You Best Took it Serious When You Heard the Tone. The Persona 3 Retrospective Part 3: Presentation

Part 1-Intro

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 4-Setting

Persona 1 Retrospective

Persona 2 IS Retrospective

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As previously mentioned (several times), the Shin Megami Tensei franchise as a whole saw a big shift that would change the direction it took forevermore with the release of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne.  Nocturne was really the first of the modern Megaten games, changing nearly every aspect of game design.  That game brought a whole new level of design, tone, creative direction, and immersion to the series that the rest of the games would follow.  So too does Persona 3.  A lot of them are gameplay focused, covered in the previous section.  There’s a couple that impact the way that the game presents itself.

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One of the biggest changes Nocturne made was moving the series away from the old-school CRPG-inspired model into something more akin to the typical turn-based JRPG.  But Persona was always a series that was more JRPG-esque than the typical Megaten.  So what does Nocturne bring there?  Well, it turns the Persona series into a more modern JRPG.  Starting with the POV.  Your Point of View is something you probably don’t think very much of in games, but it can have a big impact on the how feel of the game.  In this case, the POV, lowered a bit closer to your character than past Persona games, serves to put you more into the action.  There’s more of a sense of energy as you’re navigating the dungeon, with the walls zipping by you and the shadows right in your face.  Battle will place you right behind your lead, feeling the enemy’s presence as they tower over your character.  School will… feel… schoolier because of… you there…. okay it’s getting away from me at that point.  Point is, even compared to other games of its genre, Persona 3 will play with your point of view, particularly in the battle section, to make you really feel what’s going on.  The camera’s zipping and zooming and makes sure you’ve got that scale of your guys against the bad guys, and it’s both rather effective and mostly unnoticed, just like you want good camera work to be.

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Art design is another really big update to the game, here.  Nocturne saw art director Kazuma Kaneko make big designs to all the series’ demons, creating a very distinct style and specific appearances that would be used until this very day.  Persona 3, as with nearly everything else, makes use of those same demon designs for your personae.  However, this game saw the rise of Shigenori Soejima into the head art role, as Kaneko was wanting to stretch his protege’s skills.  Soejima was already character designer for Persona 2, and the characters in this game follow along those lines, creating a distinctive slim, lengthened character design for the series that would become rather distinct.  With Soejima charged with designing everything else, it would create something that stands apart from the rest of Shin Megami Tensei.  The shadows take particular note, becoming tarot-inspired bastardizations of rather common real world items and creatures.  Beyond that, though, Tatsumi Port Island, where your characters spend most of their day to day lives, appropriately looks a lot brighter, cleaner, and more active than the typical post apocalyptic Megaten game or even the typical fantasy settings of the time, while the various settings of Tartarus manage to successfully convey the odd otherworldiness of the collective unconscious it resides in.  The dark hour scenes look particularly striking, effectively taking the otherwise normal and pleasant looking places and using largely coloration to instill them with a sense of wrongness.  The art design of the game is really on point, and manages to carry the anime-style off well while introducing enough twists on there to make it unique.

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And that art style is important, because you see a lot of it in the story delivery.  A lot of it is dealt in a somewhat visual novel-esque fashion, lending more to the comparison than just the social linking part of the game.  See, stuff goes deeper than you expected.  Even for the internet.  Even for the Persona-fan part of the internet.  Which is a much angrier place than even normal games internet, for whatever reason.  A lot of the plot things are all text boxes and character portraits, in front of the 3D rendering of whatever’s actually going on.  It’s not a very visually active means of telling a story, to be sure, and it takes some patience to enjoy.  I’m a fan of visual novels, so I had no problem of it, but it’s not for everyone.  It does lead to a bit of an odd dichotomy, where when things are physically happening, it’ll be rendered with your in-game characters and their animations, but then they’ll freeze and you have those 2D drawings and text boxes for all the speaking parts.  Animations in the non-gameplay scenes are understated and kind of stiff, and would be more fitting with PS1 types of 3d animations than they are with the PS2.  The story is really text heavy, though, and the strength of the writing is really what saves it.  The music and the quality of voice acting also go a long way towards injecting a sense of energy into what are otherwise static and still scenes.  You do get the occasional anime cutscene injected in there.  They’re few and far between, as, you know, budgets used to be a thing that games tended to stick to before the HD era, but when they are, they tend to be pretty striking.  The visual animation of those are really on point.  Sound balancing leaves a lot to be desired, but they also tend to portray a lot of the most visually well-designed moment.

This is also where the series established another constant of giving each game a theme color.  In this case, a light blue (unless you’re playing the FemC in the PSP version, in which case you get pink) covers every gameplay element there, from your HUD to your menus to your battle selection, both adding a cool and eerie component to your visuals as well as complementing the melancholy and trauma you’re often facing.  Every bit of the daytime scenes are designed around this, as this blue is almost omnipresent, and your locations and characters are all either designed full of cool colors that complement this, or given the direct contrasts in a poppy red or orange to make them sharply stand out.  This switches in the dark hour, though, in which a sickly green replaces the blue and invades everything, with a muted green filter being placed over the visuals while contrasting dark red bloodstains appears over everything.  It’s stunning how constant this palette is over the 80 hour game without being overwhelming, and I really have to say, Persona 3 uses its coloration better than most any other game or piece of work I’ve seen, giving much more thoughtfullness to it than the “Orange and blue and call it a day” that would pervade the later years.  The idea of having a theme color was so strong that the persona series would retroactively add it to rereleases of the previous games, giving the original Persona a deep steely gray theme and the Persona 2 duology a dark, muted red.

So art style is good.  I’m glad for that.  Because the graphics aren’t going to knock your socks off.  Unless you’re not wearing socks.  They might shift them in your drawer a little bit.  They’re perfectly functional.  They carry the strong art design smoothly, they make the visuals very understandable, and they’re never in the way.  But they don’t go super far, either.  This is not a graphically impressive game.  It’s not bad at graphics.  They’re just there.  They’re OK.

What’s made the Persona series very distinct is that it takes place in modern times, in a familiar Japanese city.  The visuals do carry it over well, here.  The environments in Tatsumi Port Island are very detailed.  Well, the school’s a little bland, which is a shame, because you’ll be spending a lot of time there, but maybe Japanese schools are bland in the first place.  I don’t know.  I’ve never been to one in meatspace.  Out on the town is full of details.  Train stations are busy and packed places, the mall is full of distinct stores, your dorm is very personal, the place looks to be very lived-in.

And, of course, there’s the music to talk about.  So let’s talk about the music.  Music in games can be a weird thing.  It’s not going to make you have a good time if the game is at its core not great.  And a great game with bad music can still be great.  Music isn’t going to make or break your game.  And yet, it can make or break your overall experience.  Music is emotion.  It’s drive.  It’s energy.  One of the big challenges with any artistic medium is making the viewer feel a part of it.  Making them feel what’s going on on screen, or on stage, or whatever.  The right music has the power to connect with that more directly than most anything else.  It will make the emotional roller coaster reach greater highs and lower drops.  It will hit you with the adrenaline of those cool action scenes.  It will help you care about those characters, even if they’re facing things you never have and never will need to deal with in life.  Music will not deliver something that’s not already there, but it will make what is hit you like a brick.

And the music in Persona 3 is top notch.  In yet another series-setting trend, the Persona 3 soundtrack is so decidedly modern, in keeping with its modern setting.  Other RPGs work their orchestral soundtracks, give you beautifully composed multilayered songs, make their string instruments weep for you.  Nah, Persona 3 gives you Lotus Juice rapping his way through half the game.  It’s hip hoppy, it’s modern, and it really adds a lot to the sense and tone of the game.  It’s not all vocal tracks, of course, there’s plenty of the more orchestral stuff in there too, and they are really rather strong.  But it’s the Jpop and hip hop tracks that really seem to add the most atmosphere and distinctness to the game.  The music is fantastic, and I’ve been known to have the soundtrack on repeat as I’m going throughout my day.  Some of the songs are truly touching.  Memories of You still brings me big sexy manly tears whenever I hear it in context, and the fact that later releases insist on remixing and changing it is one of the few things that makes me nerdrage.

That said, there are a few problems with their implementation.  The orchestral songs are mostly solid, but it seems they didn’t have as much experience with handling the vocals.  Some hit really well.  Some are just oddly placed.  Biggest example is the one that’s playing when you’re hanging out in your dorm.  It’s a relaxing place.  You chat with your party, watch some tv, maybe work on some homework, there’s no danger, no rush, no pressure there.  You’d expect a similarly chill and low pressure take.  Instead, you get a song with a driving, sharp beat and harsh deep rapping.  Likewise, there’s Mass Destruction, also known as BABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABY, the battle theme and therefore the song BABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABY you’re going to be hearing most often in that game BABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABY.  And frankly, it can do without the BABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABY intro.  It’s jarring, and frankly gets annoying with its frequency, given how much it pops up.  With game music, you want something that can stay in the background of your mind, generally, and vocals grab your attention much more than instrumentals do (which is why the game’s vocals are in English, to give the Japanese players this benefit, but that’s not going to help us on this side of the language barrier).  If lead-in to the song had been instrumental, I feel it would have been a smoother transition and jumping into a fight wouldn’t have felt so harsh, but as is, you will get tired of hearing that BABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABY long before it’s done with you.

But those are really just nitpicks.  Overall, the soundtrack is really fantastic.  It’s well composed, breaks a lot of new grounds, combines orchestral composition with rap with jazz instrumentation, and adds an immeasurable amount to the game’s proceedings.  It hits hard in what’s usually just the right ways.

An Amazon Preorder Problem

Fair warning, this post isn’t going to be like most of my other posts.  Most of them have something constructive to offer.  Or, at least, intended to be constructive.  Like, you’re supposed to be amused or inspired or enlightened or struck by how cool and sexy that Aether guy is or something like that.  This post is just me mildly ranting about something that’s largely inconsequential, with maybe a hint of consumer notice.  One might wonder why I’m even spending the time here on it.

Because I feel like it, that’s why.

Businesses like pre-orders.  It’s good for them.  For producers and retailers, it gives advance economic information on what the likely market for this product is going to be, gets a committed buyer in you, and gets people purchasing items for the intended price, before market forces have the chance to adjust it.  For consumers, the advantage is really only if they expect there to be an insufficient supply of the item, which for games has been fading in the world of cheaply produced storage media and digital distribution.  So game publishers will sometimes add incentives for it.  Preorder bonuses, what not.  Because they want you to get preorders, because it’s good for them.  Sometimes you just preorder because you know you’ll want the game at launch either way.

But however you do preorders, a central conceit of them is that once the item is out, they’ll actually send you the thing.  Apparently, Amazon is trying a maverick new business practice where instead when the item you ordered is released, they just don’t do anything.  That’s right, this is a marvelous new feature where you can take all the time you were going to spend on that item you were hotly anticipating and spend it bonding with your friends and family, going out and volunteering, and overall making your life better instead of enjoying time with your new item.

So… yeah.  I kind of like buying games to commemorate things, when the opportunity presents itself. One of the very very few odd things about me, I guess.  Souvenirs and other simple visuals I’ll inevitably end up sticking somewhere and largely forgetting about them, clothes and useful things will get worn out and destroyed eventually, but games will come back in memory and in turn remind me of the events and people around them.  Every time I think back to Final Fantasy Adventure, I remember the childhood road trip with my Grandpa in which he got me the game.  Metroid Prime 3 reminds me of one of my old, departed, college professors, as I bought it with money I earned helping him put his property in order in the last months of his life.  And early last year, I put a couple of month’s work into a competition, ended up winning a chunk of money in it, and thought I’d get myself the physical release of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove to create some memory callbacks to the experience later.

So I preordered it.

On Amazon.

That was a mistake.

The early parts of it weren’t their fault.  When I originally preordered it, it was coming out in May of last year, but then the developers delayed it indefinitely  Eventually they announced a release of December 10th.  So… there’s like a six month delay between when I expected I’d get it and when I actually should have gotten it that has nothing to do with Amazon.  I use my family’s account, so that holiday season, I couldn’t check in on it for fear of getting Christmas spoilers.  But December 10th came and went with no Shovel Knight.  Well, sometimes things get delayed, and the holiday season’s a busy one for both Amazon and the postal service.  Maybe it’s just running late.  But then a week passed with no Shovel Knight.  Then two.  Then Christmas.  Still no Shovel Knight.  Check the order now, and it’s saying it’ll be there by January 4th.  Never actually was shipped.  I call up Amazon Customer Service, trying to figure out, hey, what the heck, is this actually going to come for real?  I was told it will definitely be shipped out, and would be there January 4th.  It wasn’t.  Call Amazon Customer Service, it’ll definitely be there January 27th.  Check Amazon later, it’s saying January 29th.  For a game that had been out almost a month, and I had preordered almost a year ago.

So I cancel that, order the exact same game through Amazon (Prime shipping is addictive) and the game is in my sexy hands two days later.  Leading me to wonder what the point of preordering in the first place was.  It literally got to me faster and more reliably ordering after release than it did through preorder.

I’ve heard Amazon can be a little hit and miss with preorders.  I rarely preorder games, but have done so before through Amazon without issue.  And I get that Amazon is an organization moving a lot of product, and quantity leads to mistakes, and they’re high pressure as well, which also leads to mistakes.  Things can happen.  But what galls me here is that Amazon had multiple opportunities to detect and correct the problem, at least the times I brought it to their attention, and it didn’t happen.  No problem here, move along sir.  No idea how representative this is of typical preorder on Amazon, or if this might possibly be a nefarious plot by one of my many enemies, but, beware, I guess.  Could happen to you.

Maybe.

But hopefully not.

Project G-Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964)

Alternate Title: The one where Godzilla gets lasered in the dick.

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The Godzillaverse has a revolving cast of monsters in it, but there are a bunch that show up with consistency.  You get four of the main ones appearing all together for the first time this film, with the monster who’s widely considered Godzilla’s greatest rival getting the big introduction.  Heck, he’s even supplanted Godzilla in the title here!  So you know he’s got to be a big deal!

So with the introduction of King Ghidorah and with bringing Rodan in to the Godzilla canon, this movie establishes a couple of set pieces and the way things work that other films in the series will continue on with.  This is also the most pulp sci-fiish of the Godzilla films we’ve seen yet, also establishing a new trend for the series.

And, it’s also where the movie wades knee deep into the goofiness the old Godzilla films where known for.  Which, it’s been moving in this direction.  This isn’t out of nowhere.  King Kong vs. Godzilla had a lot of parody and cartoonish moments.  But this takes it a step further.  Some parts here are just downright slapstick.  And there’s no going back from that.  Kids were making up a big share of the movie market in Japan at this time, and apparently, they don’t go for big, deep, metaphorical critiques on the nature of war like adults do.  Go figure.

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The film centers around a brother-sister duo.  Media Girl is part of the production team behind one of those History Channel shows about aliens and weird conspiracy theories that my own sister spends too much energy on.  Detective Bland is, well, a bland detective.  The princess of the Ruffle Kingdom is coming to Japan for some reason or other, and Detective Bland is assigned to be her security.  Also, it’s January, but there’s a freak heat wave going on so it’s like 80 degrees out.  This never actually matters, but hey, global warming is bad, okay?

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Unfortunately for the Princess, her uncle wants her dead for political reasons.  These guys are the worst dressed.  Absolutely the worst.  Look at that picture up there.  Imagine a whole country of them.  So they put a bomb on her plane as it’s heading towards Japan.  Princess is watching a meteor shower from the plane, when she starts hearing a voice telling her to get out.  So she apparently bails from a plane in flight, just as it blows up.  Did she make it out in time?  Who knows?!  I do, because I watched the movie.

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In Review of the Playstation VR… as a Treatment Method

 

ps-vr-zvr2-model-product-shots-screen-01-ps4-eu-17nov17.jpgVirtual reality.  The next frontier.  If you’ve ever been a child, you have desired it.  Virtual Reality was the future.  And now it’s come.  Didn’t exactly take the world by storm, but it has come.  And as with most new technology, time has made it more affordable and accessible.  The tech has its problems and flaws, as everything does, but it’s working, and it’s here.  And recently one of the pieces of VR with the highest user base, the Playstation VR, has entered my home.  So we’re going to take a look at it today.  A review.  But not in terms of gaming.  Lost to the Aether has its place in the interbutts, and that place is not giving you the same sort of content you’d find everywhere else.  Instead, we’re going to be looking at a more unique application of VR.  So here’s a review of the Playstation VR… as an optikinetic treatment method.

Video games for your health is apparently a thing.  We brushed on it a couple months back when we covered Duet, at a point where I had been prescribed video games as treatment.  Some time back, the gods grew jealous of my majestic achievements and physical perfection and afflicted me with an inner ear condition that causes another inner ear condition that in turn messes up with a whole bunch of other things.  Let me drop some science on you for a bit, here.  Your brain gets its sense of balance and positioning from three areas; your inner ear, your vision, and muscles, particularly those in your neck and spine.  When your inner ear stops working so well, your body compensates by over-emphasizing the other two.  Which sounds resilient, but it’s problematic.  It gets really weird when looking down as you’re descending stairs makes you feel like you’re Spider-manning up a wall, or walking through a crowd makes you feel like you’re spinning.

One of the ways of treating that visual motion hypersensitivity is to essentially overstimulate the part where the brain thinks you’re moving because of what it’s seeing, while you’re not in fact moving.  Kind of force the body to recalibrate its overreliance on visual info to determine balance and sense of motion.  The traditional at home exercises for that are to watch videos like this, which, if you clicked that link, you might notice is boring as hell.  Hence why I’d been prescribed video games.  Going through the likes of Fotonica, Duet, and Super Hexagon, both has enough visual activity to trigger that sense of movement, while also not feeling like you’re just sitting there wasting time.  But what if you could take that to the next dimension.  My physical therapist has been trying and failing to get a VR headset and proper apps for quite some time to help treat this.  The problem with doing those videos or games on a screen is that only part of your vision will be moving like that, so your brain has plenty of the wrong anchor points to go “hey, this isn’t really moving”.  I mean, that’s what you want your brain to say, but you want your brain to say that because it can tell you’re not actually moving, not because you can see a wall.  VR, though, that’s all encompassing.  So you can have everything in your vision tell you that you’re moving while you’re actually not.  Get you that optikinetics on steroids.  And, thanks to a friend for whom I’m not sure I’ve done enough to deserve this kindness, I’ve got a Playstation VR to be working through this with.

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I have to say, I’m not super experienced in VR overall, so I’m not the most educated as far as how the Playstation VR compares with other headsets.  Hardware-wise, being based on the Playstation 4, rather than the PC and coming it at a lower price point makes it significantly more accessible to me, personally, than other sets.  That should be the most important consideration for any producer, really, “how likely is Aether to get this in his sexy hands?”  It does seem to be missing a few features that come standard with other sets, as well, including a few odd omissions.  It doesn’t really have an automatic feature to measure your eye position in relation to each other, and its automatic ‘take-a-picture-of-your-face’ get’s the measurements between your eyes way wrong.  The picture was noticeably clearer once I figured out how to adjust that manually, which is really non-intuitive and required a user-made guide to get through.  The Playstation VR will play VR videos through Youtube easily enough, once you have the app, but if you’re trying to get VR videos through any other source, it takes a lot of jumping through hoops to get it working, and it won’t reach up to 1080p, so the resolution is lacking.  A lot of the videos I was trying to get working on it required me to extensively re-process them to get the right formats, codecs, and limited resolutions going.  So as far as the traditional VR videos of bike riding that are usually recommended to help with this condition, it was either go to Youtube or spend an inordinate amount of time getting other sources working, which was a little problematic for those times when I was feeling picky.

But the Playstation is a gaming machine, so how about the games that help with this?  Yeah, as you can probably imagine, that’s where I’ve been spending most of my time.  What’s useful about the Playstation VR, at least, is that it’s been easy to find a lot of discussion about the difficulty of various games and apps, so I can be informed as I’m planning out what I want to play to deal with this condition.  At least one list of game recommendations I’ve come across was helpful enough to have them organized into beginner, intermediate, and advanced VR levels, based on how physically difficult it is to get adjusted to the motion in those games.  Glad to know they’re difficult for people with perfectly functioning inner ears as well.

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As I’ve been exploring the system for the past couple of weeks, there seems to be a bit of a spectrum as far as the impact games will have on me goes, that doesn’t completely match up with the rankings most people seem to give them.  At the gentlest end are games where they move you by fading in and out your view, rather than simulating walking, only move your POV when you move your head or otherwise under you control, and that you don’t need a lot of rapid head movement.  Final Fantasy XV: Monsters of the Deep and Moss are pretty solid examples there.  They’ve been useful for when I’m already stirred up by the time I’ve set aside to do my exercises, or otherwise want something light to get myself adjusted.  There’s a bit of disorientation with these games, but otherwise they don’t really hit me hard.  Up a level from there are games where they intermittently have some sort of movement of your viewpoint, but otherwise have long periods where its relatively stationary.  Astro Bot Rescue mission and the Into the Deep experience in Playstation VR Worlds come to mind here, where you’ll be moved as you progress through it, and there’s a lot that moves within your view, but you do spend a significant amount of time with your viewpoint simply being stationary.  This would be where I’d recommend spending the majority of your time first starting out, if there happens to be anyone else out there using VR as a treatment method for visual motion hypersensitivity or, as I’ve heard similar principles apply, concussions.

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A step up from there would be the games with more constant movement, a lot of visual things going on, but you’re in a vehicle or otherwise separated from your playable character, such as in Battlezone or Rez Infinite.  For whatever reason, the visual motion has more of an impact when you’re in a first person perspective walking than when you’re driving.  So logically, the most advanced games would be the ones where you’re walking in a first person perspective.  Skyrim’s where I’ve been spending most of my time at this level.  Playing through an epic length game at the 20 minutes per day I’ve been able to bear it.  This is also where the goal of treatment is to be able to handle, as this will be more where it’s having an effect.  I wasn’t able to dive right into Skyrim, however, had to move myself up through the earlier levels in sequence.

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Special mention goes to Scavenger’s Odyssey of Playstation VR Worlds, as well, which will absolutely kill me by rotating the view over and over again over the course of the game.  So, rotation is killer.  That might be a level above Skyrim I haven’t reached yet.  So to may be Resident Evil VII, which came in the pack my friend got me but I just haven’t been brave enough to get into yet.  Even people with functioning inner ears claim this game is guaranteed nausea for them.  I would guess it’s missing a lot of the VR friendly features Skyrim has, such as dimming the periphereal vision when you’re moving quickly and snapping your turn rather than a smooth motion when you use the controller to turn.  So there’s still more to explore if I find Skyrim ever starts to get too easy for me.

On the plus side, games like Rez, Skyrim, and Battlezone have you aiming with precision by moving your head.  Which exercises the fine motor control of your neck.  Which helps with the muscular issues your body can develop as a typical reaction to this condition.  So it’s not just the motion VR can help with.

Of course, even at the advanced level, there’s things you can do to make it easier on yourself.  Strafing is misery.  Moving faster is harder than moving slower.  Limit the amount of stairs you walk on.  Things like that.  This isn’t like working out, where you can push yourself to your limits and end up better off for it.  Here, if you go too hard, you’re actually undoing progress, getting your systems maladjusted to the visual information.  So it’s important to know your limits, and know either when you need to switch to a less aggressive movement or stop or take a break entirely.

As for how effective it is, that’s going to matter most in the long term, and time will tell for that.  In the short term, though, I have noticed my symptoms impacting me less since I started using the Playstation VR for my at home treatment exercises.  It’s not a complete cure, or anywhere close to it, and this is a condition that has a lot of ups and downs, so it could easily be just coincidentally corresponding with an up time, but I have to say, I’ve seen results from it so far.  And that makes me happy.

Even if I can’t play as much Skyrim as I want.