So Much Funky Persona Goodness

I’ve shared my love for Persona 4 and Persona 5 in previous blogs, so it probably comes as little surprise that as soon as Atlus announced that Persona 3 and Persona 5 dancing games were not only coming out late in 2018, but would be offered in a limited edition bundle that included a digital version of the Persona 4 dancing game for the PS4 (for the first time), I immediately pre-ordered it. I played through P4 (Dancing All Night) and P5 (Dancing in Starlight) recently so I just wanted to jot down some thoughts because I’ve been playing a lot of games and am getting behind on writing about them.

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I played Dancing All Night first, because I had more recently played Persona 4 and it was the first of the Persona dancing games. I said in my blog about P4 that it is funnier than P5, and that humor made a welcome return in Dancing All Night. There was a surprising amount of story and dialogue in this game, and though the writing was generally less developed and punchy than it was in the core game, there were still several scenes that made me burst out laughing.

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The gameplay was pretty standard. It was simple enough to get into and appropriately challenging at times, even if sometimes there seemed like there was way too much going on at once to really see the prompts. I also find it impossible to watch the dancers while I’m playing, but thankfully they have a replay mode where you can watch a perfect version of a song. And it was a small thing, but I liked that you could dress your characters up in various outfits.

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I realized immediately that Rise’s (P4 bae) voice actor had changed, but I was happily surprised when I saw the character was now voiced by Ashly Burch, who I think is great. I was even happier with the introduction of Kanami Mashita. When I’d heard that there was a new character, I worried about how they would fit into such a fun cast with established chemistry, but Kanami totally fits right in. She’s cute, funny, and I like that she represents a totally different kind of idol than Rise. It’s too bad she wasn’t in Persona 4: Golden or I might have had a harder time deciding who to romance.

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So, overall, I loved Dancing All Night. The remixed P4 songs were great and I liked the stylish slight redesigns of the characters. Did the story drag on a little too long? Sure. But what I actually appreciated about that was that it just offered more opportunities to see the characters interact and talk, and that’s really what these games seem to be about: getting more time with your favorite characters. So this didn’t feel like a shoddy side-story, it really did feel to me like an expansion of the P4 universe that I already loved so much.

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I did wish there was more Margaret, though.

And if I loved the Persona 4 universe, I was head over heels for the world of Persona 5. The gameplay is virtually identical in Dancing All Night and Dancing in Starlight, so the thing that stood out the most to me was the graphics. P5 was a gorgeous, stylish game, but you can kind of tell it was originally developed for the PS3 when you look at the character models and environments. They’re well designed, but they’re also fairly low in detail and sharpness. It didn’t bother me at all when I played it, but as soon as Dancing in Starlight loaded up and I saw the new, crisp, beautiful versions of the P5 crew, I was (unreasonably) overjoyed.

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Not only did the characters themselves get a graphical facelift, many of the environments they dance in are 3D, high def versions of locations from the original game. They also added detailed, explorable bedrooms for each of the characters. This is all very exciting not just because it’s a prettier version of art I already liked looking at, but because of the possible implications that it has for a re-release, like Atlus did with Persona 4: Golden. In fact, not long after this game was released they announced P5R and said nothing other than the fact that we would have to wait until March to learn more. I keep seeing the weirdest rumors about what this project will be (Persona 5 Racing? Really?), but I think it’s going to be Persona 5: Ruby. Yellow was the primary thematic color of Persona 4, so when they revamped it for re-release the new subtitle was the more valuable, flashy name for its primary color. With red being P5’s primary thematic color, ruby would be the parallel if they were going for a consistent naming convention, which we see that they like because of the similar subtitles for all of the dancing games.

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Ann’s room, if you couldn’t tell

Regardless of the subtitle, my whole point was that these new character models and environments (and the ability to interact with rooms and characters in both first-person and virtual reality) make me wonder if they are recreating all of the assets for a P5 re-release in tandem, and we can look forward to an even more breathtakingly beautiful version of the game, one where we can actually explore the streets, buildings, and environments from a variety of perspectives – and maybe in VR! That is too exciting to consider.

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As with Dancing All Night, I like that you can collect a bunch of costumes for the characters, and I really liked some of the remixes of these songs. I did think the playlist was a little short, but they offer several free downloadable songs, and I went ahead and bought a live version of “Whims of Fate” (favorite track from the P5 soundtrack) and a song from P4.

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While the writing in Dancing All Night seemed a little weaker than that of its original game, I thought the writing and dialogue in Dancing in Starlight was actually a little sharper and more natural than some of P5’s. I loved that the twins played such a big role, and almost every one of  their scenes was hilarious. But in general, as with Dancing All Night, I was just so happy to have an opportunity to revisit the world and characters that I love so much from Persona 5. I’m waiting to play Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight until I finally get around to actually playing Persona 3, but all of this Persona activity, along with the remake of Atlus’s Catherine gives me such high hopes that we’ll see a new version of P5 for PlayStation 4 and Switch a lot sooner than I might have once expected.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

When Super Smash Bros. came out on the N64, I thought it looked like a lot of fun and I loved the concept of Nintendo characters like Link and Princess Peach fighting each other. Pair this with the TV spots Nintendo released for it, which seemed out of character for Nintendo at the time, and it’s no wonder that I wanted to play it.

But N64 games were expensive, and Smash Bros. was released so late in the system’s life that I was more interested in purchasing the cheaper and more readily available PlayStation games. So Smash Bros. remained a rental for me, but I did have a lot of fun playing with friends.

As seems to be the case for many, it was with Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube where my love for the series eventually bloomed, though. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to make up for mostly missing out on the original, and hot damn if they didn’t add a ton of content. The original roster was quaint and didn’t necessarily seem anemic at the time, but when I saw the roster for Melee I was almost happy that I had passed on the N64 classic. 26 characters! Ness from EarthBound! It seemed too good to be true, but it most assuredly wasn’t.

I bought and played both Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and I loved them both, but they didn’t quite hook me like Melee had. They added characters and levels, yes, but for whatever reason I didn’t find myself obsessively trying to unlock every character and playing through everyone’s campaign. Again, I totally liked them, and I did eventually unlock almost everything, but they just didn’t inspire the same kind of magical tinglies that Melee had. 

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, however, brought the tinglies. It’s hard to explain why, though. Sure, it has a LOT more levels and characters than the previous games, but the gameplay itself has always been the same, mostly, with minor refinements and tweaks (final smash not included). But when I dove directly into the World of Light, I immediately felt the same kind of excited rush that I had with Melee. Was it that I was forced to unlock characters? Or the cute and inventive ways they would set up matches to reflect certain games or worlds (like Zero Suit Samus in a white costume as The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3). Or the fact that the graphics were obviously polished and not so jagged and rough, as they were in the Wii U version? It was probably a combination of all of these things and more, but I couldn’t stop playing.




One of my favorite things about the series is the crossover of iconic gaming characters, and I still find myself amazed that this game has fighters from Final Fantasy, Castlevania, Bayonetta, and Street Fighter, with icons like Sonic, Mega Man, and Pac-Man, fighting Nintendo characters from every major series in their history. I do have one small complaint in this arena, though. Perhaps the specific thing I loved the most, and what I spent a great portion of my time in Melee doing, was collecting trophies. Nintendo mentioned during one of their pre-release Nintendo Directs that trophies wouldn’t be a part of this game because of time constraints, and they hoped that the new spirit system would make up for it. The spirit system is great, don’t get me wrong. I am impressed by the number of major and minor characters from all of the games represented, and they are definitely fun to collect and browse, but first of all, looking at 3D models in the form of trophies is more fun, and second, I wish they had included some kind of little blurb about the original game that the character came from. A fairly small complaint, yeah, but it’s definitely one thing this game lacks, even if it’s the only thing.




And last but certainly not least, I have to mention how mindblowing it was to hear the announcement that Joker from Persona 5 was going to be the game’s first DLC character. I’ve rambled on about my love for that game enough, but I will just say that, like seemingly everyone, I was not expecting this at all. Not only has a Persona main title never been on a Nintendo platform, Joker just doesn’t seem like the kind of iconic character that Nintendo has been going for. And I have questions! Will these fighters come with their own set of spirits, like the other fighters? Will there be support trophies, and if so, will Ann be one of them? What about levels and music? What about a freaking amiibo!? Ahem. Okay, breathe, Joey. Breathe. I guess we’ll see. Eventually.


Red Dead Redemption 2

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I started this blog for myself, as a way to leave reminders and reflections to look back on in the future. I finished Red Dead Redemption 2 recently, and when I considered taking a break from exam studying to write a blog about it, I thought “but what hasn’t been said about it? Everyone has written and posted a million thoughts on it.” But that’s the line of thinking you practice when you have an audience, and while I am honored and grateful that I do have a few kind souls who check this blog on occasion, I try not to worry about ‘producing,’ because that can stifle my desire to write anything at all. So, like Arthur Morgan and his frequent note-taking and sketches, here are some brief and somewhat random thoughts about my time with RDR2. There will, obviously, be some spoilers.

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There was some concern about the sim aspects of the game – the weight management, horse care, gun maintenance, etc. – and I have to admit I was a tiny bit worried about it as well. Rockstar used similar systems in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and I didn’t like how they (mostly the turf wars) intruded in my open-world exploration and adventuring. The opposite happened with RDR2. Because I started the game during end-of-semester madness and played the rest between intense study sessions, I almost slipped into shallow mission-hopping, just plowing through the game without enjoying the world. But I actually found myself embracing the little things, which quickly turned into a routine, just like the real world. These minute, world-building details gave the game a texture that few other games have.

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I tried to make it back to camp every night, or every other night, to get at least four hours of sleep. I loved making it back in the evening, before everyone had gone to bed. I would hitch my horse (more on her later), feed her a few carrots and brush her down, then greet a few friends on my way to the stew pot. I’d ladle myself a bowl (no doubt made with the meat I harvested from the wolves that attacked me a couple of days prior), then wander over to one of the few people I actually liked, maybe Tilly or Mary-Beth, and chat with them as I ate. If I needed a beard trim, I’d do that before turning in, and in the morning I’d drink a cup or two of coffee while making small talk with whoever else was loitering around the low fire. Then it was off to work, as I’d feed my horse an oatcake, pat her down, and head back into the wild.

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When I was out in the world, I was always aware of how dirty I was getting. It was dusty in the desert, muddy in the swamps, and dirty (and sometimes bloody) everywhere else. So I also tried to take a bath every few days, if I could. I wasn’t making a conscious effort to role play. I just felt like I needed to. I felt refreshed coming out of a hot bath, even if I could never quite get my clothes clean. I would forget about my guns more often, but once I bought and customized my two primary weapons, the Schofield revolver and a bolt-action rifle, both black with silver engravings, I kept up with the cleaning and maintenance more often.

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As with the original RDR, I decided to stick with one horse: the one that came with the special edition. She was a grey war horse, big and powerful, so I named her Freya, after the queen of the Valkyries (at least in God of War lore, heh). I didn’t eat much myself and was perpetually underweight, but I kept a healthy store of hay, radishes, apples, peaches, oatcakes, and more to feed Freya because she was constantly working hard to get me from place to place, and she never threw me once. Plus I ran her into several trees, riders, and over cliffs, so she deserved to be spoiled. Speaking of spoiled, I know I gave a spoiler warning earlier, but just in case someone is reading this and hasn’t played the game, I’m about to spoil something big. So, you know. Just another warning. Ahem. Near the climax, when Freya was gunned down, I actually shed some tears. The game was emotionally intense at points, but I never teared up or cried during other beats. I don’t know if it was an extension of role-playing a hardened gunslinger, and I was definitely moved by some events, but I never broke – except for when Freya went down, and I crawled over to her to say goodbye. That hurt more than Arthur dying, because I knew that one was coming. Somehow I believed my faithful steed would survive that mess. Le sigh.

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I do think that the epilogue was too long, as others have said. I think overall it’s great, and I love some of the same kinds of world-building minutiae (the house building especially), but it could have been half or a third as long and been just as effective. I do think that the epilogue and the clips that show up in the credits do a wonderful job of bridging the two games, though. I almost wish they’d release a remaster of the first game, because it would be really cool to jump straight from the sequel (prequel?) into the original game. I think having played through the events that prompted the first game’s narrative, many of the lines and scenes would have so much more power. They probably will release a remaster at some point, but if it’s not within the next few months I’ll probably pass on it. I really feel I need the emotions and memories to be fresh in order for it to be effective. Maybe I’d play them back-to-back sometime down the road, though.

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Some final, random thoughts that I don’t have the time to expand on: I know Arthur was hung up on Mary, but I was quietly crushing on Mary-Beth. Sadie was annoying at first but became one of my favorite characters. She should get some DLC. Killing Micah was so. damn. satisfying. I didn’t hunt very often. I bagged a few legendary animals, but my main source of meat was animals that tried to kill me or what I bought from butchers. I only encountered one cougar, and (surprise, surprise) it killed me. There was what I guess was a witch’s hut up north, and I drank from the cauldron inside (don’t judge me, I’m adventurous, okay?) and passed out. I couldn’t tell if it had any other effects and I didn’t lose anything that I could tell. *shrug emoji* The game’s weather and atmosphere systems were incredible, as was the geology/topology, which is a continuing interest of mine in games. I have many more thoughts, big and small, but I think I’ll end it here, before this blog ends up as long as the epilogue. *badum csh*

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A Little Selfish Self-care

I see a lot of discussion about self-care now, which is great, so I wanted to write about a self-care tradition I started last year without exactly realizing it.

2017 was a bit of a rough year for me. I won’t go into details, but my girlfriend of seven years and I split, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression for the first time in my life, and I was increasingly feeling aimless in my pursuit of a doctorate. My birthday, in mid-November, felt especially lonely and like something of a low point. Well, another low point.

As a collector of many things – video games, movies, books, toys, etc. – Black Friday is a great opportunity to pick up a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t buy normally because of cost or interest or whatever. I scour ads ahead of time and make lists of limited-time deals to look out for online or which stores are worth hitting up on Thursday or Friday. After all is said and done, I usually have a pretty nice stack of goodies that I won’t have time to watch/play/read for a while.

Christmas 2017 was going to be the first time I’d actually spent that day alone in my life. So when the packages from my Black Friday excursion started showing up, I had an idea: why don’t I wrap the things I bought and then open them on Christmas morning? I love wrapping and opening presents, and it would give me something to look forward to, aside from waking up and wondering what other people were doing with their families and friends and loved ones. So I put up my skinny apartment tree, wrapped the various movies and games and such, went out and bought some toys and treats for my cat, Bellatrix, wrapped those, and threw it all under the tree.


It turned out so much better than I’d expected. I was hoping it would be a distraction, at best, but I found myself giddy when I woke up on Christmas day. I couldn’t remember everything I’d wrapped, so opening the things I bought a month before was so satisfying, and knowing that I had all of this fun stuff to look forward to consuming in the coming months made me feel… hopeful. What made it even more magical was that Bellatrix was totally into it as well. I was expecting her to sit at a distance, watching and wondering what the hell I was doing. But she sat right next to me, sniffed curiously at every gift I opened, and tried to play with her new toys as I unwrapped them. What started out as a practical way to spend a holiday turned into something that made me feel the kind of warm holiday emotions I hadn’t expected to feel again for a very long time.


So, this year, I went all out. I started saving new purchases as early as September and hid them as soon as I could so I would at least semi-forget about them. I put my tree up on November 1st. I bought a bunch of new nerdy ornaments. I picked up a ton of deeply discounted movies and games on Black Friday. And, of course, I bought a slew of new toys and treats for Bellatrix. Over the course of three months, I had quite a stack of gifts to wrap, and when I wrapped them I only used my peripheral vision so I wouldn’t actually see the covers. I bought lots of fun new wrapping paper and fancy bows, and stuffed Bella’s little stocking with clearance cat toys.


This is a selfish tradition, yes. I don’t feel guilty about it, though. I’m not rich, so it’s not exactly like I ran out and blew a big wad of cash on this stack of presents. I bought them over the course of three months, most of them deeply discounted, and some of them are things I bought to use now and ended up wrapping out of excitement (like a pair of slippers that I need for laundry time on the freezing concrete floor in my basement, which means I’m suffering for an extra few weeks just to have one more present to open). The only thing I really splurged on was wrapping paper and bows, but I’m okay with that. They look so pretty under the tree that it seems worth it. And even if it is selfish, it keeps me excited for what would otherwise be an isolating and depressing time for me. I don’t know how normal this is, or if it would actually benefit anyone, but I wanted to write about it. Thanks for reading.


Odds and Ends before Year’s End

I really wanted to use this site to document my thoughts on games as I played them, but I kind of knew that that would fall apart when the semester picked up, and it has. A blizzard is currently raging outside, though, so I’m going to take a break from grading to catch up a little bit.

The Exorcist: Legion VR

One of the things I love to do with people when I show them VR is to play horror games. They’re often short experiences, though, so when I hung out with my family recently we found ourselves browsing the PSN storefront, looking for something we hadn’t already tried. Given that The Exorcist is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, I threw Legion VR in my cart and hoped that this wasn’t some cheap cash-in.

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We only played the first two episodes, and it did suffer from some of the normal VR problems (floaty hands, sketchy play area), but it was easily the scariest game we’ve tried. Other games have creeped me out, or maybe made me flinch a little, but this game is the first VR experience that had my heart thumping and palms sweating (I suspect Resident Evil 7 might have done the same, if I’d played more of it in VR). Nothing too terrifying happened, really, but the game created an atmosphere with lighting and sound that scared the crap out of me. If you remember the low, rumbling growl they use in The Exorcist, imagine that coming from the dark corners of a church… in VR. Yeah. It was really effective.

Telltale’s Game of Thrones: Episode 1

I was in the middle of binging the TV series, so I finally got around to trying this game because I was caught up in the excitement of that world and those characters. It was pretty standard Telltale fare: clunky gameplay and animations, some interesting storytelling, a shocking moment. I was surprised and impressed that they got some of the actual GoT cast members to do voice work, but it made the ‘normal’ voice actors stand out because they just weren’t as emotive. I didn’t completely dislike this game; it just wasn’t very memorable or compelling.

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Marvel’s Spider-Man

I want to start by noting that this game pulls a lot from the Rocksteady Batman games, because I keep hearing people claim that it doesn’t. The combat and enemy types are almost identical, the open world mission structures are very similar, the Scorpion hallucinations are just like the Scarecrow hallucinations, and there a bunch of small but close similarities, like villains that leave clues that you have to find and take pictures of. Having said all of that, the fact that so much of it was derivative didn’t phase me much. The Arkham games are some of the best games of the last decade, and I am a fan of developers sometimes refining what works over trying to revolutionize just for the hell of it.

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This game was just so much fun. There was a lot to do, between breaking up street crimes, taking down strongholds, looking for backpacks and more. The backpacks and their associated Spider-verse memories were one of my favorite things about exploring the world, along with all of the awesome Spider suits (though I do wish there were little tidbits about the history of the suits, like there was with the backpack items). My suit of choice for most of the early parts of the game was the Iron Spider, which I loved in The Avengers: Infinity War, and the glowing eyes made for some great photos. I also loved the Spirit Spider and Vintage suits, but they looked way too goofy in cutscenes, so I mostly saved them for post-narrative clean up. Speaking of narrative, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid the story and acting was in this. Like others, I was a little thrown by this version of Peter at first, but he grew on me and I ended up really loving how they handled his hectic double life and his relationship with Mary Jane and Dr. Octavius, specifically. I loved the photo mode and took a million pictures, and I wish I had written a full blog when I’d played it, but I’ll shut up and move on now.

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider

I played and loved Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, so despite my usual ability to avoiding getting too hyped for a game, my expectations were undeniably high going into this sequel. That might be why I was somewhat disappointed in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I didn’t dislike it, but it just didn’t seem as polished and fine-tuned as its predecessors. The graphics, for instance — the previous two games were gorgeous, so running the game on a PS4 Pro, through a 4k HDR TV, I was expecting something breathtaking. In some respects, things like water and lighting didn’t even seem to look as good as the older games, oddly enough. Shooting the bow didn’t seem as satisfying, climbing didn’t seem as rewarding… and I don’t know why. Maybe the warm and fuzzy glow of my memories with the first two games overwhelmed me and made me expect too much from this game. Like I said, I didn’t dislike it. I liked it quite a bit. But I was expecting something just a little more polished.

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Super Mario Party

I’ve only played a couple of games of Super Mario Party so far, but I was so excited to find that the series has made a rebound from the last few entries. I know that the series has never been about stunning graphics, but Mario Party 7 was an ugly, aliased mess of lazy visual work, and I am still confused about why they thought cramming every player in a car and not allowing them to take their own turns was a good idea for the last couple of games. I try not to act entitled when it comes to games and what they “owe” me or anyone else, but it was hard not to feel insulted by how bad the last few Mario Party games were. Super Mario Party, though, seems like a return to the fun, colorful, cut-throat world of the earlier games, so I am very much looking forward to making Peach the Party Star once again when I have more time. And friends. I am so lonely. Please help me (mostly kidding, haha, crying emoji).

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Forza Horizon 4

I was really looking forward to seeing the different seasons in this game, but honestly I gave up on it before the digital leaves fell from the virtual trees. It’s a good racing game, but the handling is a little looser than I’d like. It’s a lot more arcade-y than the previous Forzas that I’ve tried, but I’m admittedly a little picky when it comes to the handling in racing games. It’s hard for me to enjoy cruising around when I have to keep overcorrecting because I’m sliding everywhere. But I might revisit this game. It’s pretty and I do like the idea of buying houses and filling garages with lots of custom cars.


Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

I just platinum-ed this game, so I could write extensively on it, but I’ll have to keep it short. I got the platinum trophy almost on accident, because after I beat the main storyline(s) I realized I was only two trophies short of 100%, so I took the extra five minutes and just got it. I did spend over 140 hours on the game, though, mostly due to my love for the expansive, detailed worlds that Ubisoft is so good at creating. As with other beautiful open world games, I found myself stopping to take pictures again and again, and the lighting and water effects from the last game made a triumphant and impressive return here. The sailing was similar to Black Flag‘s amazing contribution to the series, but not quite the same. Mechanically it was almost identical, but the concept of being a pirate and having a crew and your ship being your true home is absent from this game. My wish was that Skull and Bones would recapture that magic, but it seems as if Ubisoft understood gamer’s love of the pirating in Black Flag to mean a love of the ship combat itself and not the pirating life, so I have heavy doubts about how much I will enjoy that game.

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The story didn’t grab me early on, but over time I ended up falling in love with Kassandra and got drawn into her complicated family drama. The addition of the ability to romance characters was welcome, though it would have been nice if it actually meant anything. Other than a fade-to-black scene suggesting sex, there was nothing to indicate that any of my relationships went anywhere. Speaking of sex, I was surprised at how toned down anything sexual was after Origin’s open embrace of the subject matter. I ran into a few annoying bugs, and some of the voice acting was distractingly bad, but this was another fun, immersive Assassin’s Creed game.

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Mafia III – Important and Flawed

Oh, Mafia III. I would have loved to love you. I haven’t played the first two Mafia games, but I heard that Mafia III was pretty decent and did some interesting things with social issues, so I decided to give it a shot. It wasn’t a bad game, but it could have been so much better.

I want to start by saying that the way the game deals with race is interesting and provocative. It shouldn’t be, because it doesn’t exactly depict anything that isn’t in an average history book or that hasn’t been shown in plenty of movies or TV shows. But mainstream video games have historically been hesitant to address sensitive social subjects, especially in as direct of a manner as Mafia III, with many of its missions, characters, and themes directly revolving around issues of racism in America. Issues that would come blaring back to the public consciousness not long after the game’s release, which makes me wish they would have kept the game in development longer. Not only would it have allowed the developers time to address some of the game’s other issues (which I’ll mention in a bit), it would have put the game right in the center of the maelstrom of media coverage about the newly revived public discussions of race in a post-election America. So many of the missions pair well with recent news events, particularly with regards to white nationalist groups, corrupt politicians, and the use of popular media (radio) to sway public opinion.

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I am almost as far from the margins as you can get, so I can’t speak with much authority on some of the issues of racial identity, but I do want to say that there was a special kind of frustration playing a character that is shunned and insulted at nearly every turn. I have to believe that was the point the developers were trying to make, and it worked (on me, at least). I avoided shops and places that I knew I’d get into trouble in, like the many shops and restaurants with “No Colored Allowed” signs. The fact that they included all of these spaces where your character will be harassed and eventually have the police called on him just for entering was striking. Eventually, as my character gained power and agency (and I gained skills), I began to make a game of it. If I entered a place and someone told me to get out or that I was not allowed, well, I made a clip of the first time it happened and what I did:

I also liked many of the cultural details, like the collectible Playboy magazines, album covers, and the amazing soundtrack. Many of the cutscenes were executed very well. This all worked together nicely to create a rich and exciting atmosphere that seemed authentically 1960s America (as much as I can claim that, having been born two decades after). So I spent the first few hours of the game wondering how people might have criticized the game, or how it might not have sold all that well. It wasn’t as large or impressively rich with detail as Grand Theft Auto V, but I think it’s a little unfair for any open-world game to be compared one-to-one with that series, given that creating a game like that is a huge financial gamble, especially when you have to compete with such an established brand.

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But the magic of those early hours of the game came chugging to a crawl as I began work on the second district. The missions in the first district were very fast and brutal, reminding me of those scenes in Scorcese mob movies where the shit starts hitting the fan. I love those moments in those movies, and I was happy to experience that same excitement in video game form. The problem is that the game essentially rewinds and replays those parts over and over and over again. When you unlock missions for a new area, you lure a boss out by killing or recruiting their underlings, then you revisit one of the same buildings that you’ve already visited and kill or recruit the boss, then you do it again. And again. And again. And there are so few ways to approach many of these missions. Bosses are always in large buildings where you have to use the game’s cover system to infiltrate and either stealth or blast your way through. Sniper rifles are one of the primary weapons in the game, but the environments are almost never designed with them in mind. I decided to be a sniper early on, but when I tried to find a way to the top of a building to snipe an early boss, there was no way to find a high point. I could go in a nearby building, and get to the third floor of the inside, but there was no way to the roof or to fire out of a window. And that was the case for the vast majority of missions. I could carry a sniper rifle, but the game forced me to either sneak or blast my way into the same kinds of buildings over and over again.

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Once the repetitiveness began to wear on me, little things started to annoy me because I noticed them more. The driving never felt good. I wanted to carry more weapons or customize my loadout more. I wanted more style options. I wanted some kind of reward for collecting all of the collectibles. Minor complaints, certainly. But when layered on top of having to repeat the same missions again and again, I began to wish the game would just end. That’s a feeling I hate. I try and finish every game I play. So I slogged through the game. The final mission had cool moments, even if it was just a busier version of the previous missions that I had done before. And, as I said, the game did such a great job with some of the social and cultural aspects. But with an extra year of development, I can’t help but think they could have addressed the issues with mission variety and been more topical as a contemporary work of art.

Summer South Park RPG Binge

When South Park first aired in 1997, it was kind of a sensation. It was one of those cultural bombshells that seem to come out of nowhere. After the first few episodes, I remember sharing jokes with kids at school, classmates I’d never even talked to, because the show’s humor was so new and shocking that you couldn’t help but laugh at the singing turd or the cursing kids. I watched the first few seasons pretty religiously, I saw Bigger, Longer, and Uncut in theaters, and I even rented the N64 game several times, but eventually the humor that comes with the shock faded. It was still funny, sure, but shock value is worth something, and once that was gone I found myself only passively interested in the show.

Fast forward to October of 2017. The second South Park RPG, The Fractured but Whole is releasing in a month filled with great games. The game is getting a lot of buzz, and when I see it on sale for half off and a free download code for the first game, I have to grab it. Even if I’m not so into the show anymore, the games seem like fun and $30 for two RPGs is too hard to pass up.

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Over these last few weeks of summer break I’ve been trying my damnedest to burn through as much of my backlog as possible before what promises to be one of my busiest semesters yet, so I recently played both The Stick of Truth and The Fractured but Whole back-to-back. I enjoyed them both, but it was sort of an odd experience in that they both look very similar but have very different mechanics and systems. They both very much make you feel like you’re playing in an episode of the show, which is something I can’t say any other game I’ve played has done. It took me a good hour to get used to my character bouncing when I walked because it’s so unlike character movement in other games (but exactly like character movement on the show).

[NSFW images and some spoilers ahead]

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Aside from being very much like the show, one of the things I like about both games is that they do a great job of putting you in the shoes of kids being kids. Yes, there are aliens and gnomes and singing logs of feces, but the games do what video games rarely do and let you play the role of a kid roleplaying the kinds of things that most other video games are actually about: fantasy adventure and superhero stuff. These kids have a lot more resources than I did as a kid, but I found a lot of joy in the inventive ways that they brought their make-believe worlds to life (cardboard dragons, basement lairs, home-made costumes, etc.). One of my favorite jokes was the constant interruptions of passing cars if you engaged in combat in the street. It didn’t matter how serious your foe, or if there were bodies covered in blood on the field, if someone yelled “car!” everyone got up, moved to the sidewalk, the driver would yell as they passed, and then everyone took their places and resumed play. This was so funny to me because it rang so true to the experience of being a kid and playing on such a massive scale.

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It was that charm that provided most of moments that made me smile or chuckle, but there was still a lot of traditional South Park shock humor, and something I noted was that the first game had a lot more of it. I mean, a lot more. It seems like every proverbial corner you turn in Stick of Truth there is some crude, gross, or sexual joke waiting for you. There is one scene in particular that I’m seriously surprised made it past the ESRB. After being shrunk down to the size of an underpants gnome, you eventually find yourself in your parent’s room. At night. And they decide to have sex. Because, South Park. And of course I stood there in shock and took a few seconds to take a screenshot, then got a trophy called “Perverted” for watching my parents having sex for a minute, so thanks for that, Ubisoft. The fun didn’t end there, though. Oh, no. Of course not. Of course you next find yourself in the middle of a fight, on the bed, under your parents, who are obliviously still having sex. So as you’re battling, your mom’s breast is swinging back and forth above you, and every now and then you have to dodge your dad’s balls as they swing toward you. I mentioned before that South Park had stopped shocking me, but this scene got me. It was a whole series of constantly elevated “WTFs!”

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There were plenty of other crude jokes, some hit, some missed. The Fractured but Whole was surprisingly a lot less gratuitous about sex, but not devoid of explicit humor. The two differences between the games that I noticed almost immediately were the new combat system and, less importantly, a lack of visual detail for random objects/junk. In the first game, every item you found had its own image and description. It was so fun to look through them as I collected them, and I even saved some in my chest in my room. In the second game, probably to save some development time, objects were not drawn, so that was a bit of a bummer. The combat was changed from straightforward turn-based to grid-based strategy, but both were perfectly fine. Most of my enjoyment came from exploring the town and seeing so many familiar (and a few unfamiliar) South Park characters, though.

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Given the reportedly tumultuous development of these games, and the extra layer of scrutiny that comes with the heavy involvement of the showrunners, it seems like it may be a while before we see another entry into the series, if we are lucky enough to get one at all. I liked these games enough to hope that that’s not the case, though. I found their satire of fantasy and (especially) superhero tropes highly entertaining, so I, for one, will be in line to pick a new game up. Maybe I’ll even pay full price next time.

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Paper Mario: Color Splash

I have a bit of a history of playing Paper Mario games late, going all the way back to the origin of the series, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. My excuse for that game was a youthful lack of funds, and for the first official game in the series, Paper Mario, it came so late in the N64’s life that I was just waiting for the GameCube to drop (and, well, more youthful lack of funds). I did pick up Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door around the time of its release, but it was at a time when I finally had a grown-up job and grown-up money, which meant that I also bought other games. A lot of other games. Games that I didn’t have time to play. Eventually Super Paper Mario released on the Wii and garnered the same kind of high praise that the previous entries had, so I bought that one, too. I still hadn’t played Thousand-Year Door yet, though, so I decided to go back and start my journey with the series there.

I bring all of this up only because my reaction to playing Thousand-Year Door was “why did I wait so long to play this?” It was such a bright, fun, surprisingly hilarious take on the Mario franchise and formula. It charmed my proverbial pants off and was way better than I thought it would be. So you know what I did? I put off playing its sequel, Super Paper Mario, because I was worried that it might feel too similar to its predecessor. When I did eventually play it, you know what I thought? “Why did I wait so long to play this?” And when I eventually bought the original Paper Mario on Wii’s Virtual Console and played that? “Why did I wait so long to play this?”


I like to think of myself as a pretty smart guy. I’m no genius, but I can usually spot patterns and learn from them. But I can be an idiot, too, because of course I deftly avoided playing Paper Mario: Color Splash when it came out. I pre-ordered it. It arrived on release day. I was excited to play it. But I didn’t. I don’t even remember why. I think it was that I’d also gotten the PlayStation VR and a bunch of games and there’s only so much time in a day, right?


“Why did I wait so long to play this?” That was my thought a couple of weeks ago when I finally played Color Splash, almost two years after its release. Many people complain about Nintendo “releasing the same game over and over again,” and I think there’s some validity to that gripe, but iteration is also one of Nintendo’s greatest strengths. They are masters at refinement. Color Splash is a little cuter, funnier, and flashier than its predecessors. It has so much visual style in how it presents this beautiful paper world that I kept catching myself admiring the smallest of details. The smallest and cutest of those details is the Holo-Peach, a mini-cardboard Peach that carries messages to Mario. Pictures don’t do the cuteness justice. After it opens up and projects its message, it shuffles toward Mario, arms up, and Mario scoops it up like a little baby. I want one.


I’ve heard people complain about the game losing its RPG elements, but I don’t think it’s that dramatic of a shift. You do gain experience, of sorts, in the form of hammer points, which you use to upgrade the amount of paint you can hold, and the only difference that I could tell about the combat is that it doesn’t display damage in the form of numbers. It’s the same turn-based, action/timing-oriented combat that the others used, I think. Would I like another actual RPG set in the Mario universe? Sure. But I don’t hold that against this game, and either way, in the end, I loved it. Will I learn my lesson if/when Nintendo releases the next Paper Mario game in (hopefully) a year or two? Look for my “why did I wait so long to play this” post in three or four years.

(Source for featured image:

Video Game Crushes: Chun-Li

Chun-Li is probably my very first video game crush. True, my love for Princess Peach originated earlier, with Super Mario Bros. 2, but I didn’t exactly think of her as a crush. I just liked playing as her. With Chun-Li, though, I was smitten.


Like many, many kids in the early 90s, I was obsessed with Street Fighter II. I only made it to arcades occasionally, but when the game was released for the SNES in 1992, I was all over it. Even though each character’s story is fairly shallow and consists of a small batch of dialogue and a few short scenes, I played and replayed each character just to have a reason to play the game. Chun-Li and Guile were my favorites, though, so I felt the need to beat their story campaigns on the hardest difficulty (having said that: fuck Bison and Sagat on the hardest difficulty. So cheap. I hate them and I want them dead.).

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Chun-Li’s story is a basic revenge plot, where she is hunting down M. Bison, who killed her father, but I loved that she had her own journey and wasn’t tied to other fighters. Even as a kid I remember that making her unique, even if I had no clue about the significance of her being the first playable female character in a fighting game. I just knew that she was strong, she was fast, she was (in my opinion) the best fighter, she was absolutely beautiful, and she showed that she wasn’t afraid of expressing both extreme focus and youthful jubilation (“Yatta!”). And how can I leave out her trademark blue qipao? The combination of the elegant silk dress and hair ribbons with her seriously spiked bracelets and hardcore combat boots perfectly represent her personality and spirit.


I haven’t played every single iteration of Street Fighter that’s come out, but I’ve played most of them. Chun-Li remains my favorite character. She’s always very fast and her long legs allow her a nice reach, and I love using her wall jump to get out of being cornered. The story of Street Fighter seems complicated and a little ridiculous to me at this point, so I’ve lost track of the twists and turns of Chun-Li’s backstory, but she remains a fierce and beautiful warrior, dedicated to justice. For that reason she will probably always be my main.


(Note: featured image source –

Making Memories with Persona 4 Golden

As I wrote previously, I absolutely loved Persona 5. I’d been interested in the series for a long time, so I was happy to be rewarded by such an excellent entry into the franchise. It was the kind of game that I just didn’t want to be done with, so I ended up beating it almost three full times in order to get the platinum trophy for it. Beyond that, I ended up buying both Persona 3 and Persona 4 for the PS2, since they were pretty cheap online, and later I bought a PlayStation Vita and Persona 4 Golden because I’d heard that it was also quite excellent. I finally got around to playing the latter recently, so I wanted to put some of my thoughts about it down in writing.

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I have to say, I was a bit nervous before actually sitting down to play it. Persona 5 has a lot of systems, which is probably part of the reason they take their time in teaching you those systems in the early hours of the game. Atlus does a great job with it, and before I knew it I felt like a master at the weakness/affinity-based combat system, but I worried that P4G might not be quite so refined in its tutorials, being eight years older than its sequel (the original P4, anyway). I needn’t have worried, as P4G was very much like P5 in almost every aspect, tutorials and combat included.

When I say they are similar, I really mean it. One of the games is about a young high school kid who stays with his stern (but later loving) male guardian who has a young daughter whose mother was hit and killed by a car, and you learn that you have the ability to travel to an alternate dimension and use shadows, and with the help of a colorful cast of classmates and townsfolk, you save people from that shadow dimension and kill a god. The other game is about [copy and paste that whole thing here].

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The two being so similar isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though interesting, the premise of the game is not at the top of the list of things I loved about either game. There are some small changes in mechanics that make P5 an arguably better game, but the combat is virtually the same in each, and I loved fighting in both of them. I usually hate games that force you to change up your skills and attacks in order to exploit enemy weaknesses (sometimes I just wanna mindlessly bash away at things, okay?), but somehow these two games turned that concept into a well-coordinated dance. I very much enjoyed sizing up each group of enemies, thinking about what abilities each of my party members had, and then figuring out who to attack with, who to buff with, etc. In most RPGs, when I win a battle I feel strong. In these games, I felt smart.

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More important than the combat, I think, is the cast of characters and the relationships you form with them. So much of these games centers on finding people, learning about them, and establishing a deeper bond with them. The dating in P4 is a little less engaging than it is in P5, but I still liked having it as an option. In my first playthrough I dated Yukiko. She is smart, introspective, industrious, and has that kind of elegant traditional Japanese thing going on. I can’t say I wasn’t tempted to abandon my quest to win her heart when Rise came into my life, though. She is fun, flirty, ambitious, and very cute. I was in too deep with Yukiko, though, so I saved Rise for my second game. I was very close to picking Marie, too, though, and she would have definitely been my next lady if I were to play it a third time. None of them held a candle to Ann from P5, but I did like those three ladies a lot.

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You know who else I liked? Kanji. If there’s an area that P4 beats out P5 in, it might be humor. P4 is a very funny game, and I found myself laughing out loud several times, which is pretty uncommon for me. My typical reaction to humor in games is a chuckle or maybe a conservative “heh” or a “ha” or two strung together. Not so with P4. I found myself having to stop and just laugh at certain scenes, even on my second playthrough. Kanji was the source of much of that laughter. He and Naoto are also super interesting for how they’re used to look at issues of gender and sexuality in games. I wish Atlus had gone further with them, though, because it seems like they wanted to make Kanji gay and Naoto gender non-conforming but pulled back at the last second and had them be semi-closeted or confused rather than forsake their feelings. The point of the shadows in this game is that they represent a part of you that you repress, and in defeating them you admit that they are just as much a part of you as the “real” version. So, given that Kanji’s shadow is gay, that means that he is either gay or bi in the real world, but after defeating his shadow he continues to act like he’s totally, definitely “not like that,” which seems weird. And Naoto eventually reveals that she presents as male because of societal expectations, but even after being outed as a woman she asks that they continue to treat her as a male and still presents as male (until the epilogue, anyway). So I think they could have done a little more to make those two characters definitively different, but they were still interesting and unique characters that are not commonly found in games.

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The art style and soundtrack are also very good, as they are in P5. I like the red/black/white theme of P5 more than the yellow/green theme in P4, but they share a lot of the same visual flare and attention to the most minute of details. This ended up being a lot more clinical than I’d intended, but sometimes it’s hard to convey why the magical cocktail of ingredients in any given game is so delicious and intoxicating. Persona 4 made me happy. At the end of P4 and P5 your new friends speak to you about leaving and there’s a kind of bittersweet thing going on, because you all revel in the good times you had but lament the fact that it’s all over and you have to leave them behind. It seems like a purposeful design choice, because as a player I was going through the same thing. I was sad to finish both of these games, even though I’d spent dozens and dozens of hours with them. I wished I could have stayed, just as my character did, but I had to move on. I console myself by reminding myself that there are three more mainline Persona games I have yet to play, so maybe I’ll do one each summer for the next few years, and by the time I’m done with them there will be a fresh, new Persona game to steal my heart.