On Shin Megami Tensei

Athena over at AmbiGaming had posed the question recently. What’s a game you love but never talk about? I recently started replaying it again, so it was a pretty easy answer for me. Shin Megami Tensei. I’ve talked about other games in the series, some of them at length, but I don’t really talk about the Super Famicom original all that much. That got me thinking. Well, everything gets me thinking because my brain is just so big from knowing so much stuff, but that got me thinking specifically about this game. Maybe it’s time to correct that whole not talking about this game thing. Let’s talk about Shin Megami Tensei.

You might know the Megami Tensei series. The majority of the releases for the past decade and a half have seen western soils. Outside of the Persona series, they’re not really hitting mainstream attention, but they still draw plenty of their own groups to them. They series as a whole is known for a lot of things. Mixing a lot of recognizable figures from religion, mythology, and folklore, and letting you fight/ally yourself with them. Being really hard. Having God as the big bad guy. Or, back in the old days, being a classic JRPG series that never had a hope of being marketed to America through NOA’s content policies.

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That last one is how I first came across the game. The Megami Tensei series is one of my favorite ones. It was Persona 4 that introduced me to a lot of it, showed me magic and convinced me to dive in deeper, but my introduction to the series actually came years earlier with this game. Back when I was a cub, I had a friend. I know, I know, stem your surprise. Anyways, friend’s older brother was big into import games. Had himself a modded SNES, which seemed super cool and elite until I grew up and learned that all that entailed was knocking out the little tabs in the cartridge holder so that the SFC cartridges fit in the American SNES. As I recall, he had himself a rather sizable collection of Japanese games as well. Friend and I had some good times alternatively watching him play and playing through a bunch of games, including this one, although outside of when he explained things to us, we really had no idea what was going on in game.

Fast forward a couple of years. My family had moved away. Our parents kept in touch, but he and I didn’t. After graduating college, I committed to spending a year as an Americorps volunteer in an economically blighted area in middle of nowhere America. Early on, my mother had sent me a care package. Well, apparently she’d been talking to her friends about it, because my old friend had sent her a couple things to include in there, including the old copy of Shin Megami Tensei. I ended up spending long, long hours with that game, trial and erroring my way through the Japanese text until I finally found a translation guide online and could play it fully. I spent a lot of time with that game. That proved to be a very transitional time in my life, wherein I lost a lot of the old and found a lot of the new, and a lot of my memories about all that have gotten tied up in my thoughts about Shin Megami Tensei.

Artistic works, whether visual arts, movies, books, games, whatever, often end up meaning something to us, moreso than the work itself. Shin Megami Tensei is one of those games to me.  It’s been a constant companion for me, a game I come back to every once in a while just to relive.  It was even the subject of the first LP I ever attempted, although a similar transitional time in my life interrupted that.  Maybe that’ll be one that finds new life here eventually.

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Going Down, Fallout-Style

Hey, boys and girls. It’s that time again. What time? Fallout time.

So last time, we had a bit of an abbreviated session where we decided we want some sick power armor and now we’re in a hole in the ground in an irradiated hellscape.

But it’s not just any hole in the ground! This is the West-Tek Weapons Research Facility, which we don’t know yet but sorry, I’m bad at spoilers. Otherwise known as the Glow. Because it’s so irradiated, that things glow here. Athena popped some pills, so she’s probably alright. Or is she? Find out below!

Yeah, she’s alright. Sorry. I’m bad at spoilers.

I’m also bad at screenshots too, because looking things over again, I didn’t take enough. So I’m just going to have to do the writer thing here, and paint you all some pictures with my words.

Outside the giant hole in the ground, there’s a dead loser. I’m not kidding. The game actually calls the poor sap that. Inside, we find corpses all over the place. Some of which look like they’ve been here a while. Some of which not so much. There’s a lot of corpses that look out of place here. Some people that are obviously from the outside world. It seems the Brotherhood have been sending their random wannabe joiners out here for a while. Probably not been getting many back.

Athena’s going to turn that right on its head.

So, there are four main dangers here. The first, and the most obvious, is the radiation. This is the only place in the game where we have to worry about radiation, but it is a doozy here. Athena’s endurance is on the low side, so even making it here without being struck with radiation poisoning takes some doing. Much less hanging around here. I brought just a bit over the bare minimum needed to get through here, but any drug is going to lose its effect with time, Rad-X included.

Luckily, time proceeds really slowly when we’re dungeon diving. As long as we don’t do anything stupid, we’ll be fine. Granted, Athena’s a night person, and it’s daylight out, so the chances of us doing something stupid have increased, but she’s still much smarter than the average bear, so trust me, we’ll be fine.

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The second danger is that the first floor is littered with traps. Dogmeat and Athena both have enough skill with traps to detect when they’re near, but not enough to do anything about them. Especially because Dogmeat never stops blasted moving around! We trip quite a few as we make our way around the giant gaping hole in the center of the facility.

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As you might expect from a weapons research facility, the Glow is loot heaven. We’re just scratching the surface on the first floor, but already we collect some high tech equipment, some bullets, and some skill-boosting books. Athena’s tempted to read them right now, but that would be one of those stupid things we talked about earlier. I’m a night person too, and I’m playing this game at night, so my intelligence is heightened. I’m able to avoid the temptation.

There’s a dead Brotherhood of Steel member near a computer terminal, in full power armor. Athena gets excited, but no. It’s seals aren’t sound, and it’s let in so much radiation it killed the person inside of it already. It’s probably a deathtrap. A sick, sick deathtrap. The brother is carrying two things of interest. A yellow keycard, and a holodisc in which he recorded his last moments. With the holodisc, we could go back to the Brotherhood and prove we made it in and out of the Glow, as required for initiation. I mean, we could do that, if you missed what I said earlier about loot heaven. This is probably the best place to get cool stuff in the game, outside of maybe the Brotherhood themselves. A lot of the very best stuff is going to be useless to Athena, because you guys tagged her small guns skills in the beginning and I want to respect that instead of turning her into a mini-gun toting she-warrior anyway. But there’s still a handful of very important things I want to pick up here.

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The holodisc itself details a rather grisly scene for the poor fellow who held it. A contingent of Brotherhood folks were investigating this place. Had no trouble with the first two levels of the facility, but tripped some security sensors on the third, and had to fight their way out through a bunch of battle bots. This poor fellow was separated from the rest of his crew, noticed his armor was no longer air tight and thus no longer radiation-proof, and succumbed. Not pleasant.

But hey, what say we just wander into the same danger he fell to, eh? The terminal next to him has some access to the power controls of the facility, but the primary power is non-operable and we leave the emergence power alone. It’s at least powering the elevators, which we use the keycard he was carrying to access. The doors were electrified, because apparently just not opening isn’t enough to keep people out, but the keycard takes care of that. We head down to the second level.

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On the second level, we find robots. And also traps that we notice but can’t do anything about so we just endured them, but robots. Not just any robots. These are the same types of robots that cut the Brotherhood apart. Security robots. Deathbots. They might have lasers or something. And if the Brotherhood in their sick power armor couldn’t stand up to them, what chance does Athena in her lame metal spiky punk armor, Tycho in his leather armor, and Dogmeat in her no armor stand?

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Now Playing: Status Update

You know, I think it’s about time for another check in on this one.  Making this all public as a way of motivating myself.  Accountability an all that.

For those of you who weren’t around last time, or aren’t in the habit of of remembering random minutia from incredibly sexy internet stranger’s lives, I’m on a quest.  A long, long time ago, I decided that I was going to beat, or come as close to it as I was able to, every single game I owned, grouped together by console generation.  Seriously, I want to emphasize that.  A long time.  I’ve been playing games for a long time, and have amassed a huge collection.  Doesn’t help that I usually have some side game I’m working on outside of this quest, or that new games do get added into it.  It took me a few months each to cross the NES and SNES generations.  PS/64 took me about a year.  I’ve been working my way through the PlayCubeBox era for an embarrassingly large amount of years.  But I’m nearing the end.  I was hoping to have finished up that generation by the end of this year.

But I’m probably going to have to pick up the pace.  It’s been months since we checked on this last, and I’m disappointed that my list has not changed as much as I thought.  But let’s get into that.

The Recently Conquered

Planescape: Torment

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My thoughts on that are up here.  This is a game I went through a roller coaster with.  I started out really hating it.  Then I enjoyed it.  Then I progressed to a point where I couldn’t do all the stuff I was enjoying anymore, and I started hating it again.  Then that stopped, and I enjoyed that more, then the end game started, and, well, you get the idea.  ‘Twas unfortunate.  When it’s good it’s really good, but when it’s bad it’s awful.

King of Fighters 2002

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Yeah, this wasn’t part of the original list.  But GOG had it for free, so I had to pick it up.  I’ve been treating PC games like how I have this one a little bit differently, on this quest.  I do have to get them done, and I usually work with at least one classic game alongside whatever I’m doing for this mission at any given time, but I’m not going to hold myself back from moving on to the next console generation for these.

In any case, I suck at fighting games, but I really have a lot of fun with them.  And I love crossovers.  So King of Fighters is in the top of the field at a lot of things I really appreciate in games.  2002 is a Neo Geo port, and doesn’t have a lot of the features we take for granted in modern fighting games, so took me on a bit of a learning curve getting into it, but once I got there,  well, there aren’t many 2d fighting games better than most entries in the King of Fighters series, and 2002 really does deliver the quality.

I’m really not a fan of the ol’ SNK boss syndrome this that is so constant in fighting games and that King of Fighters exemplifies, where the final boss is so much more crazy hard than any of the other fights leading up to it.  I play games one player, so the deliberately broken final bosses are always going to be my cap of any given fighting game experience.  It always leads to me having to make a choice of whether to choose to play at a difficulty level where I’m appropriately challenged by all the normal fights, but I’ll be blown up by the final boss, or to choose a difficulty level where I won’t have as good a time leading up to it, but I’ll at least be able to draw some satisfaction from the conclusion.  It’s not a good choice to be making.  2002 does mitigate it somewhat by presenting you some additional options when you lose, but it wasn’t enough for me.

Soul Calibur II

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King of Fighters did instill a fighting game mood in me, and Soul Calibur II was what I picked up next.  It came out at a bit of a strange age for fighters, when most every big name in the genre wasn’t prepared to brave the market as it was then, and the ones that did didn’t get the attention they would in years before or after.  I usually credit the Mortal Kombat series with keeping fighting games alive in this generation, even if their games somehow had that really weird inconsistency in quality even though they were all using the same engine, but Soul Calibur II did its part in that, too.  A legitimately great game that had some very solid sales numbers, this was another sound leg for the genre to stand on.

I didn’t keep up with the series much after this, but if they’ve been able to keep building on top of what they did here, they’ve got something worthwhile indeed.

Also, again, I love crossovers, and being able to play as Link in a game like this hits a very warm and fuzzy spot.  I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense.

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Final Fantasy XII

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I mentioned last time that I had been surprising myself with how much I’ve been enjoying this game.  Well, the honeymoon period is over.  And now I’m starting to see it for the shrewd partner it is.

Final Fantasy XII famously had a lot of production difficulties behind it.  Lots of games do.  Some of them rise above that, and still deliver a great time even with all the behind the scenes drama.  Others never quite overcome the challenges presented by the difficult environments they’re birthed from.  Final Fantasy XII seems to have been largely defined by the compensations they’ve had to make for what was going on with the development team.  The production difficulties feel like they’ve been woven into the game’s very DNA.

I’ve hit a point in the game where it feels like everything has been built to stretch, to offer as much playtime with as little development effort as possible with no regard to the quality therein.  Everything feels like a grind with no payoff.  I get through one area after another, and nothing seems to actually be happening because of it.  It’s been so long between cutscenes that I’ve forgotten what half of my characters sound like, and story is so sparse that I’ve got very little idea of most of my teams’ motivations and personalities.  And there’s a huge amount of grind in a literal sense.  Nearly everything, from weapons to abilities to magic, you have to unlock the ability to use it by grinding points and you have to buy the thing itself with money.  And there’s not enough money going around, unless you go back and scour areas over and over again, to keep all six members of your party up to date.

I’m over 50 hours into the game, and it’s currently what I’m pouring most of my playtime into.  I’m hoping the end is within sight and that things will pick up then, but with how little substance the game has behind it, it’s difficult to get a sense of where the momentum is leading.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

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Yeah, I’ve just been in a Final Fantasy mood.

This is an odd game for me.  It feels like it’s on the verge of being a great game, and in multiplayer, I bet it’s a blast.  But the whole game is built around multiplayer, yet multiplayer requires extra peripherals and hand-helds, and for someone like me who doesn’t have friends in the first place, much less friends with the right combat simulator equipment, that is absolutely never going to happen.

And that causes some pains to the single player.  The inventory management, the bosses, many enemies, there so much in this game that was obviously intended to be handled with a group, and there’s no analogue to be had in single player.  Even basic combat suffers from this, as it’s obvious various combat techniques are meant to fit into roles and leave gaps that can’t be covered when you’re all by yourself.

All in all, I’m still having fun with it.  But as the challenges get steeper the gaps between how I’m able to play and how the game is meant to be played are showing more and more.

In any case, it shouldn’t be long before this game joins the conquered list.  I’m near the end, and at the point where I could start getting what I need to make it to the final level, but I’m wanting to revisit some locations and get my character as strong as possible first.

The Soon to Fall

Valkyrie Profile 2

Shadow of the Colossus

Psychonauts

Beyond Good and Evil

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snaaaaaaaaaaake Eateeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrr

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Mortal Kombat Armageddon

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

X-Men Legends

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

Only two more JRPGs on that list.  That’s been one of the biggest things taking up so much time.  There’s a few other ones there that are also going to take a commitment to get through, but I don’t think many other than the JRPGs are going to be crossing the 40 hour mark.  Definitely possible to have it all done before the end of the year, I think, but it might be tighter than I’m hoping.  Especially as I’ve always got other projects going.  It will take some focus.  Eyes on the prize.

Fallout: Not Really Over

Last time on Athena Plays Fallout, what happened? Now that I’m typing this all out, I don’t remember. Let me go back and take a look.

Oh yeah. Timeline shenanigans aside, we beat the game. Go us! We’ve been sticking together for a while, and I’ve got to say, I’m proud of you. This was a team victory. We all did this together. You know what? This post is just going to be a victory party for us. Let me just close out the game, and we’ll get right to it.

So, we join our heroine in the computer room of Vault 13, where she just finished writing her report of how she saved the lives of every single person living in that Vault. She makes sure not to leave out any of the danger, intrigue, and true heroism she showed. This is going to be taught to children for generations. She needs to make sure they’ve got an accurate picture of it.

The game takes the opportunity to describe the library/computer room for what it is, because it triggers that the first time you visit this room and it assumes we would have explored it some time before now. Unfortunately, there’s never any reason to visit this room except for the fact that it puts you here after you turn in the water chip, so we never had the chance to see it. Seems a little out of place, popping up now. In any case, we head back to the Overseer, to finally end this game and see the credits.

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See the Overseer has confirmed it! We saved everyone! Let the adulation commence! Well, this was a fun Let’s Play, we’ll see you next time for… wait, a little concerned?!

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It’s the mutants. Remember, we saw like six of them. And that’s all. The Overseer has analyzed the data. That consists of a sample size of six. And determined conclusively that someone or something must be out there manufacturing them at a heretofore unseen rate and that this will be a danger to the world in general and the Vault in particular. We ran into them twice. That… that must be some data analysis skills he has, there.

But oh well. They’re out there. We should probably send someone to the Hub to talk to someone about that. Maybe get some guys together. Big guys. Tough guys. And they can do something about it. In fact, Athena will find a messenger to go get that started. After she’s had a couple mai tais. And a good nap.

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No, she’s going to go out there? To take them down single-handedly? And she doesn’t have anything to say about that?

So, to reiterate, last time we were sent out into the wastes, it was to find a replacement part to fix a broken computer system. They didn’t know there’d be a lot of fighting around. For all they knew, I just needed to run down to the local OneStop and pick one up. Now, they’re sending me to destroy an army of genetically enhanced superbeings. Seems to be a little bit of escalation there.

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The Overseer himself isn’t too happy about it.

This is one area that the voice acting adds a lot to. It’s one thing to read it, but Overseer Jacoren says it with such honesty and care in his voice, even though he’s asking us to do the deadly impossible, that it really brings out a lot of his character. Later games will bring some retcons that color his character a lot more sinister, but the voice acting really makes it stick that he actually cares about Athena, the people of his Vault, and at his core he’s an honest person saddled with some hard decisions.

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