A Fallout Intermission

Hey guys, guess what?  We’re going to be at Level 3 in our Fallout run pretty soon!  That means we’re going to be getting our first perk.  And guess what else?  I’m going to be needing some audience participation for that, too.

So here’s the deal.  Every three levels, we’ll get to add a perk to our character.  Perks are, basically, permanent bonuses.  We have to meet prerequisites for them, so we don’t get to just choose any of the ones the game has to offer, but we should always have a decent selection to pick from.  Our potential list will grow every time we get a new one, as well.

In any case, our little Athena’s growing up.  She’s starting to learn things out in the wasteland.  As this is part of the character creation, I’d like your help in figuring out how Athena is going to better herself.

Our choices this next level up are going to be:

Awareness, which lets us see a targets hit points, equipped weapon, and remaining ammo just by looking at them.  It’s a really handy utility perk, and I like having it to help with decision making in battles.

Earlier Sequence, which is a really hokey way of saying that our turn will come up earlier.  Athena’s really perceptive, so her sequence is really early anyways and this would have limited overall utility, but picking this would ensure that outside of the combat initiator, almost nobody gets to move before Athena does.

Night Vision.  So this is an interesting one.  By description, this just brightens up the screen when we’re in dark areas, and I have never in my life chosen this perk, because I know where the brightness knob is on my monitor.  However, as I’m reading up on it now, the Fallout wiki reports that it also provides an increase to accuracy to counteract the ranged penalty for fighting in a dark area.  Don’t know why the game doesn’t bother to mention that.  Given that Athena’s a Night Person, and as such, I’m going to be fighting at night whenever I get the option, that bonus is pretty attractive, if true.

With Presence, NPCs will be more slightly more inclined to like Athena even before she starts talking to them.  So it will make our Athena even more like the real Athena.

Quick Pockets reduces the cost for accessing our inventory in the middle of combat by 1.  I believe it usually costs 4 AP, so this will drop it from there.  Accessing our inventory lets us change our equipment, reload, heal as much as we want, and use things we don’t have at the ready.  The further we go in the game, the more I’ll be opening up the inventory to pop a couple of stimpaks at a time.  Frankly, I’ve always found this to be the most useful of the perks you have access to at level 3.

Right now, our world map is largely black, because Athena doesn’t know where much of anything is. It’s revealed as we travel. If we picked Scout as our perk, we’d be able to reveal more of the map as we travel, as Athena would be able to say farther in the distance.  Could be useful if you find yourself getting lost on the map, but I’ve played the game enough that I know my way around.  This would have a minimal impact on my play.

Smooth Talker would allow Athena to use dialogue options that require a little more intelligence than she has.  However, Athena already has a genius level intellect.  Her intelligence does go down during the day, so this could keep people from realizing that she only truly wakes up after she has a cup or eight of coffee, but even at her worst, she’s smarter than your average wastelander.

So yeah, there’s our options!  In what ways shall Athena improve?  Her destiny is in your hands!  Vote in the comments!

 

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Snap Judgments: Persona 5

Everyone who knows I play, which is a lot less people in my personal life than one might think, have been asking me about Mass Effect Andromeda.  Figuring I would have pounced all over it.  I have had to keep reminding them that although I’m not disinterested, there’s another game that my heart already belongs to, coming out at right about the same time.  And although I’ve got a lot of love to go around, in this case, I’m wanting to take the time.  Make myself a commitment, at least for a while.

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Persona 5.  I have been looking forward to this game like none other.  At least looking  forward in the sense that I totally consumed the first couple trailers they put out years ago, then avoided every single piece of content about the game since in the hopes of protecting my precious virgin experience.  I like to play hard to get.

It came out yesterday.  I’ve spent most of my free time since it came into my hands with this little beauty here.  And, it’s so rare that I play a game when it’s so fresh that I thought I’d make note of the occasion and record my thoughts so far.  In brief, though.  The more time I spend here is the less time I spend playing Persona 5.

So, a bit of book keeping up front, I’m 5 and a half hours into the game so far.  So this might have spoilers for that bit of it.  Outside of that, though, nothing.  And really, that 5 and a half hours is still the intro.

Persona 5 has a slow paced start.  So did Persona 4, and 5 is a bit faster paced than that, but even so, outside of the en media res opening, it still takes a good hour before you’re getting into any action.  So, you know, be ready for that.

Although it is also possible to lose the game before it actually starts, just by answering the first question incorrectly.  That was pretty fun, actually.

The big things that stand out to me about Persona 5 is just how messed up the game world is.  Even before the series started exploring the social aspects between characters, that’s always been a big feature, seeing how the supernatural junk you’re fighting impacts the day to day life of what should be an otherwise normal town/city.  In Persona 5, whatever’s going on seems to be hitting the town hard.  Every single adult you run into is a total piece of trash.  Completely self-focused, all your interactions with them center on how much they would rather be without you, and none of them seem to have a single care for anyone else around them outside of doing their jobs.  All your playable characters are the subjects of some nasty rumors and the derision of their peers.  The city is plagued with people just randomly losing their mind, and most people only care about how it affects them.  If this wasn’t so total, you could take it as just a part of the ‘oppressive order vs. emancipation’ theme they’ve been pushing since the first trailers, but the fact that the city gets so dour, there’s definitely something more going on there.

Your Personae are unexpectedly dark as well.  Whereas previously, they found strength in your self-assurance, and were based in the faces you put on to interact with the rest of the world, in this entry, your personae are based in your rebellion against the rest of the world, and call upon your hatred and lust for vengeance for strength.  I don’t know if it’s forthcoming, but I’d be really interested in seeing an explanation for that.  Philemon’s still hanging around, and although Igor seems a bit changed, he’s still the one managing your Personae for you, so it seems they’re at least closely related to the old personae, but still, there’s a pretty clear difference here.   Likewise, the real-world source of your personae have changed.  Whereas the leading personae used to be drawn from mythology and folklore from a specific nation, here, they seem to come from fiction and history from all over Western Europe.

That most assuredly center’s around the otherworld of this game, the Metaverse.  You travel between the real world and the Metaverse by means of a cell phone app OF DOOM.  In said Metaverse, you find ‘Palaces’ who have ‘Rulers’ which are the shadows of people in the real world.  Shadows, as you may remember from 2 and 4 or if you know Jungian Psychology, are the repressed parts of the personality that a person will refuse to recognize in themselves.  In the Persona-verse, if a shadow gets strong enough from a single person, they can take a form of their own.  To be honest, the shadows were some of the narratively deepest parts of Persona 4, so I’m glad to see them get some more play here.  At least judging by the only shadow I’ve encountered so far, they’re going to be based on more than just your party members this game.  They can seemingly impact the behaviour of their real-world counterparts as well, possibly explaining why everyone in the real world is such garbage.

The Metaverse itself is heavily based in perception and belief.  Regions get altered in the Metaverse based on the perceptions of strong personalities in the real world.  To use the only example I’ve run across so far, an overpowering teacher’s view of his school turns the school in the Metaverse into a castle with his shadow as king.  A pretty direct metaphor, there.  Toy weapons work just fine in the Metaverse if they look real enough, because their targets believe they’re real, and as a result, an airsoft store turns into your armory.  This gives me HUGE flashbacks to Persona 2, in which if enough people believed something, it would change reality to make it true.  I’m kind of interested if that callback will actually come to fruit.

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The mechanics of this game are going to be very familiar if you’ve played Persona 3 and/or 4.  It’s obviously running off of the same design, although it does work in some refinements.  Some might justifiably take issue with the fact that the gameplay is largely the same as it used to be even after a 9-year gap between major releases.  I’m cool with that, though, largely because 1) Persona 4 was a masterpiece and I would gladly take more of that and 2) there’s nobody else who’s delivering the type of experience Persona does, so the model has not been spoiled or even really advanced in the interim.  Your mileage may vary on that front.

One of the few major shifts in gameplay mechanics comes in the form of dungeon design.  Namely, that there actually is some now.  I am excited for this.  Persona 3 and 4 had procedurally generated dungeons, which is almost never a recipe for compelling gameplay.  Now, at least in this first area, we’re getting premade dungeons.  I’m a little hesitant about this, because even at their best, the SMT series has never had great dungeons, but it’s still sure to be better than the randomly generated ones of the past two games.  The initial ones show some promise, playing into the stealth mechanics the game uses.  It puts a lot more weight on sneaking up on enemies and starting the fight from behind them than did previous games, and I got a lot more use out of obstacles, corners, and other dungeon features than I have in previous SMT games, so yeah, good signs here.

A lot of the renovations to the gameplay of Persona 5 seem to be drawing back from the mainline SMT series.  Once again, you have your player characters wielding both melee weapons and guns, which has been a mainstay of most of the Megami Tensei franchise but has been absent in the Persona series since the first game.  Demon negotiation is back, and it uses the classic Shin Megami Tensei call-and-response model rather than the activity/emotions system that the older Persona games used when they still had demon negotiation.  For that matter, I find it really interesting that the enemy shadows are now the traditional Shin Megami Tensei demons that had recently been only showing up as your personae, rather than the unique tarot-based shadows of the past two games.  In fact, that’s how you gain new personae, you talk to the demons once you’ve knocked them all down and remind them that they’re personae, and not shadows.  Given that these shadows are a part of the collective unconscious, and that assuming Persona 5 directly follows from Persona 4 it’s part of the same timeline as Shin Megami Tensei If…, the present-day Devil Summoner games, Persona 1 and the second half of Persona 2, in which these demons were running rampant all over the real world, well, it makes the Wild Fiction Theorizer part of me want to get busy.

While I’m in that vein, it’s not a gameplay feature, but the Persona series is set in Tokyo for the first time.  SMT games usually are, but the Persona series has avoided that thus far, preferring to go towards fictional cities and towns instead.  I find myself wondering if there’s going to something coming out of that.

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I haven’t gone into the plot long enough to make a good judgment on it, but I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.  It’s definitely one of those stories that’s going to take a while to come to fruition, so not wowing me yet, but I can see the same things that made me fall so in love with Persona 4 at play here.  I’m interested in seeing how it rolls out.  Themes of control, imprisonment, and crime are very strong, here.  The early marketing for this game promised that the story would be about breaking free from the imprisonments of the social order, and although I haven’t really picked up on that so far, I can see how theming that we’ve been given so far could translate into that pretty easily as the series progresses.  Thieves are heroes, authority figures are evil, and you need to save the world by criming.  I’m into the characterization, too.  I’d better be, because that’s been the strongest part of the series’s writing since the turn of the millennium.  Again, not been spending enough time to see things come to fruition yet, but I can see the promise there, so far.  I do find myself getting waaay too much of Morgana, the game’s mascot character, already, however.  So far, he acts like the bratty know-it-all you’ve seen in too many video game children so far.  I could turn around on him, I did on Teddie my first time through P4, but, you know, sooner would be better than later.

There is one big problem I’ve had with my time so far.  It’s something that’s not going to carry through the whole game, but I’ve been absolutely writhing underneath it.  The game has those tutorial rails on HARD.  Five and a half hours in, and I really don’t feel like the game has truly given me control.  You’re put in a whole new area that’s obviously deep and active and it won’t let you see a single inch of it that you’re not supposed to.  The game dictates where you go and when, which parts of the dungeon you see and when you have to leave, and so, so much of what you can’t do right now.  There have been a lot of times where I’ve wanted to go a direction the game wasn’t comfortable with me going yet, checking out a new store or some such, and I got the whole ‘you can’t get ye flask’ deal.  Every where I go, I’ve been running into limitations because the plots in a different area or the game hasn’t told me what to do yet.  And when it does tell me what to do, it will brook no disagreement.  I was forced to sacrifice my strongest persona because the game decided it was time to teach me about fusion even though I have played literally two dozen SMT games with that mechanic, and the only fusions I had available at my level involved that one persona.  Look.  I know I’m pretty, and some people think it’s impossible to have both looks and brains, but I’ve been around for a while.  I’ve played a game or two.  I know how to do it.  It feels so, so much like someone’s trying to teach me to walk like a baby when I’m capable of running a marathon.  It’s the biggest leech of fun in what should otherwise be a great experience.

So yeah, there’s my thoughts on this brand new part of my library.  To be honest, this game’s predecessors have meant so much to me that I’m almost certain to enjoy it even it’s a heaping pile of crap, so my objectivity is pretty busted, here.  Even so, I’ve been liking my time with it.  Brings a lot of the good from earlier in the series, draws on a lot of classic features, while the writing and characters seem poised to reach the heights that have been established by that which came before.  I’m liking it, even with that big tutorial tarnish.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear something calling to me.

The Higurashi Notes: Chapter 2 Watanagashi-Overview

It’s time again. We’ve been going too long, without massively overthinking anything. I have no excuse. I just haven’t been feeling myself, really. But it’s time to correct that. It’s time to do what I do best. And apparently what I do best is throw way too many word into loosely organized blog posts for my own intellectual satisfaction that nobody else is going to care about.

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We’re finally getting around to taking our good, long, deep look at the second chapter of Higurashi. Deal’s pretty much the same as last time. Going to be analyzing this work in as much depth as I’m capable of mustering while still amusing myself. Going to have full spoilers for both this chapter and Chapter 1: Onikakushi, but we’ll be spoiler free for any of the later entries. Savvy? Let’s go.

The Bird’s Eye View

Recall, if you will, the end of Onikakushi. If you missed our run on it, here’s a quick spoiler: everyone dies. Keiichi, all his friends, probably a few puppies, it was all horrible and really tragic.

The second chapter, Watanagashi, leads off in a really odd position. We’re back in Keiichi’s shoes. He’s off to go visit all his friends. After all the horrors, the paranoia, the brutal murders of last time, everybody’s happy and having fun together like nothing ever happened. Because, in Watanagashi, nothing ever happened. Maybe.

The story this chapter starts at a point in time maybe a few weeks or so after Onikakushi started, well before everything started going to hell. There was no paranoia, no demons/possessions/insanity, no murders. Keiichi’s already met his friends and been part of their game club for a while, but aside from that, we’re starting completely fresh. We have been teleported back in time to when everything was happy and nobody was planning anybody’s bloody demise.

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Except it’s not just us taking a look at a different point of time. Not just giving us a different perspective of the same events. The record hit a scratch, and needed to be reset, but now it’s taking us through a whole different progression of events. It seems that things were the same as Onikakushi in the background, but once you hit the point at which the novel starts showing you the plot, things start progressing differently. Moreover, it’s somewhat clear that the events of Onikakushi happened, even if nobody involved may remember it. Several times, Keiichi encountered something that would be familiar to all of us from the previous chapter, only to feel some sense of misgiving that he can’t explain.

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Watanagashi introduces one new leading character in Shion, the estranged (maybe) twin sister of Mion, who we know so well from our previous adventures. It takes a bit of a different focus than Onikakushi as well, in that where the first chapter was largely focused on Rena and her background, this chapter puts the spotlight on Mion, Shion, and through them the whole Sonozaki family. It’s also more externally focused, as well. Keiichi may still be our viewpoint character, but here, he’s a lot more of a supportive character for the others, doing the dumb things so that their stories can be told, than he was in the latest chapter.

Watanagashi also does something that I find very interesting. So a lot of the plot of the whole Higurashi series is driven by the mystery behind it. Why are all these people being killed, how is that happening, what is up with all the maybe-supernatural stuff there? Watanagashi has an answer to all that. One of the characters ends up confessing to all of it, you see some of the corpses, and have an explanation for some of the methods in which they died. It’s all done by people, no real supernatural involvement here. Really, if you take this chapter’s explanation for it, it’s all pretty open and shut.

So Watanagashi has an explanation for it all, eh? Then, why is this still one of the “question arcs”? Why are there still like 20 chapters to go after it? Yeah, that explanation only works on face level. As the OOC after party points out, it’s full of holes, and at most only really explains that year’s deaths and murders, not the ones prior to it. It’s never made completely clear within the plot itself, but really, that’s my favorite thing about the way the Higurashi story is told; that it has enough faith in the reader’s ability to figure things out that it doesn’t put a big neon sign on all the things it wants you to notice. It makes the whole story feel deeper, because it does expect you to be connecting those strings of logic, but always gives you all the tools you need to do so. It is really fascinating, though. It gives you an answer, but the way they deliver it, that answer only leads to more questions.

The second of anything in a series has a pretty big responsibility. Sure, it’s the first game, movie, book, whatever that first puts the paint on the canvas, that establish the basics of what that series is going to be, but it’s the second entry that establishes the patterns that determine the series’ overall identity. It’s no wonder that the second entry is often considered the best one. Suikoden 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, Resident Evil 2, Silent Hill 2, with good reason, a series often tends to reach it’s high point of critical acclaim with its second offering. Higurashi’s creators knew the creative position they were in going into Watanagashi, and they made full use of it. Watanagashi is the largest chapter of all the question arcs, and in some aspects, one of the deepest. Now that we’ve got all the introductions out of the way, and knowing that any readers are going to be suspicious and wary going in after their expectations were set last time, Watanagashi has a lot more room to deliver complexity while still setting further expectations and mystery for the future chapters. Just an example, this chapter’s only a few hours longer than the previous ones, but even so, my notes for this ended up running twice as long as my notes for Onikakushi.

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Part of that is just in a lack of an ability to trust. Which is turning into a big theme for this series. Onikakushi saw Keiichi’s friends turning against him, Keiichi himself became an unreliable narrator, and, as I pointed out, the one seemingly reliable source of help was very, very suspect. In Watanagashi, Keiichi at least seems to be much more reliable of a narrator, but aside from that, it’s hard to trust in all the information you receive. Last time, that was because you couldn’t trust the people that was being filtered through, which is still the case here, but there’s an added layer, in that a lot of that information is going to be just plain wrong. A lot of the background info, you’re given a few perspectives that are a bit contradictory, conjecture presented as the closest thing you have for a fact, or with a layer of bias on there. Even coming from sources that you can be reasonably confident don’t have much in the way of ill intent, a lot of the information you’re given in this game is just flat out wrong. You’re given clues that it’s wrong, but it still makes it more of a challenge to dig through the facts you’re presented with.

Overall, the story, the mystery, seems to really open up in this chapter. Which once again, I really have to commend the writers for actually making the story broader while the content would seem to be narrowing it down by giving ‘answers’ to those mysteries. This also seems to be the entry where the Higurashi series really settles into what it is. So here, we’re going to spend way too many words that probably nobody’s going to read exploring it. I’m looking forwards to it.