast is a hoary twenty-six, there’s some semblance of a point in there.  Even if there was a third option, Daichi’s “let’s not fight, let’s just be friends, and let’s turn everything back to normal” drive comes off as simple-minded and dangerous by the time he proposes it…doubly so because it’s a course sorely lacking in vision, and Daichi himself can’t define it beyond cowardly mutterings.  Given that they only have two or three days max by that point to save the world, it’s understandable that a good two-thirds of the cast writes him off.

So what are the other two options?  Well…the simplest way to put it is that they’re extreme.

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In the blue corner, representing order, we have Ronaldo Kuriki.  He’s a detective, and a passionate one at that; ignoring the fact that most of his assets have him expressing some sort of indignation, he’s the one most likely to start shouting about fighting in the name of justice (in an “aw, bless your heart” sort of way).  But make no mistake, he’s serious about his goals; in the face of adversity and a country being completely dismantled by demons and invaders, he starts pulling together dislocated peoples and forming a sort of allied force.  His ultimate goal (once he finds out Polaris exists)?  To have the administrator remake the world in his image — that is, to create a world of equality, where everyone works together and supports one another without question.  Simply put — in the game’s terms, at least — it’s egalitarianism.

Common decency suggests that if players don’t choose Daichi’s route, Ronaldo’s is the next in line.  But what’s important to note is that for all his good intentions, Ronaldo is…well, he’s more or less a terrorist.  The people he brings to his side?  They’re rioters — and many if not all of them are rioters thanks to Ronaldo’s orders.  He’ll gladly break into government offices and steal data, willingly killing anyone that gets in his way.  He has good intentions, but it’s likely that none of them would have been sparked if not for his own quest for vengeance; he’s out for blood, and the very idea of compromise has never occurred to him.  So he’s not exactly a good guy…nor is his ending 100% ideal.

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And in the red corner (ironically) representing chaos, we have Yamato Hotsuin.  Yamato is probably one of the most complex characters I’ve encountered in a while — he’s the head of the secret government agency JPs in spite of being only seventeen.  He’s not only a genius, but also the heir to a clan that can harness the supreme energy known as the Dragon Stream.  But no matter his status, his goal is clear: to use his resources and his organization, one well-versed in demon summoning, to rebuild Japan.  Except Yamato has no intention of restoring the status quo; he’s out to create a new Japan, one where the strongest and wisest will rule and be rewarded, while the weak will suffer.  He wants a meritocracy, and he’ll do anything to get it.

It’s easy to label Yamato as extreme, but in the end that’s probably the best description of both his actions and his goals.  If not for his commands and his JPs peons, it’s likely that a lot of the game’s conflicts wouldn’t have happened.  They’re hoarding food and medical supplies for themselves, acting under the impression that they deserve it more than the average citizen.  They’re not above using force to suppress rioters — “rioters” taking on a VERY loose definition in several instances — and using flimsy justifications at most moments.  Also, for a group that one would think would be the best Japan has to offer, more often than not JPs agents aren’t much more durable than the common redshirt.  And really, do I need to say anything about the nastiness behind a meritocracy?

What’s important to remember is that neither Yamato’s meritocracy nor Ronaldo’s egalitarianism are treated as absolute right answers.  Supporters of each ideal (i.e. your party members) will poke holes in both…and they’ll do so even if they’re on the side they want to be on.  Take Joe, for example.  It’s established almost immediately after meeting him that he’s a scatterbrained fool, someone who Yamato only tolerates because he’s a solid demon tamer.  Over the course of the story, though, Joe reveals a certain savvy that makes him wiser than he appears, if only slightly so.  More importantly, it’s highly probable that Joe was working alongside Ronaldo, gathering and stealing supplies to give to hospitals — no doubt the same hospital where his sick girlfriend resides.  No small wonder, then, that Joe decides to partner up with Ronaldo when the party splinters; Joe knows he’ll be the first to get the axe in Yamato’s new world, and he’s seen the good work Ronaldo’s done with his own eyes.  But it’s Joe of all people who wonders the loudest if Ronaldo’s world is any good, either — and I can see why that wouldn’t work.  (The fact that the real world has yet to adopt an utterly-equal society is a hint in its own right.)  There are holes that your party members point out, no matter which side they’re on.

But I’d argue that that’s not the point.  DeSu2 is asking you a series of questions.  One of them is obvious: “Do you think this new world of Yamato’s/Ronaldo’s/Daichi’s could work?”  And the other one is “How do you rebuild a broken world?”

The second question is one that I want fiction to answer more readily.  Look, we’ve all seen something related to zombies at this point in our lives, and we all know that the real danger (and draw) of the stories is the degradation of society.  Humanity is the real monster, we live for chaos, et cetera, et cetera.  Part of the appeal is seeing everything we’ve built either torn down or abandoned — and while it’s not exclusive to zombie fiction, it IS an incredibly commonplace idea throughout fiction, but in my eyes, that’s not enough.  Not anymore. Gears of War 3 ended with the Locusts and immulsion completely erased; Anya consuls a grieving Marcus and tells him that there’s still hope left…this, in spite of their planet Sera being utterly wrecked.  So you’d expect for them to start showing how they’d rebuild their shattered world, right?  Nope.  Not even an epilogue; it just fades to black with no justification of the hope Anya suggests.  If you couple that with the fact that the upcoming Gears of War Judgment is a PREQUEL, it becomes incredibly obvious that the franchise is comfortable with wading in the “humanity is fucked” end of the pool.  You could make the same argument about DmC; it was all too eager to tell us that the world was in sorry shape, but when it came time for genuine reform, all we got was a shot of a smoldering city before — you guessed it — fading to black.

Even DeSu1 was all too eager to show how society went from all right to all ruined…the key difference being that putting an end to the disaster was intertwined with creating a safer or better world by game’s end.  But DeSu2 manages to take it a step further, letting it be more than just a rehash of DeSu1 as well as carving its own niche.  Putting an end to the havoc is a big part of the story, as expected, but “saving the world” in this case means more than beating the bad guy.  In fact, in a lot of ways the struggle to decide how the world will be rebuilt is more important than beating the bad guys. And rightly so.

Now, let’s be real here.  There’s no right answer to the question of whether a merit system, equality, or restoring the status quo should reign supreme (and other options, I bet; there are more endings than just those three).  That’s part of the point.  You, the player, have the chance to decide for yourself what “the right answer” will be.  There are faults with each system, but there are positives and benefits as well; even if it takes you a playthrough or two to realize that, you may end up seeing things Yamato’s way after seeing the game through to the end with Ronaldo.

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Although, to be honest, I think there IS an answer to be had.  Not an immediately obvious one, of course, but a subtle one.  The true answer may very well lie in two qualities — those belonging to a single person…or rather, the proxy of a single person.

What are they?  Well, I’ll be sure to explain in full…next time.  He-Ho! For now!


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Let it Rip! A (long) Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Review (Part 2)

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You know, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my brother a couple of weeks ago.  He noticed I was really excited about the then-upcoming release of Revengeance; knowing that I tended to keep a pulse on game reviews, he asked me if I thought it would get good scores — especially in comparison to the fresh-on-the-market DmC.  I gave him my prediction.  “No, it probably won’t get good reviews.  There’s no denying that it’ll be good, but the scores won’t be as high as DmC’s.  People will probably say the story is stupid, or confusing, or something.  Or some other flaw.”

And then the scores started popping up.  And indeed, it has seen some favorable reviews — not enough to put its Metacritic score over DmC’s, but it is a close race.  That length seems to be a major sticking point.

But if there’s one thing that I’m starting to learn as of late, it’s that reviews are merely a suggestion of quality, not a confirmation of it.  Maybe my standards have just become annoyingly high in the last few years, but the sheer number of nines and tens from the gaming press seem to be less and less likely to translate into a “great game, great experience”, at least in my eyes.  I’m the kind of girl who READS the reviews, not just glances at the score.  And when I read about issues with the new Tomb Raider and issues with the new God of War, I’m starting to fear that I need to start magnifying those problems to figure out if a game is right for me.  Maybe I need to be doubly-negative.  If reviewers won’t be critical, I guess I’ll have to.

Which brings us back to Raiden’s Ass Kicking Jamboree.

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WARNING: You are in for a crap-ton of spoilers if you read carelessly, so if you’re looking to play the game first with a fresh perspective, do so immediately.  Also, don’t do what I did and forget that the Select button lets you access the Codec and plenty of conversations with your pals.  Cripes, I’m terrible at Metal Gear games…

This game’s story is…well…I like it.  I like it a lot.  But honestly, I’m surprised I like it as much as I do.

Remember, I was expecting reviewers to tear into the story, calling it either “immature” or “convoluted” or something along those lines — and by that logic, I would have to double the negative points.  And even if they were positive, I expected either backhand comments about how the story is passable, or find it inoffensive (at best) on my own once the game was in my hands.

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I guess I underestimated the input of Hideo Kojima.  I know a lot of people take issue with his storytelling, and I’ll admit I can see both their point of view and the flaws of the Metal Gear-Father’s style; I’ve yet to forget falling asleep during MGS4’s hour long cutscene.

Not being one for politics or the military, I can’t say for sure how much Kojima’s works are credible (though I’m assuming he and his cohorts have done their research).  But to be more precise, I can’t say for sure how wise or effective it is to throw so many concepts at us gamers.  For the most part it’s easy enough to follow along, and I’ll admit that there are plenty of interesting and enlightening points.  On the other hand, sometimes it feels like the camera is being jerked to the left so we can have a discussion about war and soldiers and such.  It’s not a game-breaker, but it is something I’ve come to expect of the franchise.  Same goes for the sheer immensity of each cutscene, let alone game; you’d think that the guy would try keeping things succinct and manageable, instead of reveling in his ability to throw thousands and thousands of words at an audience with no choice but to tolerate his long-windedness.  And — wait a minute…did I just describe myself?

Anyway, it’s easy to spot elements of Kojima’s style, even if you aren’t fully-immersed in the lore or his works in general.  In fact, during the demo when a few of the characters started going off about the political climate, a part of me started getting a little unenthusiastic.  Complex discussions about the nature of war seem a little ill-fit for an action game starring a one-eyed cyborg ninja.

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And to my surprise, the full game seemed to agree with me.  There are some discussions, of course, but there are three important caveats that prevent them from getting too unwieldy.  First off, the military-industrial complex junk is there, but it’s kept under control — it adds flavor without overpowering the rest of the meal, because it’s wisely regulated.  Second, the game manages a good balance of its elements; it remembers that even if this is a game featuring transhumanism and child soldiers (and worse), it remembers that it’s still a game featuring giant robots, soldiers sanctioned to swing around hammers, and purposeful shots of several characters’ CHEEKS OF JUSTICE.  Third — and maybe most important of all — is that this is Raiden’s story.

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In my eyes, if the main character is bad, the story is bad.  No exceptions.  They’re more than just our perspective in the worlds we visit; they’re the defining factor of the story’s themes and ideas, and the chief mover-and-shaker vis a vis the plot. That much should be obvious, even for a greenhorn — but that just makes the many, many, many times there have been failures all the more baffling.  Then again, that makes the successes all the more gratifying.

And Raiden is indeed a success. It isn’t just a matter of his story being passable, or not getting in the way of the slice-and-dice action.  No, you are actually rewarded for clearing a level or boss, as you should.  His story, and everything surrounding it, is a genuinely intriguing and entertaining story, one that — much like the rest of the game — cuts off the fat to be a lean but tasty meal.

I’ll get into this more in a little bit, but here’s an example that shows what’s on display here.  Late in the game, Raiden manages to take down a boss that’s been giving him trouble since the opening hour.  It’s a tough fight for sure (both for the character and the player), but one that’s ultimately manageable.  As I cleared the fight, my brother — who was watching at the time — was quick to note that unlike the other bosses, this one didn’t end with Raiden slashing him to pieces.  Why?  “He has to give his dramatic monologue”, I said jokingly, but still preparing for a lengthy death speech.

Except he didn’t give a lengthy death speech.  He wasn’t exactly silent, but we didn’t spend minutes at a time going over the minutiae.  He just…died.  It came as a surprise, but it makes sense in the grand scheme of things — Raiden was in the midst of a race against time, and this guy was just a roadblock.  (You could make the argument that there was absolutely no reason for him to engage in a sunset duel on the highway, but then again he probably wouldn’t have let you pass if you didn’t.)  What’s even more interesting is that he actually doesn’t engage in much ideological mud-slinging with Raiden — he even goes out of his way to say something like “Haven’t we done enough philosophy talk?”  It’s bizarre, but only because it’s such a foreign concept.  Like, that’s just how these things go: two guys meet, do a little (i.e. a lot of) arguing, and then fight.  The absence of it, while probably the more ideal, is still a strange turn.  A strange turn, but one that puts the audience’s status above grandstanding atop a soapbox.

But it makes sense.  This is Raiden’s story, and Raiden’s journey.  And indeed, that’s probably the best way to describe it — along with what’s best for the game.

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Think about it: in order for a good character to work, there have to be ups and downs.  Multiple levels; multiple statuses.  You have to know when to add force, and when to let it ride. There’s a difference between one badass and the next…but the most important distinction is that the creator isn’t allowed to designate (or design) their character JUST to be badass.  The creator’s job is to put their characters through situations of both high and low tension, and have him succeed or fail as needed.  The only ones with the right to decide who is a badass is the audience.  That’s all there is to it.

Raiden, has — for lack of a better word — “range”.  On one hand, this is a guy who’ll fling a mech the size of a school a hundred feet in the air, then run along its limbs to continue his assault.  On the other hand, he’ll decide that the best way to begin a sneaking mission in Mexico is to don a sombrero and poncho…and then abandon both as soon as he finds a way into the sewers.  On one hand, this is a guy who’ll commandeer an unmanned jet by jumping from a helicopter and start steering it by ramming his sword through its brain.  On the other hand, he’ll start stuttering when his operator’s strong accent makes him think he’ll have to take a dump.  (Psst, it’s D.O.M.P.) They’re little things, but they’re incredibly important both for the character and the story.

One special thing is quite basic.

Raiden gets his ass kicked.

In the opening minutes of the game, Raiden starts out in a good place.  He’s part of a band of do-gooders — Maverick Security Consulting, a benevolent PMC — currently tasked with protecting an African prime minister.  He’s calm, he’s cordial, he’s decked out in a nice suit, and he’s actually capable of cracking smiles and jokes.  When it’s time to fight, though, you’d better believe he’ll fight — good to know, considering that (as these things tend to go) the Prime Minister gets captured and eventually killed.  The culprits?  While they’re not the absolute masterminds, there’s still a lot of blame to heap on Desperado Enforcement LLC., a none-too-pleasant PMC out to spread war and strife for their (and to a lesser extent, the world’s) benefit and profit.  Naturally, Raiden ain’t havin’ that shit, so his adventure begins.

And it almost ends before it starts.  After the prime minister’s death, Raiden engages in a train-top duel with a Desperado supporter, Jetstream Sam.  It doesn’t go very well.  In the midst, Raiden claims that his sword is a tool of justice, while Sam scoffs at the idea and tells him he’s just in it for the fighting and killing — or at least that he SHOULD be in it for the killing.  Raiden intends to prove him wrong, of course, but…well…

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Sam is a reality check in more ways than one.  It’s an immediate slap in the face for the player, the person who’s most likely to be riding high after judo-throwing a Gundam.  But of course, it’s a way to spark Raiden’s story arc.  Everything he’s believed in, and the creed he’s based his life upon?  Pfft.  Waste of time; all that nobility and resolve won’t save you from getting your eye and your arm slashed.  So what’s an agent of justice to do?  Easy.

MAKEOVER!

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Raiden comes back hardier than ever, making sure to leave his carved-out eye missing, presumably as a reminder of the damage that’s been done. His buddies operating as mission control note that Raiden’s sounding a bit colder and angrier than usual, and while that’s true every now and then, he’s still far from a battle maniac.  He’s out to carve out a win in this fight, this game, and this arc, but it’s as much a struggle to stop Desperado as it is a search for his own truths.

It’s an inherently simple story and setup, and one that’s no doubt been done before.  It’s done fairly well in MGR — again, it’s a very lean game — but it is still interesting to see Raiden struggle as a result of internal and external stimuli.  If you weren’t aware, MGR is quick to remind you that Raiden is a former child soldier, and even beyond that has had one brutal childhood…to say nothing of what he went through in the games proper.

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The events of MGR hit a little too close to home for him, reopening old wounds and making him want to fight that much harder for justice — or at least what he perceives as justice.  As a Maverick, he’s more than willing to bend the rules — or even paint himself as an enemy of the country — if it means stopping the bad guys.  He’ll do what no other man will…because failing to do so means that the organs of children will continue to be harvested and made into a new wave of cyborg soldiers following rigorous brainwashing/programming.

Yeah.  That’s a pretty big part of the baddies’ plan, by the way.  Not the only part, mind, but a big part all the same.  You can’t really blame Raiden for going a little berserk.

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But in order for Raiden’s story arc to come to a close, he has to reconcile his nobility with his ferocity.  He has to figure out where he stands; is it really true that he’s not fighting for justice, but to retroactively take out his anger on those who’ll commit the same wrongs as those done to him?  Is everything he’s believed about his opponents a lie, or just excuses he’s created to excuse himself from guilt?  Would he willingly sacrifice his humanity just for a chance to play the hero — and a bloody one, at that?  Is he even a hero?  (Side note: his wife and son are, to my knowledge, safe on New Zealand for anyone who’s wondering.)

There’s a moment around the middle-ish area of the game when Raiden starts carving his way through Denver to put an end to the madness.  Before he can make it to enemy HQ, Sam’s face pops up over a slew of monitors in a plaza, each one declaring in perfect sync that Raiden’s resolve and reasoning are hollow.  Raiden has believed up to this point that the people he’s cut down are just soldiers that have made their choice, but are willing to die for what they believe in.  Sam is eager to point out just how wrong he is, though.  Many of the people Raiden’s been fighting — up to and including Denver policemen who just happen to be cyborgs — are not only people who have become cyborg soldiers because of their own horrible lots in life, but are entirely aware of the fact that they’re going to die by Raiden’s hand.  Worse yet, they’re going to die, but they can’t do a thing about it; their bodies might move on their own and their words may say otherwise, but once Raiden turns on his sensors he can immediately hear the panicked thoughts of those he fights.

My knee-jerk reaction to that sequence was, “Come on, Raiden.  Are you kidding me?  You should know that you’ve been fighting humans this whole time.”  But as the scene progressed, I kept on thinking about it, and came to my own conclusions.  The obvious one is that Raiden’s forcibly been covering his ears this whole time (and his eyes on occasion, thanks to that visor built into his face), treating his opponents as sandbags.  When the illusion is shattered, he has to own up to what he’s done, and decide what to do from there.  He finds some semblance of an answer…with this being one of its chief tenets.

(On a side note: The cyborgs blood is white in the original japanese version, while the us/eu have red, go figure.)

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But you know what?  I suddenly realized something — something that makes MGR’s story more credible, thoughtful, and satisfying than what is on the surface.  This isn’t just Raiden’s story, and Raiden coming to grips with his nature as a killer.  It’s your story, too.

Let’s be real here.  If you live in the States, you probably know that in light of some relatively recent events and tragedies, people are starting to look at video games in a more critical light. There are outsiders looking in who are blaming video games for warping people’s minds, making them more violent and eager to kill, or at the very least desensitized to violence.  There are, of course, others who are willing to give games a fair shake, and use (admittedly slow and inconclusive) scientific evidence to figure out what games do to their players.  Plenty of gamers have gotten pretty furious about the mud-slinging, given that Mortal Kombat has yet to result in anyone eager to punch out spines and turn into dragons.  But lately, gamers — people up and down the industry rungs — have been wondering something: what if video games ARE too violent?  What if they DO have an effect on us?

You could make the argument that not every game has to be (or even is) a non-stop stream of violence and gore.  And you could make the argument that games are more beneficial than detractors would suggest; some think that games could make you a better surgeon (good thing I’m such an ace at Trauma Team *sarcasm*).  But what I say next, I say as someone that loves the medium: have you seen some of the shit they’re putting out these days?  Conan O’Brien found out the hard way that Lara in the new Tomb Raider could have her head run through with a spike if you screw up a set piece.  Gears of War: Judgment’s promotional materials feature our “heroes” clubbing enemies to death with a sniper rifle, which I’m pretty sure defeats the purpose of a sniper rifle, let alone any given gun.  I don’t even want to imagine what Kratos does in the new God of War.  And just when I think things aren’t going to get any worse, here comes MGR with its defining gameplay mechanic being the ability to tear enemies into blood-spewing chunks.  Great work lending the medium some credibility, Platinum Games.

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But believe it or not I think Platinum Games actually offers a perspective on the discussion — not an answer, but at least items to digest.  There’s no denying that even if the game is extremely violent, it’s also extremely fun.  You’re killing off goons like a bikini-bottomed tornado of steel, and the game rewards you every step of the way with awesome cutscenes and points, and a ranking system that wants you to kill more efficiently — and of course, the positive reinforcement from the audiovisuals (the effects of a successful Zandatsu being a prime example).  You’re meant to be a killer.  The people in your way aren’t living, breathing people as much as they are notches on your gamer’s belt — or rather, masses of polygons and AI protocols.  You haven’t been feeling any sympathy for them, or thinking of them as anything but a chance to show off and cut loose.

Raiden’s realization (or reaffirmation) of his targets’ humanity is supposed to be a shock to both the character and the player…BUT there’s a distinction.  The thrust of the story is not violence is bad, or that you’re a terrible person for indulging in violence; that would just make the entire game a hypocritical mess.  The thrust is that you’re supposed to be aware of your actions and consequences, not stop them entirely.  You’re a killer, yes, and it would be great if you didn’t slaughter your way to justice, but the important thing is keeping in mind what you’re fighting for.  It’s a question of “does the end justify the means?” and lets you come up with your own conclusions; indeed, Raiden likely comes up with his own by game’s end.

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But there’s more to it than that.  The game asks you questions — many of which have been asked before — but offer the potential for the player to come up with his own answers.  “Does the end justify the means?” the game asks.  And in my case, my answer is “No, not entirely — but it definitely makes a difference in the long run.”  “Is fighting inherently wrong?” the game asks.  “Well, no, it isn’t.  But pretending like it’s all a game and the people you’re fighting are just drones are doing everyone a disservice.”  And “Is it wrong to enjoy a good fight, even if — especially if — it gets violent?”  And I say “No, of course not; video games or otherwise, conflict and combat are ideas deeply entrenched in our minds.  What’s important is being able to control those violent impulses, and doing the right thing however and whenever you can.”

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And on that note, let’s talk about the boss battles for a bit.

They really are the highlight of the game.  They’re fast, they’re furious, and they rely on whatever skill and savvy you can muster.  Still, I’m positive that the reason they’re so fondly looked upon is because of the music that plays during them — songs designed to get your heart pumping, especially considering that the lyrics only kick in when you’ve done enough damage. It’s very easy to assume that the lyrics are supposed to represent the boss’ thoughts and voices, and in many respects that’s the case.  But even so, I have my own theory.

Once he tunes into their frequency, Raiden can hear the thoughts of cyborgs he’s about to cut down.  So what if during their duels, he ends up hearing the bosses’ thoughts and having them mix with his own?  What if their feelings and ideas are being forced inside his mind by virtue of them trading blows — two fighting spirits and wills melded into one another?

Now, hear me out on this.  I like the music in this game, but there’s a part of me that feels like the tracks are a little…well, juvenile.  Like they’re the kind of roaring declarations of freedom/rebellion you’d hear from Linkin Park or any number of songs used in the average Naruto AMV.  It skirts a dangerous line, but I think it’s a smart move; Raiden’s loss against Sam has pretty much knocked him into a state of internal flux, so it’s only natural that he tries to figure out who he is once more.  So in one sense, you can argue that the developers — and Christopherson — knew their audience.  In another, you could argue that the chaotic nature of these songs represents the clash.  Just listen carefully to the songs; in this case, let’s go with Mistral’s theme.

It’s a reflection of her nature, of course, and as you’d expect it has vocals spearheaded by a female vocalist.  But if you think about it, couldn’t these lyrics apply to Raiden just as well as Mistral?  If MGS4 is to be believed, Raiden could have stepped off the battlefield and lived with his wife and son in (relative) peace.  But he came back to fight and slash his way from one corner of the world to the next.  Why?  Because, arguably, “he finally found what he was looking for — a place where he can be without remorse.”  There’s an undeniable state of flux to each song, because he’s coming to grips with the fact that he’s not so different from the Desperado cyborgs.  In fact, the one time when the music is at its “calmest” is the final boss theme.  You’re more likely to perceive the song as something sung by Raiden instead of the burly last boss.  As for the lyrics…well…just listen for yourself.

(I just love this song so much)

I suspect that one of the greatest strengths of the game is its ability to stay memorable (fitting, considering the scoffed at micro-discussion on memes).  The moment-to-moment encounters are striking enough, especially when you meet a new enemy type for the first time and have to figure out how to beat it.  The boss battles are even more memorable, with the music just serving as the icing on the cake.  I won’t soon forget cutting a frozen Mistral, and accidentally leaving nothing but a pair of legs standing in place.  Nor will I forget parrying Monsoon’s smoke screen assault, one rapid blow after another.  Nor will I forget being able to break through Sundowner’s armor with some well-placed cuts, and slashing the big boss to pieces as he flew towards me.  Nor will I forget hitting Sam with my palm blasts, and realizing that in order to parry some of his attacks, I had to wait longer to input the command than usual.

And then there’s Senator Armstrong.

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Who’s Armstrong, you ask, o spoiler-loving reader?  Well, he’s the main baddie of the game — one who’s used all the turmoil up to this point (and more) to engineer a conflict and secure himself a spot as the new president.   Admittedly, it’s kind of a shaky plan — it almost feels like Armstrong’s borrowing from the Resident Evil school of thought where he’ll further his political goals by causing a global catastrophe — but it is defensible, in that he’s trying and somewhat succeeds in altering the American mindset.  Still, what people are going to remember is;

A) his “alpha-male” approach to life,

B) the savage beatdown he gives Raiden,

C) the insane boss fight that looks like it’s taking place in hell,

D) NANOMACHINES, SON, or

E) all of the above.

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Indeed, Armstrong has a marked presence on the end game, and his presence alone is enough to elevate MGR to a whole new level.  He’s a thematic fit in terms of gameplay (he relies solely on his technology and brute force to win, versus Raiden’s battle-honed skill) and in terms of story (he wants a world where the strong rule unchecked, and Raiden — in spite of fighting for the weak — is a worthy successor and kindred spirit).  But in spite of all that, there’s a bit of a problem with Armstrong.

And indeed, there are a few problems with the story in general.  Such as…

1) Who the hell is this guy?

It’s telegraphed relatively early that Armstrong is going to be the last boss — and even without the hints you can intuit that he’s the main villain, because videogames.  But in spite of his bombastic finish, he’s removed from a huge chunk of the action.  If this is what he’s like at the end of the game, can you imagine what would have been gained if he was there from the start?  I feel like the story would have been better served if Armstrong had a stronger presence…or at the very least, added a bit more allusion to the fact that he had his own giant hexapedal tank.  There is a counter to this, but then again it just highlights another potential problem.

 

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2) Sam could have been the last boss.

This should be obvious.  Sam is the one who shakes Raiden from the outset.  Sam is the one who continues messing with Raiden’s head and calling him out at opportune points.  There’s bad blood between them, and while they do get their grudge match later on, Sam could have served as a great endgame challenge; after all, he is something of an anti-Raiden (more than any other character, arguably, though the others do get to make the connection).  It just feels like a missed opportunity.

3) Raiden’s world tour bonanza!

My understanding of the Metal Gear franchise is that — barring MGS4 — they tend to take place in a single location and have most, if not all of their events take place there. MGR opts instead to have Raiden travel all over the world, with his jump from A to B becoming a plot point later on. It’s not exactly a full-on fault, but the movement from one location to another is a bit frenetic.  We’re in Africa!  Now we’re in Mexico!  Now we’re in Denver! I know the game is set up in an arcade-esque strong of fights, but it feels like a disservice to gloss over locales so quickly.

4) Uhhhhhh…

Uhhhh…that’s all I’ve got, really.  I mean, there are minor complaints that I could make, and issues I’ll notice in another playthrough, but as it stands I’m VERY satisfied with the finished product.

-1) We don’t know the Desperado bosses intimately…and that’s a good thing.

People have argued that these bosses come out of nowhere, are poorly explained, and vanish without as much as a pre-death monologue.  And there is some merit to that argument…buuuuuuuuut I think that in the grand scheme of things, it’s better this way.  Let’s set aside the fact that it’d add some unneeded fat to this very lean game.  Remember, these are soldiers meeting on the battlefield; there’s only a certain — maybe even superficial — level of sympathy we’re allowed to have for our enemies.  We’re right, they’re wrong, and our cause is the only one that matters.  Given that, isn’t it more appropriate to avoid dredging up too much information?

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But there’s another reason: sometimes less is more.  We don’t know a damn thing about Jetstream Sam when we meet him, and still don’t know a damn thing about him when he dies.  We can reason things about him, but everything else about him is shrouded in mystery.  So why is that a bad thing?  I say it’s good to have this enigmatic soldier who loves to fight standing in our way.  Once more, he highlights the difference between himself and Raiden, and serves the latter’s arc all the more; it’s the age-old struggle of will versus reason.  In this case (and with the other bosses to a lesser extent) there’s no reason to weigh that mystery down with backstory that’s ultimately pointless.  They’re going to be cut down, and what happened to them in the past won’t change anything.  And on that note…

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-2) Bladewolf is awesome.

…Actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with it.  I just figured I’d be doing wrong if I didn’t mention this guy.  And while we’re at it, thank you Platinum Games for making a black character who isn’t a wacky sidekick or a fight-happy wall of muscle.

And with all that said…

-3) This is a good game.

And more specifically, it’s a power fantasy.

There really is no way around it.  The fact that you’re playing as a one-eyed, feather-haired, super-strong cyborg ninja who at one point drifts his way through a city street should be an obvious tip-off.  And indeed, you are playing as an ultra-skilled badass who takes on several other ultra-skilled badasses in fights that wouldn’t be out of place in Shounen Jump.

But the reason why I like this game as much as I do is because it’s a GOOD power fantasy.  There are multiple levels of thought running underneath the surface, asking you to consider your actions and beliefs.  Raiden may be a radical cyborg, but he’s also a father who’s globetrotting the world instead of spending time with his son, occasionally indulging in his violent impulses and only just now realizing how much harm he’s done to the people who’ve stood in his way…and then continuing to fight because he knows he needs to carry on as much as the world needs a maverick ninja.  There are things that are being said and left unsaid, spoken and thought, that make this game more than just a chance to show off some flashy moves or peddle some dime-store philosophy.  This game — its writers, its developers, etc — had something to say, and communicated that with the means available to them with gusto.  It’s a game that you can not only enjoy on multiple levels, but find merit and satisfaction no matter how deep you feel like diving in.

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There’s an extremely telling moment in the last few minutes of the game.  Even though Raiden has beaten Armstrong, Desperado, and put a damper on the baddies’ plans, he’s still out there fighting for what he believes in — even if it does make him a killer.  He knows that the job isn’t done; he knows that beating the bad guy isn’t the be-all and end-all to a conspiracy that involved the harvesting of children’s brains.  He knows he has to keep on fighting.  He knows that there are going to be consequences, both because of what happened throughout the game and his own righteous kills.  He knows that it’s not over — as the song goes, “violence breeds violence, but in the end it has to be this way.”  In a sense, he’s growing up.  And that’s really all I could ask for out of games.

And I’ve gotten it.  I ask for challenging, impactful gameplay, and I got it.  I ask for thoughtful, meaningful scenarios, and I got it.  I ask for a tale that manages to weave in smarts and simplicity, spectacle and substance, savvy and spirit, and I got it.  And amidst it all, there’s no shortage of laughs to be had.  No shortage of joy, wonder, amazement, and genuinely good times, all wrapped into a short-but-sweet package.

So to that — all that and more — I say thank you.  Thank you, Kojima and pals.  Thank you, Platinum Games.  Thank you, Raiden.  Thank you, Metal Gear.  Thank you all for doing the one thing that any game, no matter what the style, no matter what the genre, should do.

You’ve made me happy.  Very, very happy.

2013-03-01


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Let it Rip! A (long) Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Review (Part 1)

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Even though I say “review” it’s more of a mix with retrospective. I first came upon this when it was first announced at E3, and like Final Fantasy versus 13 15, it was stuck in what one would call “development hell”, switching industry and waiting a long while until it finally got released. And yes I got the eu limited edition, getting me this baby:

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So, what did I think about the game?

It’s great. go play it.

What you want more delicious words? Okay. If you say so…

The game industry have changed a bit during these recent years, sometimes to better and sometimes to the worse. Like the “console wars”, which in my opinion is ridiculous. You should be able to play what you want on what console you want without having some pricks screw you over about it. (or you could just play on a pc, but that’s not the point here.) What I mean to say is that the game industry, or hell even “gaming” itself have changed a lot during these years. People have different opinions on what games are good, which ones are bad, but the truth is everyone have different tastes, and I feel as though people (like game critics) seem to forget about it. Just beacuse YOU think a game is bad, doesnt mean it’s bad, it just didn’t suit your tastes. Making people completely missing the point of what games is about, TO ENJOY PLAYING IT, and preferebly without having twats ruining that experience.

Now, I’m not going to say that “the game industry is DOOMED!” (yet) beacuse even if there is a lot to complain about…a whole lot to complain about…there will always be gems. There will always be games that excel, and succeed, and offer more than just “par for the course” while the actual score required gets lower and lower. What I’m getting at here is that there are games that still appeal to me. There are problems with the industry as it, but all it takes is one sparkling gem to put my mind at ease.

Which brings me to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

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Now before I begin, I want to make a few things clear. First off, no, Revengeance is not a perfect game. No such thing exists. I’ll gladly admit that it’s a great game, and has many, many, many elements that make it a great game. But is it really the revelation that the game industry needs? Is it a miracle in it’s own right, capable of dispelling all cynicism and feelings of betrayal? Well…that’s debatable. But I don’t think I can stress enough how good of a game this is regardless.

Quality issues — or lack thereof — aside, the reason I keep saying things like “get this game” and “go play it” is beacuse I believe in something called “the gamer’s duty”. There are just some games that have to be bought and played, and (preferably) enjoyed, beacuse they’re very important — not just for player satisfaction or sending a message to the industry, although those things help. No, I feel as if certain games can help further everyone on every level of the ladder, just by virtue of offering something… well, let’s call it “special”. Simply put, a game required for play by the gamer’s duty is one that furthers the idea of what a game can be…or in some cases, SHOULD be.

I’m sure a lot of you guys have your own examples in mind of what games are part of your gamer’s duty. I do too. Catherine is one of my examples — stylish, different, difficult, and an Atlus game, it was pretty much a requirement. I was rewarded justly…though I pretty much saw that one coming moths beforehand.

In any case, I wanted to congratulate Atlus for a job well done, and proving something to the gaming world. And thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Catherine went on to become one of Atlus’ best selling games to date, and has gotten no shortage of praise. Awesome!

We could sit in a circle and argue which developers have been doing the best job for ages, and who deserves the most praise.

What about Platinum Games?

I won’t say that any of the games they released are perfect either, but the common thread between titles like Bayonetta, Vanquish, Revengeance, and others is that they’re all inherently game-ass games — inherently simple and natural titles that put the forefront of effort (and excellence) on creating unique but unduly satisfying treat for the player. No bullshit, just you and the game.
But enough about that, let’s get back on topic.
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Beware of spoilers of pretty much THE ENTIRE GAME!
You have been warned.
Part 1: Gameplay
Let’s start with a bit of a context. If you haven’t heard, MGR put players in control of everyone’s favorite Silver-haired bishounen cyborg soldier Raiden, who’s out to get his vengeance (sort of), while fighting the bad guys (sort of), We’ll save the story for later on, so let’s focus on the gameplay for now. Like most action games, you’ll pretty much be progressing from one arena to the next — seeing a few sequences — fighting your way towards a boss fight or the next sequence in the story. Pretty basic.
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Where things get interesting is in the actual combat system. Square and Triangle give you access to light and heavy attacks, as usual. X is to jump, Circle is used for context-sensitive actions. Pretty standard. But R1 gives you access to the Ninja Run, Letting you move extremly quickly through a stage, often with acrobatic flair. It’s been compared to the style of Assassin’s Creed, and I see the similarities; as long as you’re holding the button you can not only scale buildings and platforms quickly, but slide under and leap through certain obstacles. It’s a tool that has its uses for getting around — and automatically lets you deflect bullets — but also has some combat applications. Sometimes you just need to get the hell out of something; that said, you can use it offensively as well. Hitting Square repeatedly during the Ninja Run lets you get a little slash-happy, letting you circle around and slice into enemies. Hitting Triangle will send you into a low slide, knocking some enemies off their feet, and of course letting you start mount your offense against heavier dudes.
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Where things get REALLY interesting is Blade Mode, the defining tool of MGR. Hold down L1 button, and you’ll be able to manually control the swipes of Raiden’s sword. Square does horizontal swipes, Triangle does vertical, and using a combination of the left and right stick you control the position, direction, and execution of your slashes. This is more than just a way to introduce extreme levels of violence into the game. Outside of the occasional item (that’ll activate automatically when your CHEEKS OF JUSTICE are getting served to you on a platter), the only way for Raiden to regain health — the ONLY way — is to use Blade Mode to cut out an eneme’s weak point, hit circle and harvest their spines. Or sacks of electrolytes and nanopaste. Or glowy bits. Cyber-biology is weird.
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In any case, Blade Mode is a defining mechanic. But even so, you can’t just rush in, hold R1, and mash buttons to cut your enemies in slow motion. That might let you kill one enemy, maybe, but thinking to yourself “imma go boosh-boosh-boosh all over these goofs” is a surefire way to have your CHEEKS OF JUSTICE torn apart. You only get the slow-mo version of Blade Mode if your meter is sufficiently-charged; even then, you can still take hits. You still have to position yourself accordingly, or you’ll jsut swiping at thin air and leaving yourself open to counterattack. You’re taught very quickly that Blade Mode is not the be-all, end-all weapon, beacuse some enemies — bosses among them — will either shrug off your blows, or dodge them entirely. (Still doesn’t make it any less cool, though.)
Okay, so what can you do, then? The answer, I think, is what makes MGR such a remarkable game, and even feeds intro the story’s themes a bit.
You do whatever you have to in order to survive.
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Offense is a very important of MGR, as it should be. What’s special is this game demands that you know when and how to use your defensive moves as needed. If you don’t, you WILL die. And it’s not just knowing which buttons to press either. You have to careful of your surroundings and knowing when to do what in the right situation.
But that’s the key to MGR: you’re not only given tools to play with, but you have to learn how and when to use those tools. The difficulty doesn’t (usually) come from cheap shots or other things, but beacuse you, the player, didn’t act accordingly. And that’s the way it should be. It adds pressure. It keeps you on your toes. It drives you not just to some awesome combos, but the flow and appications of the battle. It reinforces you the idea that, while you are a badass, you’re also vulnerable. Learning attacks patterns so you can use the right move at just the right time, using a counterattack — and more than likely, the killing blow.
In a way, you can almost think of MGR as a puzzle game as much as an action game. This was something I’d been thinking since playing the demo: “If I can hack off enemy limbs with blade mode, then what else can I do with it? Cut off their legs so they can’t charge at me?” And to my surprise, it actually ends up getting carried through to the finished product.
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You’ll start encountering cyber-gorillas in the sewer level (yeah, there’s a sewer level, though it’s mercifully brief), and just as you’d expect they can do loads of damage to you if you’re not careful.  They’ve got a load of attacks, like climbing on walls and launching themselves toward you, ground pounds, and their favorite tactic, rushing at you to seize you in a grab.  But here’s the thing: there’s a commonality between all those attacks.  They all require the use of arms.  So what you can do is dodge left or right to escape the grab, start attacking, and when the gorilla tries to attack you with a spinning back fist, you parry.  That should leave it wide open for attacks, but if you go into Blade Mode it’ll try to defend.  Big mistake; it leaves its arms vulnerable to your high-frequency blade, and with a few horizontal slashes you can chop them right off.  Now the gorilla only has one possible attack — a devil-may-care drop kick — instead of several, making it phenomenally easier to fight and counterattack.

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It’s that level of application that makes Blade Mode more than just a gimmick, and more than just a get-out-of-jail-free card.  It’s a tool to be used as needed, requiring a level of savvy and adaption — or learning, if you prefer — to have you turn battles into both a tactical as well as visceral affair.  Parrying isn’t a one-and-done affair; there are plenty of enemies, even basic grunts, who’ll keep attacking with their combo strings…and if you don’t parry those, you’re guaranteed to take a hammer to the face.  If you don’t learn how to deal with a Gekko’s attacks, you’ll get stomped, roundhouse-kicked, and lashed about.  You need to figure out how to bring a helicopter down, how to save yourself from aerial combos, how to parry both fast AND slow attacks, and even when it’s a good idea to spring into a fight or use stealth.  The skirmishes are problems to be solved; you have all the tools you need.  It’s just a matter of using them as you see fit, in accordance with your ever-increasing skill and savvy.

There’s some intelligent design on display here, and it’s what lets me believe that MGR is one of the best action games to come out in a good while.  But even so, I feel as if the combat is kind of messy…a good kind of messy, if you can believe that.

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First off, there is a move list in the game, but in the heat of battle it’s way too easy to get swept into a button-mashing frenzy.  You can use some finesse, and the game certainly allows for some beautiful combos, but you can’t help but get into that wild fever.  (And as my brother noted in the demo, rapidly tapping Square will make Raiden do a sort of infinite combo where he cuts his way from one end of the street to another; whether or not that’s still in the full game, I’ve yet to see.)  In theory, this is the kind of thing that would make the game worse; in practice, it’s just a facet of the game that does no harm.

Like I said, this game puts a heavy emphasis on defense — and that’s especially true, given the inputs for your defensive options.  Parrying is done not with a dedicated button, but by pressing the stick toward an enemy and Square as they attack.  It takes some getting used to at first, but there’s a hidden benefit to it: go into a parry stance, and you’re unable to attack unless the parry’s successful or you mistimed and get walloped.  It’s a sneaky way of forcing the player to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to the action, while keeping the focus on a smart but simple offense.  (On that note, I feel like you’re more likely to score a successful Zandatsu if you aim and use a single strike, instead of mashing and waiting for some queue.)

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The second point is that in terms of “feel”, this is one of the best games I’ve played in a while. Audiovisual tricks can be used to create a sense of speed and weight, and make those flashy moves all the more meaningful.  When you parry an attack in this game, it’s not just a wimpy sparkle — it’s this heaving, booming blow that’s accompanied by distortions and voltage.  A successful Zandatsu feels like a thunder strike, reinforcing the idea that you’ve done well (among other things, but I’ll get to that another day).  One of the moves you can unlock — and easily, at that — is a palm strike that is nothing short of a cannon blast…quite literally, considering that it was one of my go-to moves for sending foes, bosses included, flying.  Raiden may be a speedy one, but he’s packing huge amounts of power into that lean sexy cyborg body.  And you feel it every step of the way.  If you’re not getting a sense of the impact factor in regular fights, then I guarantee you that when you get to one of the later bosses, you will…though that might be because you’re the one getting your CHEEKS OF JUSTICE pounded.

Now, I’ll admit that one of my worries for the game prior to release was that the environments would be kind of bland. And then comes MGR with its war-torn environments that wouldn’t be too out of place in a Call of Duty game.  And having played it…well, yeah, that’s what they are.  Either that, or something out of Vanquish.

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It’s not an entirely washed-out palate, and there is a bit of variation in the area types — including a section that wouldn’t look out of place in Onimusha — but if you’re looking for the over-the-top worlds of Limbo, you’d best look somewhere else.  Rather appropriately, it’s more along the lines of MGS4 than anything else, so if you hated that game’s style you won’t have much to change your mind here.  I will say that there is, relatively speaking, a cleanliness to the areas; it’s hard to nail down for sure, but the graphical style is decidedly Japanese, which helps freshen up the familiarity of Urban War Zone #652.  I suppose it helps that not every area looks dilapidated; you even visit a well-off city and office building.  (Whether or not they stay well-off, however, is up in the air.)

Still, I think that overall the game is an audiovisual success — especially when the action reaches a hot tempo.

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Okay, that’s a crap-ton of praise to heap on a game.  So what’s wrong with it?  Why isn’t it perfect?  Well, there are a few reasons — and if you play this game for yourself (as you should), you’ll probably find your own.  But there are a couple of issues that I can think of.  Such as…

 

1) There is a lock-on function (thank God), but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

It just makes so much of a difference having this thing in the game.

Anyway, targeting a single opponent is done with the push of a button, and you can cycle from one target to the next with the right stick.  Ideally, that should be the end of it, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not as good as it could be.  In the heat of battle, it’s very easy to forget that you even CAN cycle through targets, and the fact that you’ve got to take your thumb off the face buttons and toggle means that you might be setting yourself up for a fall.  To be fair, you can do well enough without it, and it WILL help you deal with flying enemies, but the lock-on function — and the camera in general (Like ALL OTHER GAMES OUT THERE EVER.)– could have used a bit more tweaking so that I could switch from the bruiser in my face to the RPG-toting goon in the distance.

 

2) The special weapons’ usefulness is debatable.

Each time you beat a boss (well, one of the main ones), you’ll get to use their weapon as your own.  Of the three, I’d argue that the polearm is the best, because it’s essentially a longer version of Raiden’s sword.  The sai has its uses — it makes fighting flying enemies a breeze — but I’ve yet to find it useful in terms of combos.  The third weapon…well, let’s just call it “the big boy swords” and leave it at that.  Frankly, it’s so slow and unwieldy that I’m afraid to use it.  Though all three could have their extended uses on another playthrough.

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Still, it’s worth mentioning that when you equip one of these, it takes the place of your Triangle attack.  I think it’s kind of odd that it’d be put on the same slot as one of your most vital offensive tools when it could have just as easily been mapped to Circle.  And you have to stop the action and enter a menu to equip it, so if you’re expecting real-time weapon change, you’ll be disappointed.  Even beyond that, I’m starting to wonder why you’d even try anything else when the sword does its job remarkably well — not to mention the moves it lets you use.

 

3) Get ready for a bit of trial and error.

I still stand by the fact that you have to learn enemy attack patterns if you want to succeed, but there’s a catch.  Sometimes, the only way you learn what to do is after you’ve gotten your CHEEKS OF JUSTICE kicked.  So if you’re not the patient type, or someone who wants to succeed without ever getting hit, this is not the game for you.  You have to be willing to figure out how to handle each enemy — solving the puzzle, if you will — but doing so may often require you to take a boot to the face.  Thankfully your health items will activate automatically if you’re about to die, but you’d better be ready to go through a few of them until you’ve got their attack patterns down.

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It’s also worth noting that sometimes, there’s no telling whether fighting without stealth is a good idea or a bad idea.  More often than not, the stealth sections — while more than competent — are inconsequential, especially when you can slaughter plenty of foes.  But then there are some moments where you’ll get detected, and the next thing you know you’re getting bullied by three burly dudes and their three pet cyber-gorillas.  And then you realize that maybe you should try acting like a real ninja for once.

 

4) Hope you’re good at crowd control.

This ties in a bit with the lock-on, but outside of a couple of moves Raiden does almost all of his damage to a single target.  I guess it’s counterbalanced by being able to almost instantly kill a good number of enemies, but if you’re getting swarmed by dudes and they’re packed in close enough, you’re in for a rough time.  This is, admittedly, a part of the strategy — you have to know how to handle each fight individually, or find ways to separate them — but if you get pinned down by dudes, you’re dead meat.  (Dead meat?  Dead gears?  Dead sprockets?  Urgh, cyborg anatomy…)

There is always the possibility for you to use your other items — rocket launchers, grenades, and the like — but come on.  Are you really going to let that sword of yours gather dust?

 

5) Screwing up those set piece moments is annoyingly easy.

Early in the game, there’s a sequence where Raiden gets flung onto a clock tower by a Metal Gear.  But that doesn’t stop him for long; he just starts running down it, charging fearlessly toward the mad machine as it fires it laser and — whoops, game over.

I appreciate the injection of some variety and truly absurd moments into a game already full of absurd moments, but the coolness factor gets taken to the back shed if you take a hit and die instantly…sometimes because you don’t even know what you’re supposed to be doing or what to expect.  There’s a sequence later on where you get to fly on a bird-like enemy, but you’re going so fast that trying to move puts you at extreme risk of getting hit by fallen debris, dying instantly, and having to start over.  These sequences are fortunately few and far between, and they’re more than manageable.  I just wish success didn’t come down to a combination of not-blinking and vague clairvoyance.

And…well, that’s about it.  Those are all the issues I’ve got — and even then, none of them are all that detrimental when you get down to it.  This is just a fantastic game, into about five hours’ time.  Many people have decried the length, but I dare you to play this game once and absolutely refuse to ever touch it again.  You won’t be able to.  You want to feel the pulse of battle, to test your wits and your skills against foes that would love to see you stamped underfoot.  You have to see what you’ll encounter next, and what powers you’ll harness to grasp victory.  You have to — you just HAVE to make it to that final boss.

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MGR is an important game.  Very important. It hearkens back to the days when boss fights used to mean something.  It puts a revived emphasis on challenge and thought.  It’s a rip-roaring adventure that’ll make you reel in shock, and then have you leaning forward at mach speed as you revel in the sheer absurdity of it all.  It functions.  It flows.  It even feels.

This isn’t just a game.  It’s a game-ass game.

And I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.

But I’ll save that for next time.  Right now, I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack (yet another important facet of good but easily-forgotten game design).  It’s great, and part of the reason why the boss fights are an absolute delight.  Here’s my favorite of the bunch:

And that’ll do it for now.  See you guys soon; make sure you’re charged up for next time, because this review is just getting started.  Keep the music in mind, though, because that might be a key point next time.

Time to let it rip.  On to Part 2!