Hey, Supergiant Games has been getting a lot of attention with their latest release. Apparently, Hades is a good game. So I thought today, we’d take a look at… something completely different.
A while back, we took a look at Supergiant Games’ first published effort, Bastion. I like the game, a lot. And I wrote a lot about it, once! Today, we’re going to follow up on that, by taking a look at their follow up, Transistor.
Transistor is a pretty obvious spiritual successor to Bastion, working off of the same DNA while really doing its own thing. In Transistor, you play as a woman without a voice using a sword that is also her lover in a world that’s cyberpunk as all hell and maybe is inside a computer or is a virtual reality thing or something to fight beasties that are probably computer programs gone wrong. Uhh… it gets a little weird when you phrase it all out like that. Let’s start over.
In Transistor, you find yourself in the city of Cloudbank, a city where absolutely everything, down to the weather is democratically determined, and as a result, has a bit of a problem with constant meaningless change and mediocrity. Whatever’s the lowest common denominator catches on the most, and never sticks around to make an impact. Nearly everyone is registered and set towards two determined goals, and individuals rise and fall all the time with barely anyone caring. You play as Red, a popular singer and maybe something of an activist who’s become ‘the voice of the people’. The local illuminati, the Camerata, who want to break Cloudbank out of that democratic quagmire it’s in, attack you, trying to stab you with the titular Transistor. Your romantic partner, a mysterious man who’s somehow entered Cloudbank without anything about him being registered, takes the hit for you, and his soul is absorbed into the Transistor. And then the Camerata take your voice somehow. You escape, get your hands on the Transistor, through which your boyfriend is still able to speak with you, and then you get attacked by computerized beasties as a result of something called the Process running amok. So, there’s the background of the game. In much more accurate and describing wordy-things this time around.
It’s never especially clear what exactly Cloudbank’s nature is, what’s outside of the city, etc. The game’s short on details in general. We’ll get into that later. Anyways, programming themes abound, which does lead to the impression that it’s all software. Most of the potential interaction points are highlighted using what looks like code, all your moves are code terms, your enemies and so much about the setting are computer terminology, Red, at least, seems rather adept with programming language, etc. It overall gives the piece a somewhat surreal tone. Visually and auditorily, the world hear is very somber. Colors are high contrast, but very muted, and the music, although nearly as good as we heard in Bastion last, are much less solely listenable, serving more to set the mood in combination with the story and the game, rather than standing on their own as great listens. Between that, the game feels a lot more lonely and oppressive than even Bastion’s post-apocalyptic romp with less characters than this game did. The music, they do some really interesting play with that I have to commend them for. Red, your character, is a singer, and you can unlock some of her songs. Moreover, even though she lost her voice, she can still hum, and will do so along with the background track at the press of a button. So you get your lead pretty heavily involved in the game’s soundtrack, hearing her voice where you can’t hear her otherwise. It makes for a really interesting tour through the game’s soundtrack.
Starting here, every Persona game is going to have a member of the party that doesn’t become a playable character themselves, but rather frees up your mission control member to focus on combat. In this game, that’s Fuuka. When you get Fuuka, you really get Mitsuru. Fuuka just takes Mitsuru’s place as the voice in your ear.
Anyways, Fuuka is demure, shy, and physically very small. She apparently spends a fair amount of time in the hospital, and that’s where Akihiko and Mitsuru first come to realize her potential to use a persona. However, she doesn’t seem to be especially sickly. She’s also revealed as missing a lot of school, although not due to illness. Her parents are relatively average folk among a family of high achievers, and out of jealousy of their more successful siblings, put a lot of pressure on her to succeed and raise their social standing. At school, she’s rather horribly bullied by the local ganguro girls, culminating in them locking her inside the school gym and leaving her there. Anyways, the game doesn’t make it clear, but I imagine that all her time out sick is really time trying to escape from the stress she’s facing at both school and home. If that’s the only place she has that’s safe for her, I can see why she’d be finding herself there with frequency.
At this point, it’s been almost a year since we entered quarantine. And it’s had its ups, times when I’ve been able to live up to my magnificent self, and its had its downs, times when I’ve been reminded that we’re still living in a dystopian future. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a long tunnel, and we’re still a ways from the end. So you know what? Let’s take that time to play some games. Here’s what I’ve been working through lately.
So, here’s one of those games I never really knew existed, but when one of the various give-you-games services landed it into my library, it really stood out. Chroma Squad is a Tactics-style strategy RPG in which you’re playing out battles for a Power Rangers-esque Super Sentai show. It lets you customize a lot about your show, from team and character names to the colors of your rangers and everything in between, which gives me incredible freedom to amuse myself with the powers of my own mind in ways absolutely nobody else will find funny, probably. From Kickass Blaster Studios, in the prime after school viewing block, hang on to your hats, boys and girls, it’s time for the totally child-appropriate show, Tooty Fruity Kill Squad! When evil is afoot, these five heroes, with a shout of “It’s Murder Time!”, will activate their Moon Prism Magic and transform into Killer Red (because every sentai group has a red leader), Killer Black, Killer Gray, Killer White (because it amused me to have a chunk of the usually colorful sentai squads be completely monochrome), and Killer Purple (because nobody ever has a purple ranger)! They’ll fight their way through hordes of goons, and then, when things get too hot to handle, unleash their team-based special move, the Eat Shit! And when their might alone isn’t enough, they’ll pilot their giant robot, the Killborg 10,000, to victory!
It rather helps that there’s a pretty simple but mechanically solid gameplay system behind it too. It’s a really basic tactics system in all, it’s grid-based and you’ve got your basic movements and attacks, a few weapons and abilities that depend on your characters classes and equipment, and an option to assist that’s really one of the things that adds a surprisingly large amount of depth to the gameplay. By assisting, your heroes will set themselves up for others to leap off of, adding a lot of range to their movement, and will also attack in unison with other rangers targeting enemies in mutual melee range, more than doubling their attack damage. If you pull off having all five members attack one enemy at once, they’ll do the team special move, the Eat Shit! in my case but you can call it something lamer if you’d like to in your game. But that’s supposed to be a finishing move, and if you use it as anything but a coup de grace, the anticlimax will make for a worse episode and you’ll lose fan power for that. Which is a thing. You need to have built up a certain amount of fan power to be able to transform from your lame everyday forms to your Killer selves, or whatever your team is named, in the first place, and beyond that, it plays a part in your overall studio management. That component feels a lot like a management sim, where you’re laying out and dealing with the resources for your own studio, but everything you do has a direct, in-combat effect, so it’s not really that in practice, more like just a really elaborate means of equipping your team in an RPG.
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the character of the game, it does a lot of wink-wink nudge-nudge humor that seems likes it’s just trying too hard, and a lot of the enemy design is a little lackluster. You’ll be tired of fighting the same jobbers over and over again, but the bosses are frequent and varied, which works really well to keep things fresh. And the visuals, in spite of me deliberately toning down over half of my team, are very vibrant and coloful, and the music is pretty nice. Captures the old 90’s vibe really well in a primitive almost-chiptune set. Overall, I enjoyed my time with the game quite a bit. It moves quickly, and although it can be a little cringy or basic in parts, it’s a simple, fun time in all.
From a very vibrant game to one that’s carefully not. Aztez uses the old Madworld color palette of black, white, red, and nothing else. It’s a hard game to describe. Particularly given that I don’t especially understand it myself. It’s half board game, half smackdown? Something like that. So, in a given game, you’re playing in ancient Mexico, trying to do… something. I thought you were trying to take over cities and force out rival tribes, but then I won the game without doing that. Anyways, you start with board game parts, managing your towns and resources and what not. One of your resources are your warriors, and you get to do one major thing per warrior per turn. So more warriors equals more turns. The bulk of the things in this are combat challenges, where you get to the smackdown gameplay. I don’t know why, but that part of the game reminds me a lot of Viewtiful Joe’s post-game challenge levels. It has a similar feel to combat, and a lot of it is based on keeping track of enemies and making appropriate reactions to their telegraphed attack, much like Viewtiful Joe. Except you can absorb your opponent’s blood and use that to summon your god to smack them around. As you do.
Anyways, in my game, I spent most of my time campaigning against my rival tribes, pushing them back and stealing their territory, aiming to eradicate them as is usually the win condition in those types of strategy games. I almost got to that point, but then the Spanish arrived, with their armor and their guns and their better equipment than me, and they started completely crushing my guys. With clever use of items, I managed to push them back to the borders of the map, then devoted all my remaining warriors to taking them down so I could smash my rivals in peace. They killed all but the last of my warriors, but that last one brought down the guy with the biggest feather in his helmet, and that apparently meant that I won the game, even though my rivals now were in a perfect position to retake my land after I spent all I had in fighting the Spanish. So, I guess there’s a moral to the story. And that moral is that the true path to victory runs through beating up the Spanish.
Alright, boys, girls, ladies, and gentlemen, I think we need to set some ground rules here. Normally, I wouldn’t say I entirely adhere to the traditional review format, but with my “Eyes on” pieces, I like to take things as objectively as I can when looking at an inherently subjective medium. But try as I might, I can’t really do that today. Not with this piece. I absolutely love Bastion. And I love it for reasons that are a bit hard to articulate, and definitely aren’t universal. It connects with me in a particular way. A way others share, absolutely, so it’s not perfectly unique to me, but it’s a way that not everyone is going to connect with. But maybe some of you reading this would! So, in order to bring some light to it, I’m going to talk about Bastion today. But keep in mind, this is going to be less a review, and more me just gushing about one of my favorite games.
The game begins with your hero, the Kid, waking up after the Calamity, an apocalyptic event that blew his home city to pieces and turned most of the people therein into statues of ash. In third-person isometric action gameplay style, the Kid then makes his way to the titular Bastion, which was supposed to be the safe haven gathering spot for the city in the event of disaster, accompanied only by the ongoing narration of Rucks. Upon reaching the Bastion, the Kid learns that it has a function that can maybe do something about all of this, but it’s incomplete, so he needs to venture off to the various parts of the territory that had been sent sky high to regain the pieces it needs to work.
One of the most striking things about Bastion is how much it leverages its unique character. This most notably presents itself in the aforementioned ongoing narration. Rucks is, for the most part, the only character in the game to get any lines and personality, but he’s showing it to you constantly. As long as you’re continually moving forward and you’re outside of fights, he’s usually commenting on whatever’s going on. Your actions, the surrounding area, the backstory of the city and the calamity, the motivations of the enemies you’re facing, everything. All of your interactions with the world and people around you that go beyond hitting them with a hammer are relayed to you by the narrator rather than you seeing them directly, which in most instances would be absolutely frustrating to get through, but Rucks has such flavor to him that the game makes it work. The voice-acting, direction, and writing of the narrator is so beautifully on point, and it adds so much life to the game.
It helps that Rucks has a lot of good material to work with. The setting is a very interesting and unique one. It strikes me as being the type of place you’d see more often if the standard fantasy tropes were influenced by early American culture more so than Western European. The city of Caelondia was founded by pioneers from outside the area, and grew into a major economic and technological center in the world. They originally bought land from the natives to it, then ended up having a lot of friction with them. The city grew large, but it still had a lot of wild, untamed areas, of which many people were set to explore and master. Judging by Rucks, the people of Caelondia have a southwestern twang to their voice, and you see railways, revolvers and muskets, and other standard from the Wild Western genres. The major god of the parts is stylized as a ranch-style bull. One of the locations is called a Melting Pot, another is a straight up bayou, you take barges down big rivers, etc. If you mixed the classic western with fantasy, you might get what you see here. That, and the interesting applications and hints of a guild structure, the variety of items and descriptions you find, and the way Rucks adds so much character to even the simplest of things ends up making the game world so interesting.
The story’s really solid as well. It’s a lesson in minimalist storytelling, you only have four real characters, and everything is filtered through the viewpoint of a single one of them, but it ends up having a real impact in its execution. You get hope, guilt, betrayal, redemption, sacrifice, salvation, all flowing into each other really well. In optional challenges, you can explore everyone’s backstory as well, which proves itself to be really well thought-out and rounds them out as characters while also tying them into their role in the current plot really well. It makes them all, and their actions, seem very relatable, whatever they end up doing. Without spoilers, the endgame in particular makes me want to chef kiss at how it plays out. It really uses the imagination well, leaving just enough gaps for you to fill things in and bring things more to life in your head, without underexplaining anything or avoiding conclusions. It also has some capital letter THEMES, and it hits those beautifully. It really doesn’t feel like the freshman effort it is by Supergiant Games; the game moves its pieces around that central theme so adeptly I’d swear the team was all old hands at this. It really works best because it’s a somewhat short game, and has so few moving parts, as I feel like if they made it more complex than it was it’d all start to fall apart. As is, the basic elements of the plot may be things you’d see in many other places, but the way it’s handled here really sets this game apart in terms of storytelling.
Beyond that, the music of this game is absolutely stellar. This game has one of my absolute favorite soundtracks, and it’s probably the one I’ve returned to most often over the last decade. The southwestern instrumentation lends a lot of the songs a classic western feel overtop the modern and industrial foundation while all maintaining a pulse-pounding energetic feel. They evoke emotions and a sense of action very well, and truly add a lot to the piece. The songs with vocal tracks also provide a bit of a glimpse into the characters behind them, and really gain a lot of emotional grounding in context as well. So yes. Music. Marvellous. Dig it.
And I’ve been talking about the presentation a lot. You’re probably wondering about the gameplay. And you know, it’s good. Not quite as overwhelmingly stellar as the narration and music, but it’s still very solid. Walking around and bashing things feels very good, and you’ve got a great degree of control over your character. The Kid is pretty slow in ground speed, but that seems deliberate, and puts a greater emphasis on using your other tools for defense than just walking around attacks. There’s a really big variety of enemies for how long of a game this is, so you’re constantly changing up and adjusting your combat operations. You get a huge amount of options in setting up your character’s loadout, making the Kid incredibly versatile. It seems like every other level you get a new weapon, all of which play completely differently from each other, and you can mix and match upgrades to significantly alter their functionality. You’ve also got a number of buffs you can apply between levels that, again, significantly change the way you play, and, if you’re so inclined, a number of debuffs you can apply to yourself as well. If you’re interested in a combat systems that gives you a lot of control and is constantly introducing new things, Bastion scratches that itch well. Navigation is a bit of another story, however. Between the Kid’s slow movement and the fact that the world is remaking itself around you, it’s not too much fun to be walking around the parts in between when you’re crushing baddies, and it can be pretty confusing to get to where you’re going. Unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time slowly hugging the walls, expect to leave a lot of goodies behind. You can buy them later, but that takes resources you can probably put to better uses. It’s a lot better experience when you have the opportunity to just flow from one fight to the next.
The visuals of the piece are kind of ok. They’re colorful, and characters, creatures, and sprites are very distinct, making things really pleasant to look at and really easy to navigate in the midst of really complicated sequences. I do kind of get tired of nearly everything being made of tiles, but that’s kind of a necessity with the way they set things up here. Artistic design is a little mixed, most of the characters and some of the monsters do look really nice, others are kind of bland or visually confusing. It hits right when it matters most, at the very least.
But yeah. Less of a review. More of me raving about a thing I really like. But I REALLY like it. And now you know. So there.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know by now that I’m a big Yakuza mark. Love the games. I love the deep social conspiracies, I love the badass manly drama, I love the big dumb crazy sidequests, I love the action, I love the tone shifts, I love the gameplay, I love the world, etc. A new Yakuza game came out a few weeks ago. And it reflects a big shift for the series. So much so that the localized version completely removes the sequel number from the title, opting to be released as Yakuza: Like a Dragon rather than having it a proper Ryu ga Gotoku 7 as it’s called in Japan. Yakuza 6 provided a soft end to the saga of Kazuma Kiryu, meaning this game introduces a new lead character for the series and with it a whole new story thread. And the gameplay’s been changed up so significantly it’s not even in the same genre as the rest of the series anymore.
Well, with such a monumental step for one of my favorite series, I felt it only right that I give my esteemed judgement on how well they did. Because who else understands and appreciates this series more deeply than I do? Nobody I know, that’s for sure. My word on this is pretty much the bottom line. I play through these games pretty slow, though, take my time, explore every inch of it until I am satisfied, so if you want the full review, that’s going to be a while off. But here’s my impressions of this new Yakuza not-7 from my playtime so far.
With Kazuma Kiryu out of the main event picture, Yakuza: Like a Dragon has us in the shoes of new series protagonist Ichiban Kasuga and his hair. I like Kasuga. Not so much his hair. For the most part, the Yakuza series has been really reliably good with the characterization, writing, and design of their player characters, and Ichiban Kasuga is no different. He’s got a heart of gold and an ass of dumb, and he’s very outgoing, kind, and earnest, and seems not to let setbacks bring him down. He’s a very likeable character, and with the depth and development they gave him, particularly in the early stages, it’s clear how a lot of facets of his personality developed. Kasuga doesn’t always make the most sensible decisions, but I found myself really understanding him and his thought process in the decisions he was choosing to make, which is something that’s really not easy to establish with a fictional character. And for as charmingly dumb as he is, Kasuga has a great gift for insight, and it’s a really common plot factor wherein someone is acting brusque and off-putting in an attempt to hide their intentions but he’s able to understand what’s really going on with them.
With the developers seemingly intending Kasuga to take Kiryu’s place as the game lead for future titles, it’s really interesting both how many parallels he has to Kiryu as well as the very clear ways they approach things differently. The basic backstory is the same for both men. In order to protect someone they considered family, they took the blame for a murder they didn’t commit and spent long years in prison, only to find out on release that the person they sacrificed huge chunks of their lives for changed drastically in the time they were gone and now act very much against the values and yakuza family they once held dear. Both believe very strongly in the romantic ideal of the yakuza, and that forms the basis of a plot-long struggle against the reality that these are organized criminal who do horrible things to innocent people for personal gain. Kiryu’s back is tattooed with a dragon, while Kasuga is emblazoned with a dragonfish. Both model themselves after father figures who are in deep with yakuza leadership, and admire the high ethics and nobility they display in their roles. Their backstories are very similar. Yet their approaches from there are very different. Kiryu, through his building of alliances and his just being harder than everyone else was very effective as a yakuza. Kasuga was a horrible yakuza, being too nice to earn much. Kiryu was very well-respected before his fall from grace and infamous and reviled afterwards. Kasuga was unpopular among his fellow yakuza beforehand, and utterly forgotten afterwards. Kiryu was stoic and reserved. Kasuga is expressive and a giant dork. Kiryu’s largely self made, whereas Kasuga relies on the assistance of others. Kiryu made things go right by having a highly developed moral code and being strong enough to crush whatever goes against it. Kasuga, at least so far, makes things go right by using his background to understand others and taking bold action to bring them around to his point of view. Kiryu was laser-focused, whereas Kasuga rolls with changes and takes a more short-term mindset. It’s starting out with the basics of a similar story, but their divergent personalities end up making them approach it in very different ways.
Akihiko is basically the ace of your group. Which is fitting. He is left-handed, after all, a member of that genetically superior race. Dude is good at nearly everything. He’s an excellent boxer, and is riding on a 16-match win streak as of the game’s start. He’s a great combatant against shadows as well, shown taking them on without backup in the game’s opening act and being one of two people you need available to be allowed to take on the tower of Tartarus in the early game. And he’s got a sharp mind and a stable core, to boot, coming up with great tactics on his own while also keeping S.E.E.S. emotionally grounded during its most difficult moments.
Unfortunately, Akihiko’s also the character most ruined by the sequels completely discarding a lot of what makes him special and the character growth he went through here in favor of over-emphasizing just a few strange moments from him. So let’s go over just who Akihiko is in Persona 3.
The big, central thing to Akihiko’s arc and personality is his constant drive for self-improvement. He’s incredibly competitive, although it often seems that he’s competing more with himself than others. He often drives others to do the same as well, taking on a sort of mentoring/managerial role. He’s the one who guides and protects you as you’re new to the art of shadow-fighting, introducing you to all the resources S.E.E.S. has mustered thus far and making sure you’re adequately prepared. He also takes a direct hand in helping the academically-challenged members of S.E.E.S. prep for big tests. When others are trying to temper your expectations of an upcoming athletic meet you’re competing in in the face of the stiff competition you’re set to face there, he’s the one to encourage you most whole-heartedly. His drive to improve does go too far at times, seeing him take risks alone that others are really uncomfortable with and leave him injured, refuse to rest to allow his injuries to heal, and do make him seem insensitive others when they think he’s focusing on the wrong things. It can also make him a bit single-minded. Shinjiro does remark at one point that he is so focused on the future that seeing him think about the past even a bit means that something is dearly wrong.
The game dances around this a bit, spending a lot of time hinting that Akihiko’s got some traumatic events in his past, before coming out that this drive for self-improvement comes from the death of his sister in a fire. It seems they were living at an orphanage at that point, but otherwise, there aren’t a whole lot of details to go around on it. He felt a whole lot of guilt for not being able to save her, and devoted everything to getting strong enough that he’d never lose someone like that again. That pursuit of improvement has its good and bad points throughout the story, as seen above, and continues up until the death of one of his closest friends, Shinjiro. At that point, he’s forced to come face-to-face with the fact that, as powerful and skilled in so many different ways as he has gotten, there are things in life that he will still be completely unable to prevent. His pursuit of improvement as a safety measure will never be absolute, and he won’t be able to save everyone important to him from everything arrayed against them. At that realization, he recommits himself to fighting against the dark hour, knowing that he’ll need to find a new way to live once its done.
And with that, maybe you can see a bit why I find the ‘Let’s eat protein! Train all the time! Fight fight fight!’ personality he adopts in Persona 4 Arena and Persona Q so disgusting.
Man, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of those business analysis posty things. Do you remember those? How I would use my business education and past experience as an entrepreneurial consultant to sound smart while talking about video game business things and everyone thought I was so cool? Yeah, good times. So let’s do that again. Because I’ve got some thoughts. About a thing.
And that thing is the Epic vs. Apple lawsuit.
And, looking back on that post after I’ve written the thing, those thoughts are really rambling and I’m not sure what kind of point I was trying to make, but hey, it was on my mind and now it’s out here so I hope you enjoy.
Now, going into this, I should put in a couple of caveats. Epic has chosen to make their case in terms of antitrust law. Now, my education did include a class in business law, but we didn’t devote a whole lot of time to antitrust, and my work following that was largely in small business and microenterprise and other areas where that sort of thing just doesn’t come up too often. Also, I hate antitrust law. So I’m haven’t devoted any more time to looking into it than is required to pretend I know what I’m talking about and properly enjoying the drama of this case. I’m going to seem like I’m well informed here, probably. But keep in mind that I’m not, and it’s not especially important to me that I am, really. So although I am incredibly wise and intelligent and sexy and you can usually put a lot of trust in the things I say, don’t base any judgments on what I’m talking about with regards to the law, here. Also, there’s a bunch of other factors I could look up here, like the contents of the emails between Epic and Apple leading up to this, but I choose not to. Because I’ve got better things to do with my time. Like making this post. So go me.
Ah, Yukari. In my view, she’s the most realistically complicated character in the Persona series. She is complex and inconsistent in much the same ways that real life people are. She is very open and socialable and popular and has no close friends whatsoever and is incredibly lonely. She’s a caring person who keeps an eye out for the needs of those around her and she frequently lashes out at others with little to no provocation. She is incredibly insightful, often picking up on things that nobody else even notices and remains grounded even when everyone else is distracted, and also fears abstract concepts and fictional spooks greatly. She’s a lot more complex a character than you usually find in fiction. As a very complex character, fan opinions of her also vary quite a bit. Some like her. Some hate her. Some are annoyed by her at first, but like her more as the game goes on and she develops as a character. Some start out a fan of hers, but then hit a point in her social link where Japanese and western principles and values vary greatly and she ditches you if you do what seems most natural and supportive to her from our perspective. Fun times.
Yukari officially joined S.E.E.S. a short while before you did, although she’s been on their radar for a while before. She just recently awakened to her persona before the start of the game, and isn’t yet adept at facing down the emotional hurdle required in summoning it. When Yukari was a kid, her father was one of the scientists working on the Kirijo Group’s Shadow project, the thing that ended up creating the Dark Hour in the first place. When things went south there, the only thing the public knew was that there was an explosion that killed a lot of scientists, for which the survivors used Yukari’s dad as a scapegoat, posthumously. Because we’re dealing with a society that’s horrible and hateful in this game, although Yukari’s dad also died in the blast, everyone around treated Yukari and her family horribly because of it. Between the grief from their loss and the combination of pity and hatred they faced, they had to move quite a bit of times, preventing them from building any real connections with anyone. In her grief, Yukari’s mother sought solace in a series of short-term romantic entanglements, which led to Yukari being neglected, at least in her view. Yukari started living alone, some time before starting at Gekkoukan High School, and it seems she and her mother rarely talk, now. Ten years after her father died, Yukari gets a time capsule letter he left for her, full of good feelings and love, and with that, Yukari doesn’t believe he really could have done the things he’s been accused of, and, knowing his experiments were tied with Gekkoukan High School somehow, enrolls there to figure out what exactly happened.
So, Dead Cells is a roguelike action platformer with some Metroidvania elements. It’s awesome. Sorry for spoiling the rest of the review there.
It’s also hard, as befits a roguelike. But sometimes you have to play and beat those hard games. Because that’s how people know that your penis is big. Even if you don’t have a physical penis. Your metaphorical penis is big. The penis of your soul.
Anyways, Dead Cells is really a great model of what makes roguelikes so enjoyable to play. For those who aren’t super familiar with the model, let’s go through what makes a roguelike a roguelike. The model traditionally built around having a high degree of challenge, a very high skill ceiling, and permadeath, meaning that the games are very hard and if you die you’re right back at the beginning, but there’s a lot of room for you to get very very good at them and they’ll throw challenges at you for near every level of skill. Given that you’ll be dying and going back to the beginning a lot, the model makes heavy use procedurally-generated levels (well, at least semi-procedurally generated, a lot of games will cheat by just having premade rooms connected in a randomized layout) and randomized gear and resources, which cuts down on the repetition by changing up the levels and your playstyle each time. In fact, the randomized gear adds a lot to the gameplay of the model, as you have to try out and adapt to a lot of different capabilities and your strategy needs to adjust constantly to the specific things your character is capable of. In more recent games, roguelikes have started adopting a practice of having you collect resources in each run that unlocks upgrades or new weapons or whatnot that linger between characters, meaning the game will grow as you play it more. Success in a roguelike usually relies on three factors, your knowledge of the game and its future possibilities and various microcomponents, your ability to use that knowledge to make strong decisions about how you’re building your character with the limited and randomized resources available to you as well as your decisions to manage risk, and your in the moment gameplay skills in whatever genre the roguelike is.
So Dead Cells takes that foundation, just as described there, and builds on top of it a very technically solid action platformer. Your main character is… well, a sentient blobby mass possessing a headless corpse, but it really doesn’t control like a sentient blobby mass possessing a headless corpse. Your character is quick and incredibly responsive, and it feels very natural controlling them. It does take a little bit of getting used to, but soon you’ll be zipping back and forth around enemies, dodging through their attacks, leaping through platforms and coming up behind them to bring the pain in no time. Moreover, this game does a thing. A thing with speed. Every time you kill an enemy, you get a speed boost for the next several second. This stacks to a certain extent, so if you’re smacking down enemies over and over again, you’ll get pretty darn zippy, which you can then use to beat the level in record time or to be even more deadly against your foes. Complimenting the great controls and speed here are that your rank and file enemies are very distinct in their moves. They telegraph their attacks really well, both with their sprites rearing back as well as with a nice exclamation point decal alerting you to the attack, even if it’s coming from off screen. They’ll also pause just long enough for you to take a single action, aggressive or defensive, as long as your reflexes are on par. There may be a bit of trouble time as you get to recognize the enemies and the nature of their attacks, but once you learn how and what they do, if you get hit, it’s because of a mistake you made and you know exactly what that mistake was. Usually. Because there was at least one point where I got killed by an enemy that attacked in half the time its fellows did with absolutely not warning. Jerk. But yeah, the game is hugely demanding and its very easy to make mistakes, but aside from those few times, its completely fair in its challenge.
Alright, so this post is proving to be too large and taking too long to write, because it turns out I can run my mouth about things. So we’re breaking it up, rather than going through all the characters at once. Here’s the first bit of our Persona 3 character analysis. We’ll be at this for a while.
Here’s a fun time! Let’s talk the characters! Persona is a very character-driven series, and Persona 3 marks a point in the series where you started going over each of them with a magnifying glass. So what say we dig into them, and see what they’re all about. Starting with the PCs. Well, the PC and the sorta-PCs. They’re not NPCs. But you don’t control them directly. Except for that one version where you do. Uh… maybe I should just lower-case it then. Let’s talk about the PC and the pCs.
Also, another warning here. This is spoiler territory. I would imagine that if you’re going to play the game, you would have done so by now, but just in case, if you still want to take it on, might want to stop here. Else we’ll be revealing all sorts of secrets.
The party as a whole. S.E.E.S. is an officially sanctioned student club at Gekkoukan High School, who apparently don’t blink at having a club with “Execution Squad” in the name. Given the Shadow stuff is all supposed to be secret, I wonder what school staff think S.E.E.S. actually does. Staff advisor is the school principal, Shuji Ikutsuki, who you never actually see doing any principalling, although in my experience the principal’s only duties are to yell at you when you’re having fun and keep you from flirting in the hallways, so… In any case, leadership structure is a little varied. Mitsuru Kirijo is definitely the group’s leader, and she and Ikutsuki are usually the ones to set goals, plan strategies, and coordinate activities, with Akihiko Sanada serving as the group’s underboss, taking more direct action in building up its members and keeping them in line with Mitsuru’s direction. In the field, however, the protag calls the shots, due to his unique wild card ability allowing him the greatest degree of tactical flexibility.
I think S.E.E.S. is unique in that it’s not your typical group of fire-forged friends. Most every other RPG will see a lot of strong bonds develop amongst the cast. Even every other game in the Persona series will have the main cast incredibly strongly together by the game’s end. Except for Persona 2: Innocent Sin, which ended by killing one of the characters and wiping all the remaining one’s memories except for one who responded by turning into a huge douchebag so the rest wouldn’t lead to the world being destroyed again. That’s the odd one out. Anyways, S.E.E.S. is a lot more realistic about it. The main characters do feel strongly for each other, and do develop good bonds among each other, but the natures of those bonds vary from truly being friends in some to just being good coworkers of sorts in others. There’s a lot of intergroup conflict, as you would expect if you stuck a bunch of teenagers together and pushed them to do just about anything. Yukari seems to really hate Mitsuru for much of the opening, before their joint conflicts and traumas lead them to opening up to each other and becoming great friends. Akihiko is welcoming but aloof and doesn’t really get close to anybody except Mitsuru and Shinjiro. Junpei spends a big chunk of time resenting and constantly trying to one-up you before he ever actually gets close. The group starts out rather impersonal among each other, before many, but not all, start developing some true bonds, and they’re not a perfectly cohesive group, in all. There’s times where the group loses their way, individual members drift apart or strike out on their own aims, or something shocks them and they each need to spend time alone to process. It leads to a lot of that good character development that we love in these sort of stories, and also sets this group apart from many others. This is a bit outside the scope of this game, but the Answer shows that the protagonist, your character, did a lot to keep everyone together and moving in one direction; after they’re dead, the members of S.E.E.S. lose a lot of what bound everyone to each other and start drifting apart, although they do find common ground and a good level of trust in each other again when Mitsuru later reorganizes anti-Shadow activities, as seen in the Persona 4 Arena games.
Every member of S.E.E.S. has some sort of complications in their relationships with their parents that lead to them growing and operating independently of them. Some don’t get along with their parents, some have been deeply hurt by them, and some are tragically orphaned. Likewise, everyone outside of the protagonist doesn’t really fit in with society as a whole. Akihiko is popular for his looks and accomplishments but has no social skills, so doesn’t really have any close bonds outside of S.E.E.S. Mitsuru has a hard time relating with anyone that doesn’t have her same upbringing. Junpei is so wild he puts people off. Fuuka is very shy and has a hard time opening up with people. Etc. Between the two of those factors, perhaps that level of disconnection from one’s family and community is necessary to independently muster up a persona in corporeal form.