Visual Novel Theatre: Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan

Here’s an odd one.  It’s a Japanese Visual Novel… with westerners as the target audience.  And it’s one that aims to be mostly practical, kind of a virtual tour guide of Japan.  Minimal fantasy here, all just storytelling that will teach you thing.  Edutainment.  From a company that typically makes H-games, no less.  And this is minimally H-y.  Only mild amounts of H here.  And pretty tame H too.  

In any case, I kind of wonder about the conversation that led to this being made.  Something like:

A: “So, I hear there are actually some people who like visual novels in all those heathen Western companies.  They’ve got money, maybe we should make something for them.”

B: “Really? I though visual novels were just a unique Japanese thing that other countries don’t really have the cultural factors and industry inertia to appreciate en masse.  Those Western visual novel fans must all be giant nerds.”

A: “Well, I don’t know about that. There is that Aether guy.  He seems incredibly cool.”

B: “Yeah, of course.  But aside from him.”

A: “Oh yeah.  GIANT nerds.”

B: “That gives me an idea.  If they like visual novels, they must like other aspects of Japanese culture.  Maybe they all want to visit.  So let’s make a visual novel about visiting Japan! And we’ll have the main character be the biggest nerd of all!”

A: “Genius!”

And that’s how Go! Go! Nippon! was born.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ takes you on a virtual tour of the country, with one of the two Misaki sisters as your tour guide-cum-love interest.  You will be introduced to several Japanese landmarks, learn big FACTS about Japanese culture, and see through the eyes of the biggest damn dweeb you could ever possibly imagine.

Yeah.  That’s this visual novel.  I can’t tell whether developer Overdrive is playing a trick on you, or this is what they think the average westerner interested in visiting Japan is like, of if they didn’t realize just how much of a dweebosaurus their viewpoint character is, but this guy.  This guy.  Such a monumental geek.  It’s absolutely cringeworthy at times.  This nerd is you.  You can name him after yourself.  Which is just going to make the subsequent scenes more funny.  For me.  Probably extra cringe for you.  I don’t recommend naming this guy after yourself, is what I’m saying.

So, your guy loves anime and all that Japan pop-culture stuff.  So much that he learned Japanese to a level that he’s fully fluent and hangs out on forums with Japanese citizens, and yet he somehow avoided picking up anything more than a very shallow cultural knowledge about the country.  Which is understandable from a storytelling perspective, given that he has to not know these things so that the Misaki sisters can tell him and, therefore, us, about them, and it wouldn’t be all that notable in a normal story, but combined with this dude’s personality it makes him seem an extra-large dweebenheimer.  So yeah, he met the Misaki sisters on that forum, and they agreed to host him for a week-long visit to Japan, so he saved up his money and flew out there.  But the sisters, Makoto and Akira, have gender-neutral names, and dude spent however many years convinced that they were actually the Misaki brothers, only finding out the truth when he showed up at the airport and started wondering why women were paying any attention to him whatsoever.  Also their parents aren’t home.  The implications are not lost on him.  But this isn’t an H-game, so nothing comes of it.  

So the visual novel runs along two lines.  Most of the time, it spends being remarkably practical, talking about the ins and outs of navigating Japan or introducing major landmarks or cultural features around Tokyo or Kyoto and giving the stories and whatnot around them.  The first three days of your trip, you’ll choose what location in Tokyo to visit, which will determine which of the sisters you’ll spend time with.  Whichever sister you’ve spent more time with by the time you hit the fourth day and the tale gets more linear will, inexplicably, fall for you.  So it’s not just educational.  It’s a love story, too.  

So, you get one side of facts.  One side of characterization.  The facts can be pretty interesting.  They range from taking you through the sort of things you probably already know if you’ve spent a decent amount of time with Japanese-set works (Japan has robot toilets! Hachiko has a story! Japanese houses are made with Tatami mats!) to things that I, at least, didn’t know (How to navigate paying for and entering subways! A whole bunch of cultural landmarks and the history behind them! Japanese bathrooms don’t have locks so don’t try the door without knocking if your sharing the home!).  I’ve never been to Japan, so I can’t say how useful it’d be, but it strikes me as having a bunch of bits that are helpful, but not nearly enough that you can rely on what you learn here alone.  Then again, it’ll be more entertaining than other guides, by virtue of, you know, having anime girls to go along with it.  Plot and characterization are rather shallow.  I won’t say it’s bad, but it’s not deep.  Makoto’s a traditional high-performing princess type.  Akira’s a tsundere.  I hate tsunderes.  Guess which one the game decided to hook me up with?  Your character wets himself regularly.  They do play with it a bit, in that although Makoto is more of what’s considered traditionally “feminine” in character, it’s Akira that has the more “feminine” hobbies.  Honestly, though, there’s not a lot of mileage to get out of that, especially as such distinctions have less and less weight culturally.  Beyond that, the plot just plays it safe.  Nothing with a lot of nuance, nothing that you haven’t seen before, nothing that takes any risks except for the fact that your lead character is such a huge dweebzilla.  I entertained myself quite a bit by screenshotting all the times the lead acted like a total loser (I got 99 pictures!) but I don’t think it’d be all that fun without it.  Like I said, it’s not a bad story, but it’s not good either.  It’s just kind of there.  It’s plain vanilla cake, no frosting.  From a box.  Overall, your enjoyment of this is going to rest on how much you enjoy all the tourism-related learning, more so than the story.  

Visuals are good for the most part.  The characters are decently designed, although I think Akira’s look is probably better in meatspace than it is in anime.  The backgrounds are absolutely excellent.  Very highly detailed, seems like they really capture the atmosphere they’re trying to project, and I’m assuming they’re really good representations of the real life fixtures they’re trying to transmit here.  At the least, they match up really well with photographs I’ve seen of these landmarks, so I’ve been giving them a lot of faith for their accuracy.  The CGs, big old splashes of character activity, are pretty good as well, the few times they come up.  Art is definitely the high point of this visual novel.  Which, I mean, normally they’re an erogame studio, so they’d better be good at their art, but they use it to really good effect here in this game that’s pretty light on the ero.

I lot of the other parts are just fine.  Sound is ok.  Music is forgettable, but not distracting, and matches the mood they’re going for well, generally.  Writing style is mostly fine.  Doesn’t get in the way, but also doesn’t really add to the work.  Plot is inoffensive, maybe trending to the bad.  It’s light on content, character driven, and one of those characters is a tsundere so…. Character conflict occurs late in the story, and at least on Akira’s route, was one of those deals that could have easily been solved if they just agreed to talk like two people who weren’t emotionally crippled for five minutes. But overall, the plot, such as it is, is fine, just running in some very well-worn ruts.  Nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s all safe. Riskless. And in doing so, it doesn’t reach itself toward anything.

Which kind of puts this game in a weird place.  What purpose is this serving?  As a guide for travel to Japan, it’s not content-dense enough to be super useful.  As an entertainment medium, it doesn’t even try to dazzle.  Now, there is definitely something to the fact that you will learn more from something that entertains you, and maybe it holds value there, but otherwise, this has the Red Mage problem.  Doesn’t educate you as well as other things you could get just as easily.  Doesn’t entertain you as well as other things you could get just as easily. Maybe if you’re really curious about Japanese tourism and just starting to dip your toes into it, this could be worthwhile to you.  But otherwise, I’ve completed it once, and I don’t have any urge to do so again.

Visual Novel Theatre- Analog: A Hate Story

Ok, here’s the deal.  Working from home has led to me playing a lot more visual novels.  Taking my lunches in my War Room makes that a bit more convenient.  So we may be seeing some more of these posts in the future.  Recently, I played/read through Analog: A Hate Story by Christine Love, and wanted to give myself a blast from the past, given that two of her earlier works were two of my first posts in this blog that has a hell of a lot of tenure in the old blogosphere.  But, time’s at a premium.  So I’m going to challenge myself here.  Set myself a time limit.  Write this, quick and dirty, in the time I have available before my next engagement. So, this is going to be rough.  No editing.  Little polish.  Minimal talking about how sexy I am.  Which is very.  Just so you know.


I’m getting sidetracked.

Analog: A Hate Story is, as the name implies, a successor to Christine Love’s first work, Digital: A Love Story, and you could maybe call a sequel because for all I know they take place in the same continuities.  You’re some sort of future space scavenger.  Which basically just means that you go into space and hack dead people’s email accounts.  Somebody hires you to go do that to the Mugunghwa, an old Korean space ship that’s just shown up on the parts of space that people bother looking at again after like a thousand years.   So you go there and start up the ship and it turns out you’re the first person to do anything with the ship in like 600 years, and everyone’s dead, and even before everyone died things went to hell.  So you talk to the AI and snoop through people’s e-mails, which are strangely full of logs that are actually useful and descriptive and more like diary entries and there’s not a penis enlargement spam thing to be seen.  I don’t know why they keep sending those to me.  My penis is glorious enough already.

I’m getting sidetracked.

Gameplay-wise, the ship itself, you control through a text parser.  When you activate the AI, you’ll get a more flexible interface to be reading all the stuff.  The AIs are very advanced, incredibly human-like, and have their own motivations, actions, and what not.  Unless you know the right codes, you can only see whatever e-mails the AI are willing to show you.  The AI’s ability to directly accept speech has been broken, so your interactions with them are limited to answering binary questions they present to you and showing them whatever emails/log entries you want them to comment on.  And, that’s how you progress through it.  Read the stuff, slowly piece the story together, try and get enough of a dialogue going with the AIs to get to the real good plot-twisty material.  

The plot itself largely centers around sexism.  And before we get the idiots from both sides that seem to make up the loudest voices whenever sexism comes up in games, this is a specific type of sexism, that doesn’t really apply to modern day life.  No matter how much said idiots talking about the game online seem to try to make it do so.  In the ship, it looks like most everyone all died at one specific year.  300 years or so before that, something happened to the ship that set their culture, collective knowledge, and overall intelligences back to a Joseon-era Korea style community.  So this is about sexism in Joseon-era Korea.  With artificial intelligence.  And e-mail.  And spaceships.  It’s a weird sort of anachronism that honestly seems a little forced, although the VN doesn’t say why they got culture-shocked back to the bad times so maybe it makes more sense once the sequel picks it up.  In any case, when that happened, AI memory got wiped and reprogrammed, everyone turned into idiots, and things got bad.  Like, we see it from the women’s point of view most often, and they definitely got the short end of the stick, but backwards societies are no good for anybody, and, realistically, nobody’s really living up to their potential there.  Birthrates have been falling to an incredible degree, men and women’s roles are sharply divided and both are recognized solely for their political positioning rather than their merit, few know how to actually work the technology they depend on to survive and they have even less knowledge of medicine, old age sets in when people are in their 20s to 30s, etc.

C’mon Aether, gotta pick up the pace here.

Witcher 2 and Tough Love Training

I’ve gotten pretty good at video games, in general.  I won’t say I’m the best.  It’s not hard to find someone better than me at any given challenge.  Now am I necessarily good at all games.  You could probably beat be at a racing or fighting game.  Or a rhythm game.  Or one of those sportsers.  Or… you know what?  We’ll just stop there.  In general, overall, I’m pretty good.  And I’m starting to get an appreciation for those games and challenges that have made me better.  We’ve talked about a few of them here.  Ninja Gaiden honed my instincts and reflexes.  The Dark Souls run taught me to make full use of my resources.  Well, I want to honor another such experience I’ve had lately.  I played Witcher 2.  And it, too, has made me better at video games.

Witcher 2 is perhaps not as hard as Ninja Gaiden or Dark Souls was, but it was just as much of a tough love teacher for me.  The important thing about that game lie in just how its combat system works.  In contrast to the OG Witcher game, where almost all the gameplay that mattered was tied up in your preparation and planning, Witcher 2 is a lot more active.  It has a structure you might recognize from other games.  You’ve got a light and a strong attack.  You can dodge roll or block.  You can fire off a spell or chuck knives or bombs, if you’re needing ranged attacks.  If you break it down like that, it sounds a lot like your typical action game.

And it plays a lot like a typical action game, which is what made it such an effective teacher for me.  Every single instinct I had told me that I could just wade into a fight like I would in many other games and trust in my reflexes and spur of the moment decisions to see me through.  So I would do that.  And I would die, so many times, to random gangs of jobbers.  Because while the Witcher 2 feels like an action game, it’s not.  It’s an RPG.  That has its roots in the first Witcher, where anticipating situations, crafting solutions, and making the right choices of your preparations before you ever wandered into the fight were the big keys to making it anywhere.  If you’re playing Witcher 2 at any higher level than easy, your enemies are as strong or stronger than you and can bring you down in just a couple of hits, and the controls, although they’re a lot more free that in many other RPGs, still aren’t fluid enough to let you weave into and out of enemies like you could in something like Bayonetta.  If you want success in this game, you need to unlearn a lot of the lessons that action games have taught you, and actually think about and strategize your fights.

That’s a hard lesson to learn.  “I’m playing stupid” became a common refrain of mine when I found myself falling to a challenge that seemed completely feasible to me, needing to remind myself that I couldn’t just hack and slash through whatever like I could with most games.  Success required preparations.  Walking into a fight without using alchemy to buff myself and my weapons, without a good set of traps and bombs at hand, and without an idea of what I wanted to do with my spells would quickly lead to my demise.  And the game didn’t make the planning process easy, either.  The whole system was built around managing downsides.  Blocking and spells used up the same meter, and using that meter reduced your damage, so if I was needing to play defensively or use some of the powerful magic effects, I needed to be prepared to be a bit less sword-happy.  Yet, trying to keep my sword damage at max made my Geralt inflexible and rather vulnerable, and particularly poor at dealing with crowds.  The most powerful buffs came with equally powerful debuffs.  I could significantly increase my damage at the cost of significantly reducing my health.  I could speed up greatly how fast I regenerated the blocking and magic juice, but I’d get hit hard by status effects if I did so.  Preparing for a battle wasn’t so much a matter of picking which numbers I wanted to go up as it was a matter of trying to determine a significantly varying strategy for a potentially unknown situation and sticking with it until it worked.

And I had to do that again, and again and again.  Fall into old habits, realize I’m playing stupid, then stop turning my brain off and relying on pure twitch gameskills and actually think about it.  Use my reflexes, yes, but don’t rely on them wholly.  The Witcher 2 had me practice this again and again until I finally started to get used to the idea that I actually had to use my conscious mind in a fight, not just the instinctual one.  And since I finished that game and moved on to other ones, that practice has stuck with me.  The “I’m playing stupid” and actually strategizing on top of my raw skills has been coming again.  And I’ve been seeing faster successes because of it.  

So yeah, at this point in my gaming career, it’s starting to get a bit rare to see the game that can have the sudden and long-term impact on my skill like this.  Witcher 2 has made me a better player.  And that’s something to celebrate.  

Eyes on Judgement

Judgment_20190620113751.png

If you know anything about me, you know this world is a far better and sexier place with me around.  But that’s not super relevant to this post.  You might also know that I’m a big Yakuza fan.  Like, the series, not the organized crime bastards.  I love the games.  The extreme manly drama, the pitting of the romanticized noble criminal ideal against the wicked pragmatic crimelords that exist in the same sphere, the excellent and fast-paced action, the city district we’ve gotten to know so well that it’s almost a character in itself, the placing of dark story beats right alongside impossible to take serious goofiness, it fills a very warm place in my cold, dark heart.

However, the series is in a place of big transition right now.  Yakuza 6 broke the mold in a lot of ways.  The biggest, after 20 some years in meat-time and with us watching through Kiryu’s eyes over an in-universe time period from the late 80s up until the end of the new 10s, and the developers decided it was time to close the book on him.  They closed the book in a way that they can and almost certainly will open it up again, but for the time being, the developers are serious that whatever Kiryu’s future involvement, he’s not going to be the center of the story anymore.  Which, honestly, has been a long time coming.  With the series kind of trying to hold onto at least something of a realistic sense in its conflicts, they’ve long had troubles with managing Kiryu’s in-universe power level.  Yakuza 1 started with him being feared, and saw him, with some complicating factors on his side, just rampage through the strongest yakuza family in his area.  Yakuza 2 had him as an absolute legend, and saw him as the muscle of a small group that conquered like four crime families.  Yakuza 3 had to have an absolutely ridiculous plot bringing in the CIA just to up the stakes enough to where his power standings at this point was.  Yakuzas 4 and 5 had to sidestep the issues by having Kiryu as the member of a team of player characters with the least direct involvement in the plot just to keep things feeling threatening, and even then 5 still had Kiryu end a gang war single-handedly take on every single member of another crime family. At the same time.  And win.  At the end of the first act.  So yeah, his power level was a big in-story issue, and there was only so long they could stave it off with prequels and side games.  So it makes sense that they’d see him retire from his main character role at the end of 6.

But we still need our Yakuza fix.  And sure, there’s Yakuza 7 coming out, but what if that’s not good enough for you?  What if you want a completely new perspective of the Yakuza series?  What if you were really curious about what a Yakuza game would be like as seen through the lens of Phoenix Wright?

unnamed (3).jpg

Judgement is a Yakuza game through and through.  And it manages to be something different at the same time.  The gameplay is familiar.  The setting, which has been so integral to the series, is familiar.  The spirit behind the game is familiar.  But now, we’re looking at it through a new lens, and in a game that’s willing to break the traditional franchise rules.  Let’s jump into that.

Continue reading

Snap Judgements: A Random-Ass PC Game Party

If you game on the PC, it’s not hard to get a massive collection built up for very little money if you’re not particular about what makes it in there.  Steam sales will aggressively discount games.  Humble Bundle can get you a curated collection for very cheap, and if you get their Choice option they will shove 60-some DRM free games right in your face.  If you’re on Amazon Prime, they will give you 5 games a month through Twitch.  The Epic Games Store drops at least 2 free games on you a week.  So yeah, my PC backlog has become unmanageable, really.  Hell, this month’s Humble Choice has two games I’ve specifically had my eye on for a long while, and I can get those and 8 others for well less than the MSRP for each, and I’ve been refraining because I don’t want my Steam list to grow anymore until I’ve actually played a bunch more of the games on it.  When I was a cub owning a game was a big deal.  You thoroughly explored that game, you came to know it better than your own reflection, you mastered it as much as a gawky little kid that sucks at everything can master anything.  Nowadays, at least as far as the PC goes, it seems the various game makers and distributors want you to have a library rather than having explored every little thing; I don’t think many expect you to actually play all the games they’re throwing at you.

But that’s not how I roll.  I like to play all my stuff.  And lately, I’ve been motivated to do so.  I’m still keeping up with that focused run-through of playing all my games that I’ve done all my years, although yeah, I’m needing to adjust my expectations to deal with all these random-butt games that I’ve built up over recent years on my PC library.  And apparently, how I deal with that is I just change the rules so that I’m not expecting myself to give a full playthrough to any game I didn’t directly play through and we go from there.

So, in any case, lately, in addition to the games I’d normally be playing, I’ve also been trying out many of the random games I’ve been picking up through other means.  So here’s some quick judgements on some of the games I’ve been playing lately that I don’t think I’m going to end up doing a full post about.  Some of these I’ve given a full playthrough, some have just been a quick try, but either way, I’ve got words to put on them, so here you are.  I’ve been starting at the top of my various collections, so if you’re wondering why so many of them have titles that would pop up near the top alphabetically, well, there you go.

A Normal Lost Phone

ss_69b3669cbe2580f3cf4c81b9b49036e49e37ea3d.1920x1080.jpg

This is a quick little experience, kind of has an interesting idea.  Essentially, you find someone’s unlocked phone, and rather than turning it into anyone, you start snooping to try and figure out whose it is.  Turns out, judging from recent messages on there, the guy unexpectedly disappeared.  So you have to read his texts and emails and break into his apps and dating profiles and other stuff to try and figure out what’s going on.  I like its approach to puzzles, they hit the right spot to me where I was never stuck and constantly able to figure the challenges pretty quickly, but they still took enough mental work that I felt rather accomplished in doing so.  I ended up rather hating the game, though, because it’s rather preachy.  Yes, being trans is a difficult thing fraught with a great deal of challenges and bigotry that I’m sure I do not understand because my knowing personal exposure to trans people has been rather limited, but an unnuanced black and white strawman-filled take on the subject that wants to hammer you on the head with the “feel the plight of trans people” hammer over and over is going to irritate me to no end even as I agree with the central thing it’s trying to push.  And it’s preachy in a way that’s just going to galvanize the base, make the people that already agree with it feel better for agreeing with it, without actually adding more to the subject matter or approach anyone on the fringe.  There were a couple of times I missed out on puzzle clues because I got tired of wading through walls of text on how horrible the strawmen were that I just stopped looking at the things that point in a direction.  Also, I take issue with the ending, the same way I did with Gone Home’s.  Spoiler: dude just ghosted his family because they’re homophobic.  At least he’s got more reason that Gone Home’s couple, but either way, ghosting your family for anything but avoiding actual danger is a sick, horrible thing to do to them.  Yes, I would say that’s worse than the homophobia.  Treating it like a romanticised ideal bothers me a lot.

Abzu

05121039806l.jpg

I’ve heard this described as underwater Journey.  I haven’t played Journey, so I can’t really speak to that, but if you have, hey, maybe that means something to you.

So, you may call this a walking simulator, except there’s very little walking in it.  Usually you’re swimming.  You’re a diver exploring the underwater wildlife of an area, and sometimes exhibiting the strange power to create sea life where once it was missing.  You explore underwater ruins, solve a few ‘find the switch/drone/item’ puzzles to open doors, and go through a bit of a minimalist story that’s surprisingly well-presented for having no dialogue and only one real character.  Overall, it’s really just a relaxing, chill experience, one that does bring you some tension but otherwise has a rather meditative quality to it.

60 Parsecs

60-parsecs-switch-screenshot05.jpg

Yeah, it comes first alphabetically, but I don’t have much to say about it and I didn’t want to lead with this so it goes down here.  You manage a small team of space station wreck survivors as they head into an escape pod, trying to keep them alive and have them find or develop new items to increase their odds of survival until sheer random chance inevitably kills everybody and then you wonder what the hell that was all about and uninstall the game.  Not recommended.

Continue reading

The Battlegrounds Right Here: Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 4-Setting

Part 1-Intro

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Presentation

Persona 1 Retrospective

Persona 2 IS Retrospective

Nailing down the setting of Persona 3 can be a little difficult.  There’s a bit going on here.

P3PortIsland (1).jpg

As is traditional for an SMT game, Persona 3 takes place over a much smaller geographic area than most other rpgs, in this case limiting itself to a single city, Iwatodai.  Iwatodai is a large coastal that is a major area of operations, although not the headquarters, for a major business megacorp, the Kirijo Group.  Much of the city’s landmass is made up of an artificial island, Tatsumi Port Island, that I would guess the Kirijo Group played a major hand in constructing.  It comes complete with all the major amenities you’d expect a large city to have; schools, shopping centers, train stations, residences, etc.

The Kirijo Group seems to have their hands in half of everything that goes on in Iwatodai.  They own the school, your dorm, the shopping mall, tons of businesses, probably your dog, some of the residents might be their slaves in disguise, it’s hard to draw the line there.  And we’re going to get into spoiler territory from this point forward, so watch that.  The Kirijo Group used to be a part of the Nanjou Corporation, of which one of your characters from Persona 1 and 2 was part of.  They went independent some time ago, but still maintain a pretty close partnership there.  Perhaps because of this connection, they became aware of the supernatural, particularly the persona that your crew use and the shadows that are newly introduced this game, and were experimenting on them, their owner eventually seeking to use their powers to create a ‘time manipulation device’.  Not a time machine.  A ‘time manipulation device’.

introcutscene.png

Of course, as with every experiment ever conducted, this went wrong and almost destroyed the world.  Well, in this case, it ended up creating the whole dark hour deal that we mentioned earlier.  Whatever time manipulation magic they had going on there ended up inserting an extra hour into the day between midnight and midnight o’ one.  The experiment was conducted in what would become Gekkoukan High School, so, as that’s the epicenter of the event, it faces the most drastic transformation, becoming the dungeon tower Tartarus during the dark hour.  Everywhere else gets bathed in a sickening light, gets inundated with bloodstains, and sees monstrous shadows prowling all over the place.  So yeah, dark hour, not exactly pleasant times.  Although, you know, you can just stay in your dorm and get an extra hour of sleep.  So, on the bad side, people are either dying or having their desires consumed and becoming one of the Lost.  But on the good side, you get to be better rested.  So I’d say it’s really a wash.

1209e9b7464618adb1ca41a88ede85c4.640x344x1.jpg

Lets talk about the Shadows a bit.  Persona 2 introduced Shadows already, although these are quite a bit different.  Like the Shadows from Persona 2, these Shadows were created by the collective unconscious, but that’s where the similarities end.  The Shadows fit a lot more fully into the Jungian Psychology mold the game series has been using, being manifestations of the parts of the emotions, thoughts, and feelings that people don’t want to acknowledge.  In Persona 3, they gather in the collective unconsciousness, clumping together until they take some monstrous physical form.  Which is then vulnerable to pummeling.  Most people will transmogrify into a coffin during the dark hour, which is apparently a defensive instinct, them playing dead so the Shadows will ignore them.  Not everyone does, though.  Some keep their form, and serve as prey for the monsters, their minds being eaten and forced into Apathy Syndrome until our heroes beat the big shadow boss at the next full moon, and temporarily drive the shadows back.  Some will endure the dark hour until they get taken over by their own Shadows, their physical form dissolving and being replaced by a Shadow themselves.  And some just do fine, there.

There’s not a whole lot in the game to dictate why people enter into the Dark Hour without transmogrifying.  I can make some conjecture, though.  Survival instincts can be simplified into being one of fight, flight , or freeze.  Transmogrifying into a coffin would be a pretty freezy habit.  It could be as simple as those who don’t transmogrify simply have another instinct take its place.  As Persona 3’s expansion, The Answer, and Persona 4 indicate, a Persona is a Shadow that’s been mastered and is able to fight against them.  So the Persona-users who don’t transmogrify would do so simply because they have the ability and the will to fight the Shadows.  Their survival instinct falls into the ‘fight’ category, so they don’t ‘freeze’ into coffins.  Those poor souls without that power who end up falling victim and becoming the Lost could well be those who are more given to flee than to freeze, whose instincts tell them to get out of dodge rather than hide or wait for them to go away.  Since running away hasn’t proven to be very effective against the shadows, it doesn’t typically end up well for them, as far as we can see.  Some people are able to calmly enter into the Dark Hour once they’re aware of its existence, and for those, I’d assume it’s because they don’t feel the need to trigger any of their survival instincts at all.  For that matter, we do see at least once that persona-users are able to get people out of their coffins and into dark hour awareness, although we’re not given much in the way of an idea as how they can do that.  I could theorize within the framework I’ve already established, but I’ve probably conjectured away from the base enough.

Persona 3 is strangely sparse on details of the Dark Hour.  Which is a little strange, given the series.  Personas 1, 4, and 5 were very clear on where their alternate world comes from, and 2 had everything taking place in its own world, and so didn’t need to bother with it.  3’s just not explicit.  Although the series has gone to the ‘collective unconsciousness as a physical location’ well before, and will do so again, that’s not the case here.  The Dark Hour is explicitly related to the existence of shadows in some way, and specifically related to Nyx, the shadow embodying humanity’s desire for death.  Perhaps it’s for that reason the death and blood imagery is all over the place during the dark hour, and that the dark hour is so draining to everyone within it.  After all, the depression and anguish that would be embodied in the dark hour would be rather draining.  It’s not explored whether the dark hour is a local phenomenon, or something that happens world-wide.

P3-Tartarus.jpg

Like much else, Tartarus, the massive tower that your school turns into during the Dark Hour, is super symbolic and representative of the game’s themes.  In this case, it’s representative of the theme of the developers desire to have a place for you to grind.  And that’s about it.  Really, as much as I will go out of my way to connect poorly arranged pieces of a puzzle in a story, I can’t find a fit for this one.  Tartarus is barely connected to the plot, doesn’t really seem to have a thematic fit outside of its reaching for the moon, and doesn’t really seem to deliver anything narratively.  It’s where you go to fight shadows when you don’t have a plot-related mission or anything to do.  Akihiko considers it a training ground, and we could say, given that it’s growing out of the spot where shadows were unleashed into the world, it’s a hive or nest for shadows.  Mayhaps this is where the new ones emerge into the rest of the world from.  It’s established that time flows differently there, as Fuuka was trapped in Tartarus for days, yet felt only a few hours passed.  It’s also the spot where Nyx is destined to make her descent.  Otherwise, it’s mostly a Macguffin.  It’s something the story tells you is important, but doesn’t really do all that much to establish it.  It does serve, however, as a massive call back to Persona 1’s Snow Queen quest, being a big tower made out of a school named Tartarus that has Nyx at the end of it.

hqdefault (6).jpg

Perhaps the most striking thing about Iwatodai, outside of all the supernatural stuff and hidden magic conflicts and stuff going on there, is the people in there.  Overall, it’s a pretty dour, selfish group.  And that comes through a lot.  This is a community that largely just leaves the Lost, people who have overall lost any ability to take care of themselves or do anything, completely alone, as long as they’re out of the way.  We don’t see them do much to help out the invalids right in front of them.  Moreover, this is also the same community that readily organizes into doomsday cults given little provocation and actively takes part in murder requests once the rumor gets out that they work.  Missing students get ignored.  The fact that the hospital can hold people against their will on behalf of the Kirijo Group is forgotten.  Students will whine about going to classmates funerals.  Scam artists can proliferate there with little reprisal.  The horrible things the town and the people therein are going through end up treated as little more than gossip to most.  Even in your social links, oftentimes you’re running across people completely self-centered, thinking only of their own path through life and not how they pave over others.

Persona_3_portable_fanbook.jpg

And yet, even then, there’s glimpses of good in people.  Starting with your crew, who through all the traumas they’re going through, still keep their eyes on the common good and willingly sacrifice themselves for others, up to and including their very lives.  Many of your social links will see people come to a realization of just how self-centered they’re being, and turn around to make amends and improve other’s lives.  And, in the end, all your friends do come around for you, too.  It’s small, in the wake of the self-centered juggernaut that is the town as a whole, but you can find lots of people with real gems inside of them, you just need to brush off the dirt to get there with many of them.

Visual Novel Theatre: Ame no Marginal – Rain Marginal

Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve done one of these.  Let’s change that!

header.jpg

Ame no Marginal, or Rain Marginal depending on how much of a Japanophile you want to be, is a visual novel by Tomo Kataoka, a VN author who got really famous for his work on Narcissu, which we have covered here before, some years ago.  Those of you who’ve checked that out will find a lot familiar here.  It’s made in the same engine, the storytelling style is much the same, and it’s still a big exercise in minimalist storytelling.  However, Rain Marginal, although marketed pretty heavily on that Narcissu collection and even containing a bonus chapter for Narcissu after you finish the story here, really stands on its own.  Its got its own concept, its own characters, and brings to bear a rather distinct set of themes from all the rest.

20200129230906_1.jpg

The crux of Ame no Marginal deals with a separate, almost entirely featureless world where it’s always raining and time seems to stand still.  People within that world don’t age, heal injuries almost immediately, and never get hungry or thirsty.  Sounds cool, but as I said, almost entirely featureless.  There’s only one place in the world where you can get some covering from the rain, there’s a river that sometimes brings in the random broken down object, and there’s a place where you can get glimpses into the real world if you’re willing to walk a century or so to get there.  Aside from that, it’s all just flat stone.  And worst of all, most of the time, for years and years on end, there’s only one person inside of it.  Very occasionally, someone else will wander in, but the world will only allow there to be two people within it for up to three days at a time.

20200129190254_1.jpg

The story itself has two plotlines going through it.  The first follows the typical featureless Japanese male visual novel protagonist, whose name is probably Jenner Rick or something like that.  Rick lives a pretty typical salaryman life, and he finds it utterly banal.  This brings him to depression, and we see some suicidal ideation coming from him on a regular basis.  One day, as he’s heading to his office, the elevator that normally takes him there has an extra button, another floor above the top.  He presses it, and finds himself in this rainy world, where he meets Rin, a bubbly and optimistic child who seems to have been living there for quite some time.  This line will follow along with him over the three days that he has there.

20200129194816_1.jpg

The second line tells the story of Rin herself, some hundreds of years before she meets Rick.  And she didn’t live a happy life.  Brought up in feudal Japan as a slave to some religious institution that forces extreme restrictions on its girls as part of some measure of contrition to their god, she watches her sister, who always happily took part in this faith, get killed by these restrictions, and has them forced on her in her sister’s place.  Then bandits attack her shrine, she is set adrift, and she finds herself ending up in this rainy world, together with a seemingly carefree woman who exhibits strange powers.  Rin’s story kind of follows the same path as Rick’s at first, going largely over the interactions between the two characters there and Rin’s adjustment to the rain world, before it starts to take a different direction entirely.

One thing that I find really interesting about the two, two-and-a-half, however many perspectives you want to call it on this world is that they look at it in very different ways.  Rick actually seems to find a lot of comfort there.  He doesn’t say it outright, he acknowledges that this world would suck to be stuck in, but he does seem to find the whole experience very reflective.  With him, it appears that the world on the outside that he finds himself in shows him what the world he’s feeling on the inside is like.  Rin, on the other hand, seems to find the world to be an embodiment of her sin, although she doesn’t really understand that sin in the first place.  Her upbringing, trapped in that abusive religious institution and the horrors she saw there, left her with a very distinct mental structure for how things work, yet she doesn’t really understand any of the parts of it.  And she’s also there for a long, long time, which shows us quite a bit of how sort of thinking can progress.

20200129231437_1.jpg
The story gets a lot of mileage out of those two perspectives as well, sometimes in some really thoughtful ways.  For example, in Rick’s chapters, we see two different versions of Rin, the bubbly, optimistic one we see in the daytime, and the fatalistic, rude one at night.  When we get behind’s Rin’s head, we find that neither of them really accurately depict Rin’s actual personality.  The daytime one seems to be a persona she puts on with the rare opportunity to spend time with someone else, and she might not even be aware the nighttime Rin is coming out of her.  And that’s just the lead to this.  Rain Marginal has some spots of really surprising depth, and I think I’ve gotten a lot more out of the story thinking about it afterwards than I did when I was actually in the midst of playing it.

It takes a certain type of patience to enjoy Ame no Marginal, however.  Even for being as short as it is, around two hours without the Narcissu bonus chapter, it’s a really slow moving story.  Which I suppose is par for the course here.  We’re talking about a work of fiction with only three characters of which only two can interact at a time in a world where the whole point is that there’s nothing going on and almost nothing ever changes.  There’s not a whole lot happening, and there’s a whole lot of introspection.  If you’re into thoughtful works, where you really have to slow down and focus on the little things, this could be your bag, but if not, I don’t see you getting much out of it.

And unfortunately, while it does have a lot of thoughtful moments, I think this visual novel’s biggest failing is that those moments don’t really come together into a cohesive whole.  Tomo Kataoka has been a big proponent of the theory that it’s really up to you to determine what you get out of a work, what it means, what the themes are, what it has to teach you, all that jazz.  And it worked really well with Narcissu.  Here, though, it just doesn’t feel like there’s all that much substance.  There’s a lot of flashes of good work in there, but overall, it feels like a lot of not really connected ideas were just thrown together and called a day.  I’ve seen some posts out there trying to hash out what Ame no Marginal means to no real effect, but rather than because it’s just really subject to interpretation, I think it’s because there’s just no real intention behind the stuff here.  We see a few things as to what the world might represent, but beyond that anything else really means anything.  The story leaves a lot of questions with absolutely no hints of any answers whatsoever.  Why Rin has those two personalities, what the river is and why it seems to have portals to or from the real world at either end, the woman with mysterious powers that Rin encounters and why her experiences in the world are so very different from hers, so much and more gets absolutely no exploration and no sense there’s any greater thought behind it.  And it doesn’t help that the finale just drops happy endings on everybody out of nowhere with no sense of actually resolving anything.  I’m willing to give a lot of things the benefit of the doubt, but here, well, if the job of an author is to turn an answer into a question, this work seems like a lot of its questions never had answers in the first place.

And in a nutshell, that’s Ame no Marginal.  It’s quick, and if you’re in the right frame of mind, it can be enjoyable and make you think.  It doesn’t really stand up to deep scrutiny, however, and given the potential of the author and his way of writing, that’s a real shame.

Eyes on Binary Domain

So the Yakuza guys made a cyberpunk game, huh?

Binary_Domain_Cover_Art.png

Which immediately strikes me as kind of an unfair statement to lead in with.  Yes, this is made by the Ryu ga Gotoku team, the group behind one of my favorite video game series, Yakuza.  Yes, that fact is what made me pay attention to the game in the first place, and it one of the features that most makes it stand out in a market, but honestly, that doesn’t have a whole lot of bearing on the end product.  Some teams, studios, designers, etc stick to a really distinctive design.  Hideo Kojima makes a game, you know it’s going to be full of giant cinematic cutscenes, swap between the bizarre and the realistic freely, and you will be lectured on Kojima’s moral stands through the characters.  If Bioware makes a game (well, pre-MMO Bioware, who knows where their design sense is now) it’s going to have expansive dialogue choices and convoluted plots.  Platinum Studios makes a game, its action will be extreme and fast and tense, and its plot and visual design will be waaaaaay over the top.  You know these things.

Some developers and studios, however, don’t stick to just one thing.  They’ve got some variety to them.  You wouldn’t think Ryu ga Gotoku studios would, given that they have one franchise that they keep churning out on a regular basis, but as Binary Domain shows, they really do.  This game has very little in common with the Yakuza series that the studio is based around.  It’s a completely different genre.  It’s distinctly made for an international audience whereas Yakuza is extremely Japanese.  It’s in an entirely different setting, requiring a very different visual design, and is structured completely differently.  Its takes a completely different path of play.  It does carry through the overall ethos of character design, with people that include just the right amount of visual flaws to look super realistic, and the very appropriately placed product placement, but that’s really all I can pick up on that’s carried over from the Yakuza series.

Continue reading

Good Sexy, Bad Sexy

Come to think of it, this post is going to cover the same ground as something I did years ago, when I was just a little baby blogger.  Just, saying it now in a different way.  So consider this the HD Remix of one of my most popular for probably the wrong reasons seminal posts of why and in what situations sexiness can be good.

Sexuality is awesome, isn’t it?  It grabs people at a very instinctual, emotional level, it brings people together, and makes us feel whole.  It makes us healthier physically and mentally, it gives us drive and energy, and it feels so innate to us that most consider it a significant part of our identity and our society has adopted a rather complex set of cultural practices surrounding sexuality.  It likely comes as no surprise, coming from the world’s sexiest man as determined by a survey of myself and my mirror, but to me, sexuality is a marvelous thing to be celebrating.

Media producers often work sexuality or titillation into the works they’re producing.  This is not a new phenomenon, it’s been going on for hundreds of years.  Just think back to all those classical paintings you spent way too long staring at back in middle school.  And it’s no wonder why.  We’ve got an instinctual draw for it, and it’ll capture or attention in a way that little else will.  And it works on an instinctual level, just like we react to the simulated intensity of danger or the fear of horror, so too do we get a thrill from sexiness when it’s coming through our screens, canvas, or pages.  And in contrast to what many may say, I’d posit that that’s a good thing that we can get that hook in us when we wish.

Which makes me wonder why so many creators get it so wrong.

Recently I was playing Oneechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers, which is part of a strange and eclectic collection I call “Games I own because of the women I’ve dated”.  Which also includes the first three games of the Hitman series, Onimusha, Final Fantasy VII Dirge of Cerberus, Dynasty Warriors III, the entire Fable series, Syberia II, the Wii version of Oregon Trail, and the absolute bane of my existence, Fur Fighters.  I’m coming to realize that my ladyfriends have some really mixed tastes.  Not sure what that says about me.  Anyways, in this case, as you can probably tell by the title, this is a total fanservice game.  It exists to put scantily clad women in front of you.  And yet I found the sexuality there really wasn’t working for me.  It’s kind of a middling game without it, yet the sexiness, I found, actually dragged the experience down.  I was wondering about that.  I’ve played a lot of other games where I enjoyed the sexuality there or felt it actually uplifted the experience.  And it got me thinking back to what made the difference there.

And that got me thinking back to that post I mentioned above.  And, you know, almost six years later, I still stand by that post.  I occasionally look back over my old writings and find something I may not agree perfectly with now, but that one, that still holds up completely.  But the thought still remains in my mind, of the differences between the works that do their sexuality right and those that don’t.  And I’d like to explore that here, today.  I’m not going to walk in my own footprints and re-make those same statements I did years ago, so check that post if you’d like some background on this whole deal.  But I would like to delve into that concept again.  This time, let’s take a look at how it works specifically, comparing and contrasting a few examples.

Continue reading

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

518QD0FJ88L._SX355_.jpg

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.

persona-3-screenshot-02.jpg

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.

Strenght&Fortune.PNG.png

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.

278837-shin-megami-tensei-persona-3-playstation-2-screenshot-joining.png

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.