Oh, Persona 5. What is left to say about you? I’ve confessed my love for that game before, and I will probably continue to do so until my mind begins to slip and I forget the people and things that mean the most to me. Actually, I doubt I’ll stop even then. Someone like my sister will be visiting me in a care facility, and she’ll be like “It’s me, Joey. Christy. Do you remember me?” And I’ll be like “Eh? Who’s that? Is that you, Morgana? Turn into a freaky cat truck so we can get back to grinding XP.”
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. But I do love the Persona games. A lot. Persona 5, in particular. So when I heard about Persona 5 Scramble, as it was called before the name changed to Strikers, I… wasn’t as excited as you might have guessed. I mean, I was somewhat excited, because give me Persona-anything at this point and I’ll be happy. I played and loved all three dancing games, for example. But if you’d asked me in 2017 what I wanted from the P-Studio team, it would not have been a “Dynasty Warriors Persona game.” What I’ve played of those types of games, musou games, is limited, I confess. I’ve played a couple of demos and I rented one of the earliest Dynasty Warriors games but bounced off of it. If you tell me a team is making a “musou-style game” with an existing IP, what I imagine is the assets (characters, environments, music) of the original IP slapped onto the 1-vs-100 battles of a Dynasty Warriors game and, well, that’s about it. There might be a story, told in brief cut scenes or in-battle dialogue segments, but the focus of a game like that is the fighting. That, to my understanding, is what draws fans of those games to that series.
I don’t have anything against that kind of combat in games, but it’s not really my thing. So when the playfully teased “Persona 5 S” turned out to be Persona 5 Scramble, a musou-style game, I was definitely excited to have more P5, but I couldn’t help but to be disappointed that we weren’t getting a “true” P5 sequel, or even Persona 6, or a remake of Persona 3. I knew I was going to buy Strikers at release and play it, but my expectations were pretty low.
Joey. You silly, silly boy. How wrong you were. Well, in my defense, I think the above explanation justifies my mild apprehension toward this game. It’s not that I was dreading it or anything. I just wasn’t expecting it to be much in the way of a real sequel to P5. I was expecting to plod through the combat, basking in the occasional injection of colorful dialogue from the characters I’d come to know and love. But, as I said, I was so very wrong.
Persona 5 Strikers should really be called something like Persona 5.5 or, less seriously still, Persona 5 2. Or, you know what? Persona 5 Summer Blast or something along those lines would have worked perfectly. Between the name and the pre-release marketing, the focus on the new combat system really distracted from what this game really is, which is a direct sequel to Persona 5. The story follows the exploits of our beloved Phantom Thieves during the summer after the previous game’s story ends. So much of the game is the same that it feels like a real sequel in many ways. The Metaverse still exists, and just as in P5, the team enters dungeons (now called Prisons instead of Palaces) to battle shadows and take down powerful bosses/”Monarchs.” After each Prison is successfully infiltrated, the Thieves regroup and move onto the next, all the while uncovering the mystery of who is behind it all.
So, in structure and narrative, the game is absolutely a direct sequel to P5. It doesn’t have the calendar system, where you have to manage your time and can only perform a certain number of actions in a day – which makes sense, because much of that system is centered around the idea that the protagonists are students who have to balance their school life with their extracurricular, paranormal activities, while in this game they are on summer vacation and there is no fall term to worry about (for the player, anyway). While that’s a welcome omission, this game is also missing the social link/friendship/dating mechanic of P5, which is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you don’t have to worry about who to spend your time with and making sure you level up everyone so that you can unlock certain Persona fusions. A curse because that is one of my favorite aspects of the core games.
What really make this game feel so familiar and like a direct, full sequel, however, are the art and the voice acting. New levels and characters fit right into the P5 universe, which I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about, but I guess I was expecting Koei Tecmo to be handling more of the game than just the combat systems. Everything outside of combat feels like it was made by the same team(s) who made P5. The art is stylish, the menus are dynamic and fun, and the dialogue sounds exactly as it should. All of the excellent voice actors from P5 return as well, which is a critical part of making this game feel like a warm, welcoming cup of hot cocoa. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time with P5 but I was so smitten with the performances of all of the voice talent involved, more so than any other game I’ve ever played. Halfway through my playthrough of that game, I found myself searching for the actors on IMDb, finding and following them on Twitter, and getting so excited when I’d hear them in a different game or anime. They brought the same charm and talent to Strikers, and I’ve once again loved every moment of hearing Max Mittelman (Ryuji) exclaim “for real!?” or Cassandra Lee Morris (Morgana) swoon over Erika Harlacher’s Lady Ann. My favorite short quip comes from the amazing Erica Lindbeck, though. It’s a very simple, small line, and she chirps it when you pick up a piece of loot in the prison: “Meh. I give it a 5 out of 10.”
Okay, so the game wasn’t the vehicle for non-stop musou combat with a sprinkle of story that I expected it to be, which is great. But let’s talk about the combat, because I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked that, too. In the previously mentioned musou games I dabbled with, there are waves after waves of enemies that surround you, and I was usually very easily able to get by with learning one or two simple combos and button mashing. While that is true, in essence, here, there are seemingly far fewer enemies, probably because P5’s elemental weakness/”All Out attack” return, and with them comes the opportunity for slightly more complex, strategic combat. It might sound convoluted, but I quickly and easily found a rhythm of scanning for weaknesses, attacking with Personas, taking advantage of environmental attack points, throwing in a few physical strike combos, and tagging teammates to increase Showtime meters (which are carried over from Persona 5 Royal). I got into trouble a couple of times early on, but once I found this rhythm I never struggled with any of the Monarchs or even the very difficult Dire Shadows (once I was appropriately leveled, of course). While I do still prefer turn-based combat, I ended up really liking this system, too.
I feel like I’m doing that line-by-line, clinical thing, but my love for this game and the other Persona games goes deeper than stunning art and excellent voice acting. The confluence of elements that make up these games creates a feeling that this world, these characters are real and I feel welcomed among them. Early in the game, I was happy to bounce around familiar settings from P5, but as soon as an RV camper was introduced and I was told I’d be going on a summer road trip all around Japan with my friends, I felt that warm and fuzzy feeling that I’ve come to know so well. Yes, the combat is great, but I was with my friends, and my favorite moments ended up being things like our time on the beach, or our many adventures with food, or any number of smaller, personal moments. Riding the Ferris wheel in Sapporo with Ann. Watching the fireworks with the whole gang, including the new, absolutely adorable Sophia. This entry, whatever the gameplay is, was just another excuse for me to hang out with my old, virtual friends. And I was 100% here for it.
I’m currently finishing up the platinum trophy, but there is one trophy that requires an ungodly amount of grinding for Bond points. Why does Atlus insist on always having at least one pain-in-the-ass trophy? The good news is that the music is, of course, bangin’, so I’ll just enjoy the amazing soundtrack while I grind these last hours away. I really loved my time with Strikers, and the steady release of Persona content since P5 (Royal, Dancing in Starlight/Moonlight, Persona Q 2, and now Strikers) has really kept me happy while awaiting news of the next mainline game. I fully plan on watching the anime for all three Persona games this summer, too. I’m glad that Atlus is dedicated to producing content outside of the core games, because it gives fans more time with the characters they love. As much as I am looking forward to Persona 6, I will be sad to leave my P5 friends behind, so having anime, manga, etc. to help me extend our time together is wonderful. Atlus has built up enough trust with me that I feel confident I will love P6, though, so as Futaba would say: “Bring on the buffs!” Er, “bring on the sequel!”
I am fairly deep into Persona 5 Strikers right now, and although I’ll probably dedicate a separate post to my thoughts about the game overall, I will say now that I am loving my time with it. I doubt I’m the only Persona 5 fan that was expecting this game to be a simple, shallow distraction while we waited for a new mainline Persona game (or a remake of Persona 3, *fingers crossed emoji*), but it feels far more like a true sequel to Persona 5 than I could have hoped for. Part of the reason for that feeling, I think, is that so much of my love for Persona 5 was due to the excellent cast of characters, and all of our favorite Phantom Thieves are back at it in Strikers, with their original voice actors in tow. The subject of this particular post is one such character: Ann Takamaki, aka Panther.
Before I start, I have to acknowledge the issue of age. While these entries aren’t meant to critically analyze these characters, I want to be clear that I understand there are issues with how this series sexualizes some of its teenage female characters, and Ann happens to be a prime example of that. Aside from that, I am quickly becoming an Aging, Ancient Gamer, so for me to be writing about characters that are so much younger than I am is, maybe, a little icky for some. I understand that, but I want to make it clear (if it’s not obvious) that I don’t have actual crushes on these characters, especially the morally problematic ones such as Ann. My “crush” on Ann is as a character, for one, but more importantly it comes from the context of the game. If I allow myself to live the fantasy presented to me, that I am a teen boy in high school, then Ann would be my crush in that fictional world. I know this might seem like an excessive and unnecessary prelude for some, because the romance aspect of these games is often cited as something that people love, so I know I’m not the only one with a “crush” character, but I delayed writing this entry for so long because I worried that it might come across as lecherous or gross. My opinions about Ann as an element of a product created by people are very different than my feelings about her as a character in this fictional world that I love. Okay. I think I’ve probably said more than I need to, so let’s get back to Ann.
Although Persona 5 was my introduction to the series, I had some idea of what to expect in terms of gameplay and content before playing it. I knew there was a social aspect to its RPG elements, and you could increase your link with characters to the point where you romanced them. Being a fan of romance options in games, I had fun guessing who I might romance before I actually sat down to play the game. Makoto seemed like an obvious choice, followed closely by Kawakami (who I think resembles Alison Brie, particularly in the show GLOW, who is my celebrity crush). Ann? The seemingly stereotypical preppy, pretty girl? Nah. Booooring.
Ann is one of the first characters you can romance, though, because she joins your group very early and you’re able to spend a lot of time with her before you even meet other characters. So, as my social link with her crept up, I almost felt like the game was treating her like the default choice. Early on, I was sure I’d resist the temptation to up and romance the first character that came my way. As the story progressed and I spent more time with her, however, I began to have a… change of heart. Yes, yes, I said The Thing. Take a shot if you’ve played the game and were waiting for that.
It’s easy for me as an American to look at Ann and imagine that she is probably very popular and highly sought after. She has some of the very basic markers of “traditional beauty” for western women and girls: the fair skin, the blonde hair, the impossibly blue eyes. As it turns out, these features make her something of an oddity in a Japanese high school, and she talks about feeling alienated and ostracized. I was a little dismissive of that at first, I have to admit. “Oh, really? The blue-eyed, blonde-haired beauty feels like a freak? Okay. Sure.” But Ann’s background and history really broke me down over time, and I began to think that my western idea of what is “beautiful” is probably a bit restrictive. Not in the sense that I think her beauty is superior to anyone else’s, but more that I imagine that others value it the same way I might. That’s not to say that Ann wouldn’t be considered beautiful in Japan. She’s a model, so clearly her looks are valued by people. But as many people can attest, high schoolers can be cruel, and students who are different are often not exactly treated kindly.
After I let the fact sink in that she, like Ryuji and Joker, was a bit of an outcast, I began to see her differently. She’s not motivated by popularity and the adulation of others, as I suspected she might be from the game’s promotional art. She’s incredibly determined to be successful at her career, to the point where she is even unavailable for a time due to balancing her work and school life. I certainly don’t fetishize work culture, but I like that she has the drive to keep trying, even when she faces the setbacks that she does. One of those setbacks is that she isn’t as fit or trim as the other models she’s competing against, which is very weird to consider given the fact that virtually everyone in these games is pretty thin. She makes a couple of valiant attempts to lose weight and get fitter, but her love of sweet always wins out in the end. It me, as the kids say.
Part of what might be at the center of her tenacity is her seemingly eternal optimism. She’s not the kind of flighty blonde you might find in other media, where her optimism comes from a lack of awareness or detachment from reality. Ann is smart and knows when things are grim, but she also knows that it’s important for a friend group to have someone who reminds them that things aren’t as terrible as they seem. Hope is never lost. In Strikers, the first major enemy you face is an idol whose twisted desires for revenge have made her into a cruel, abusive, malevolent pop star who delights in using her fame to treat people the way she was treated when she was in high school. Recognizing a fellow outcast and victim of bullying, Ann acts as the group’s moral compass when tensions run high and some want to make her pay in much harsher ways. Ann’s ability to empathize with even some of the most unlikeable and aggressive enemies is something I admire. She doesn’t empathize with Kamoshida, though, which is good. Because fuck that guy.
Aside from all that, she’s just a great, funny teammate with some serious firepower. Get it? Fire power? Because her particular magical affinity is fire? What’s that? You didn’t know that because you’ve never played the game? You’re just being nice and reading this because you’re my friend? Fair enough. But, trust me; it was almost a funny joke. Seriously, though, in my first playthrough of the game, Ann was my heaviest hitter. While JRPGs have a long history of making the “pretty” girls healers, Ann was nothing of the sort for me. She was a whip-cracking, flame-slinging, Persona-wielding, badass bitch, and I was here for it. Or, er, there for it. In the past. In that fictional realm.
I love so many of the characters in the Persona games, but Ann has become something of a representative of my love for the series and characters as a whole. She’s great all on her own, but being my first bae in a series that I would come to adore and obsess over, she’s kind of a symbol of my love for the entire series. I have an Ann poster, t-shirt, statue, phone case, mask… I even have an Ann tattoo! So, yes, I have a crush on the fictional character of Ann, but she also represents my even bigger real-world crush on Persona and all of the magic that has come with every single game I’ve played since my first adventures in Persona 5. I am grateful that I’m getting a whole new set of adventures with these characters in Strikers, and I hope there are even more games with this cast to come. This summer, I am planning on watching every Persona anime available, so I’m excited to get even more time with my virtual, fictional friends soon. *nerd emoji*
I am a little over 200 hours into Persona 5 Royal at the moment and I’ve detailed my love of the core game and the seriesinpreviousposts. I have yet to play the new post-original-endgame content yet, so maybe I’ll cover that in the future, but I just made a purchase that is incredibly timely and relevant. As those very astute readers may have guessed by looking at the title of this blog or the featured picture, I recently bought replicas of every Phantom Thief mask (except Morgana, because his mask is, uh… kinda his face) and I am so excited about it that I wanted to share.
Remember Erin, my tattoo artist? She is in the process of moving and doesn’t have space for these masks so she wanted “[her] babies going somewhere they will be APPRECIATED.” Her words, not mine, but she is 100% correct. I appreciate them so, so much. She originally purchased them from an artist who makes movie and video game prop replicas, DetravoidConcept. So today I woke up, wiped them down with a diaper (not really, ew, gross), and took a bunch of pictures that I’d like to share, along with some thoughts on the characters that they are worn by. Let me just note that I am close to the furthest thing from a photographer, but I tried my best, okay? *nervously sweating emoji*
Joker – Protagonist: “I’ve leveled up.”
Joker doesn’t have many memorable quotes because, well, he’s mostly a silent protagonist. This, combined with the ability for the player to select many of his dialogue choices, makes him a mostly blank canvas for the player to project themselves onto. Which means, Joker is me. So I think he’s a pretty cool guy. Sometimes. Usually. Maybe. On good days.
Panther – Ann Takamaki: “A beautiful rose has thorns!”
Oh, Ann. So beautiful. So whippy. Ann looks like a bubbly, preppy, popular girl cliché, but it’s not long before you realize that she is an outcast much like you and the many friends you will meet on your journey. Ann is very pretty, yes, but I think it’s the mix of tenacity and hope that she exudes that I like most. A beautiful rose has thorns, indeed. I like making her my hard hitting magic user, because there’s something about her calling forth a shadow and absolutely incinerating enemies in torrential flames that just gets me every time.
Skull – Ryuji Sakamoto: “For real!?”
Ryuji is the comic relief, yes, so he’s always good for a laugh – at him or with him. He’s hotheaded and a little light in the brains department, so when he attempts to spar with someone like Morgana or Ann, hilarity ensues every time. But you know what? He’s also always in your corner. Always. And sometimes you want nothing more than a hotheaded numbskull of a friend to have your back. That’s Ryuji. Cue sound clip: “What did you say!?”
Fox – Yusuke Kitagawa: “I do not paint for the sake of others’ comprehension.”
Okay, so I know I painted Ryuji out to be the oafish comic relief, but Yusuke is also a bit daft. I suppose his dullness is more due to social ineptitude, because he seems to be a stellar student, but he sure is dense at times. I was not the biggest Yusuke fan, at first. Can you blame me? Our introduction to him is his stalking of Ann, and he is generally a vain, oblivious tool… for a while. He learns and reflects a lot over the course of the story, though, and even if he’s maybe not the best friend you could ask for by the end, at least he’s always good for a funny, all-too-serious comment about painting Ann in the nude.
Queen – Makoto Niijima: “Fists of justice!”
I had to go with that quote from Queen because I get it stuck in my head all the damn time. I’ll be walking to the kitchen and pretend like I’m going to punch my refrigerator end-over-end and faux scream that quote. I’ll be playing with Bella, my cat, and yell “fists of justice!” as I slow-motion punch her in the stomach (and she grabs my hand with her claws and punishes me for my foolishness). It’s such a well delivered line, but I love that it comes from the typically prim and proper Ms. Student Body President. In my second playthrough, after seeing Makoto’s full story and getting to know her character beyond her initial pushy, aggressive profiling of us, I found her shadow awakening to be one of the most emotionally resonant. If anyone needed to suddenly sprout spiked shoulder pads and a badass, other-worldly motorcycle, it was Makoto Niijima.
Oracle – Futaba Sakura: “Welp, ain’t no time like the present! Come on, let’s go!”
Oh, Futaba. Futaba, Futaba, Futaba. She has to be one of my favorite characters in all of gaming at this point. I was already with Ann by the time I got to Futaba in my first playthrough, but as soon as she started slinging zingers at Ryuji, or Inari, or anyone else who annoyed her, I’d decided to romance her in my second playthrough. It felt too weird for me, personally, so I don’t think I have that kind of affection for her, but her story is so tragic and her personality is so unique and goofy that I can’t help but feel some kind of intense love for her. This playthrough of Persona 5 Royal is my fourth time playing through the core P5 story, and I straight up cried again when I was doing her palace and the story that ensues. I would die for Futaba, man.
Noir – Haru Okumura: “If I act with resolve and believe in my actions, I know I’ll be able to achieve anything.”
Haru is another character that took a while to grow on me, which I know is a sin to some, since she appears to be a huge fan favorite. She is adorably inept when you first come across her in the Metaverse, which was certainly endearing, but growing up in extreme privilege has crippled her in so many ways that it takes a while for her break through all of the shackles that bind her, emotionally, psychologically, socially… but she does, and she evolves into a strong, capable, compassionate businesswoman. And yet she retains her adorable voice and her elegant style… like a true Phantom Thief.
Violet – Kasumi Yoshizawa: “I love you, Joey-senpai!”
Okay, so that quote is a joke because I have yet to reach the new story content so I don’t have any fun quotes from her memorized at this point. I have interacted with her throughout the core story, though, so I already feel very good about my choice to romance her in this playthrough (though I have yet to get to that point, sad face). In her very first scene, which is surprisingly early in the game, she makes a graceful and impressive entrance, and then proceeds to gracefully impress her foot up some enemy ass. At one point early in the story, Morgana says that the Phantom Thieves are all about style, and Kasumi fits right in in that regard. I love her red, bouncy hair, I love how skilled she is, and I love that, like the rest of us, she is something of an outcast, beaten down by a system that doesn’t appreciate her. I can’t wait to get to know her better.
And there you have it! I’ll include a few close-ups at the end, here, so you can see how good the detailing and paint jobs are. I should note that these things are very sturdy, too. Fully ready for cosplaying. I have yet to find a place to display them, but you can bet your ass they’ll be somewhere very visible, very soon. I love them. And I love the faces they were designed to cover (except Goro). And I love Persona 5 Royal, so I’m going to go play it now. Bye bye.
I see lots of people on Twitter posting their top ten games of the last decade, so I wanted to do something here, where I have more room to say a little something about each game. So I made a list of games I loved from the last ten years, then when I thought about having to whittle them down to ten and order them, I groaned. Then I wondered why I had to do that. This is not a print source, where I’d have limited space, nor do I represent an online outlet where my ordering of them matters much. So, you know what? I’m just going to write about all of them. How do you like that? What’s that? You’re not evening reading this long, boring blog? Well then how did you just read that sentence? Got ya. Check and mate.
I’ve written about several of these games already, so I will try and be brief, but I love revisiting the warm and fuzzy memories associated with some of my favorite games. I’ll probably post an ordered top ten list on Twitter, but the list below is not in any particular order.
Persona 5 (PS4, 2017)
I have written pretty extensively about my love for Persona 5, but it’s hard to overstate my adoration of so many facets of it. I love the art, I love the characters, I love the world, I love the music, I love the combat… I just love it. I now have a tattoo of Ann, and I hope to get more characters in the future. I would love to get a whole back piece based on characters from Persona 3, 4, and 5, but that’s a big decision and a lot of money, so I doubt it’ll be any time soon. Anyway, I am very excited to play through the game a fourth time when Persona 5 Royal comes out in just a few short months. I’m sure I’ll have even more to say then, so clear your calendar of all important and unimportant plans so that you can read it.
Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4, 2017)
I have yet to replay Horizon Zero Dawn, but I think about it often. Aside from being one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, it has some of the most satisfying combat as well. It’s perfectly balanced between complex/deep and straightforward/accessible. Every time I’d enter a new area and see a new type of robo-dino, I’d feel nervous about engaging them, certain I’d get my ass kicked. And I did, a few times. But I quickly learned to sneak carefully, observing the enemy’s movement, analyzing its armor and weak points, then using the right tools to strike at the right moment. It was almost always thrilling. A sequel is a given, and I assume they’re developing it for the upcoming PS5, so I can only imagine how gorgeous it’s going to be.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch, 2017)
I have been such a huge fan of the Mario Kart series since its debut on the SNES, and Mario Kart 64 was one of my favorite games of all time for years. Mario Kart 64 doesn’t age very well, sadly, but Mario Kart 8 plays like my memory of 64 likes to pretend that the older games do. It’s smooth, precise, and the balance between chance and skill is *chef’s kiss*. And with four different Princess Peach’s, I’ve never had a problem getting my favorite racer. It’s also still exciting to play the Hyrule level, and I very much hope that the next iteration of the series takes a cue from the Smash Bros. games and expands the roster to other first party Nintendo games and, eventually, maybe even third party games.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (PS4, 2018)
Dragon Quest VIII has more warm fuzzies in my memory than XI, but I think XI is the better game. It has much of the same charm and style of previous entries I’ve played, and I grew to adore the cast in this installment, even more than I loved the ragtag group in VIII. DQ XI takes what I love about classic JRPGs and continues to smooth the rough edges, like grinding, and further perfects the formula. I got the platinum trophy for the game on PS4 because I just didn’t want to stop playing, and I loved every second of it. I recently got the definitive edition for the Switch and though I probably won’t get to play it anytime soon, I’m excited to experience that world and those characters again.
Doki Doki Literature Club! (PC, 2017)
As I said in my blog on this game, I don’t want to give anything away by saying too much, but this game surprised me and plays on established genre tropes in a way that is so exciting and refreshing. It’s a free game on Steam, so I always want to tell people to go and play it, but it’s tricky because I don’t want to say why. Either way, I really loved my time with it, and I’m hopeful for an expansion on that universe sometime in the future.
Gone Home (PC, 2013)
Every time I revisit Gone Home, I’m struck by how great it is. I don’t know how I seem to forget. I think it’s because it is such a simple, straightforward experience, but there is so much meaning packed into its narrative and world building that it’s easy to be fooled into thinking it’s a pretty standard ‘walking sim.’ It’s not, though, and I love both its story and the way that it’s told. The way it builds atmosphere and tension through sound, music (or lack of), and snippets of monologues, is among the best in narrative games, I think. And I just really like exploring big, empty houses.
Emily is Away Too (PC, 2017)
So much of my affection for this game is tied to the nostalgia that its AOL Instant Messenger interface and gameplay evoke, but I also think there is a very obvious attention to detail and affection for game making that went into it, and it shows. The first game, Emily is Away, was also great, but the sequel really struck my emotions in a powerful way. Its developer, Kyle Seeley, is working on a new entry, Emily is Away ❤, based on early Facebook interface, and if his tweets are any indication, the release isn’t too far away. I’m super hyped.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt (PS4, 2015)
I was late to the Witcher party, so to speak, so after having heard so much about it before even starting the game, I don’t feel the same kind of personal connection to this game as I do with other games on this list. Even still, I loved not only the core game, but the DLC as well. I am usually disappointed by DLC, but The Witcher III has maybe the absolute best DLC I’ve ever played. The world that CD Projekt RED built is so grim and beautiful and exhilarating to explore, and the cast is captivating. I just finished watching the new Netflix show, which is great, so I have the itch to play it again.
Tomb Raider (Xbox 360, 2013)
I have to admit, I didn’t love the original PS1 Tomb Raider games. I liked the idea of Lara Croft more than I did the clunky platforming and chunky graphics. So I was pleasantly blown away by how great the 2013 reboot of the franchise was. Lara Croft was a richer, more nuanced character, tough and strong but also vulnerable and human. Plus the game is gorgeous, the exploration is fun, and I very much enjoyed the stealth and limited combat. I could have used more actual tomb raiding, but for an introductory tale I completely understood why they held back on that aspect of the game. I loved each of the sequels less and less, but I have high hopes that the next entry will build on the new formula in a meaningful way.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PS4, 2013)
I got this as a free game with my PS4 at launch (I think it was a buy three games and get one free deal?), and my expectations were bracketed by the fact that this was a last-gen game that was ported to the next-gen systems. Despite that, I was immediately blown away by the beauty with which the Caribbean seas and tropical locales were rendered, and I fell deeply in love with the experience of sailing the seas with my own ship and crew, singing shanties, diving for treasure, and demolishing enemy ships. It was the kind of game I would play for hours only to lay in bed thinking about what I would do the next time I played. I have a feeling the mechanics and graphics will only stand the test of time for so long, so revisiting it after playing the newer entries will probably be at least slightly disappointing, but nothing can erase the magical memories of the weeks I originally spent with it.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (PS4, 2018)
I loved Black Flag so much that I went back and started playing the original games, and I’ve played all but a couple of the mainline entries by this point. Having said that, I feel pretty comfortable saying that Odyssey is probably the best in the series. Objective assessment aside, I subjectively loved it as well. I didn’t have the same kind of magical tingly feeling that I did with my time playing Black Flag, but it was pretty close. The game is huge, beautiful, and I liked Kassandra, the main character, more than I did probably any other AC protagonist (though I still have a soft spot for Evie).
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4, 2019)
This is another game that tapped into my nostalgia pretty hardcore, because it is in many ways a throwback to Ace Combat 04, which is one my favorite games of all time, and one that I spent many, many hours playing back in the day. The return to form made it impossible for me to not love it, even if there are a couple of things that show how small of a budget this game had. It received strong reviews, so I’m hoping that sales were good as well and Namco decides to invest a little more heavily in a next-gen sequel that looks as mind-blowingly amazing as AC04 did when it came out on the PS2.
Resident Evil 2 (PS4, 2019)
The original Resident Evil 2 was also one of my favorite games of all time, so I was very nervous but excited about this remake. I was excited because even if it was a one-to-one remake with better graphics, I would have been happy. But nervous because what if they tried to change things or made it action-heavy like the more recent entries in the series? Well they did make some changes, but for the better. They were subtle but made the game feel very fresh, even in 2019. The RE Engine is amazing, and it allowed the devs to make this a game with some of the most incredible lighting and textures, and it really brought the streets of Raccoon City alive. The gameplay, voice acting, story, and (of course) Mr. X were all also wonderful, so it’s no surprise that the upcoming Resident Evil 3 remake is at the top of my most anticipated list for 2020.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch, 2019)
This was my first Fire Emblem game, and I was worried that the strategy elements might be too hard or overwhelming for me, given that I don’t play many games like it. I had nothing to fear, though, because the combat was fairly easy, which allowed me to focus more on some of the social and academic systems, which I really liked. And how could I not love such a vast and varied cast of characters? I like so many of them, but Edelgard and mah girl Petra were my favorites. It’s a very long game but I played through it twice just to see two different story paths, and I didn’t regret a second of the time it took to do so. Do I wish that the game didn’t look like a glossy 3DS port? Yes, of course. But that just makes me even more excited for the next installment, which I’m sure will be developed natively for the Switch.
Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360, 2013)
I still play Grand Theft Auto Online, so I was kind of shocked remembering that this game came out in 2013. 2013! And it still looks great (the PS4 port does, anyway). Say what you will about the story and characters and such, but Rockstar, like Ubisoft, is phenomenal at creating open worlds that feel organic and dynamic, so most of my favorite times in San Andreas happen when I’m just messing around, launching my Batmobile off of rooftops, or pushing around random cars in bulldozers with friends, or screeching to a stop next to a car illegally parked in a handicap spot so that we can destroy it with bats or gasoline. As long as Rockstar keeps spending time creating intricate, organic worlds, I’ll keep coming back.
Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 Scarlet (PS4, 2019)
Okay, yes, this is a game about a bunch of scantily clad fighting ladies with unrealistic proportions playing volleyball and collecting bikinis, but I won’t deny that I had a ton of fun playing it. The volleyball in particular was very satisfying, and given that I like collecting things in games that I enjoy, I found myself trying to collect every bikini for every player. And I won’t sit here and make any excuses for liking a game with half-naked women in it, but I will say that I ended up really liking Momiji and do you think she likes me? Should I ask her out? Do you think I should try and be friends with her friends first? Okay well somehow I ended up being creepy about it anyway.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4, 2018)
Much of what I said for Grand Theft Auto V holds true here. I played and liked the single player story, but most of what I really loved about this game was the open world and my ability to interact with it in a multitude of ways. Doing a mission where my posse robs a bank and escapes the law is fun, but the memories that will stick with me are being out in the wilderness, cooking meat (from a wolf that attacked me) over a fire, feeding my horse some peppermint after a long ride through a dusty canyon, stumbling into an expansive cave system that seems too large to even exist… things like that. And I just started playing Red Dead Online with a friend, and so now it’s fun to share some of that same experiences with a friend, and the griefing is far less prevalent than I’d expected. So I see quite a bit more of this game in my near future.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch, 2018)
Super Smash Bros. Melee was one of the finest, most well balanced fighting games in history, and I think the fact that it has had such a long life in the competitive circuit attests to that. But the balance that I mean, and the balance that makes me love the game, is not so much the technical, professional kind, but the kind that allows for almost anyone to pick the game up and play it, with its simple two button design. It’s so simple and allows for all kinds of very easy moves, even if you don’t commit to learning a bunch of combos, but it has the ability to be deep and lets you learn combos and defensive moves and more, if you want to. And Smash Bros. Ultimate is the, well, ultimate version of the game. It restores much of the balance that was a bit lost in the last version, and it has such an incredible roster of characters, levels, and music, from such an impressive array of games and companies. I am not very good at the game, probably, but I sure played the hell out of the single player, and I would love to play it casually with friends at some point.
Stardew Valley (Switch, 2017)
Oh, man. My adoration of Stardew Valley seems to grow more and more intense over time. I wasn’t even all that interested in it at first, because I thought it might be too stressful having to get enough work done before the end of the day or season. But one of the lovely things about this game is that you get what you give. You certainly can put in a lot of work and try and accomplish things rapidly, or you can take your time and just spend your time having fun. The game doesn’t really punish you much, so I ended up pushing myself to get a lot done, but feeling very rewarded instead of pressured. I also love the retro graphics, the soundtrack is amazing, the characters and their backstories are memorable, and the little nods to Chrono Trigger are cherries on top of a fun, delicious sundae.
Dragon Age Inquisition (PS4, 2014)
So Dragon Age: Origins gave me more warm feelies than Inquisition, but I still thought the latter had much of what make Bioware games so magical and memorable for me. The sense of building a character much like me, gaining power to stand against impossible odds, developing relationships along the way, and finding someone to romance. The romance aspect is a big part for me, though, and I have to say that I was slightly disappointed in my options in this entry. Morrigan was absolutely my top choice in Origins, so the fact that I couldn’t romance her here was sad, and my second choice, Sera, is a lesbian so she had no interest in me. I ended up with Cassandra, who was okay, but she’s no wild, wicked, dragon-blooded witch, I’ll tell you that.
Fallout 4 (PS4, 2015)
I feel like a broken record, but Fallout 3 was really the game in this series that won me over and maintains a special place in my heart, but I also loved my time with Fallout 4. Part of what I loved about the third game was the sense of isolation and lonely adventuring in the vast, open, broken landscape, so when I realized that the fourth game had a companion system I was a little wary about how that might affect my experience of wandering the Wasteland. As luck would have it, however, I had just seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens and was completely smitten with Rey and BB-8, so having Curie (a similarly spherical, robo companion) follow me around was actually very nice and made me feel like Rey. And the fact that Curie was charming and smart and funny made it that much more interesting, and then helping her to become human and romancing her was the ultimate payoff. Am I saying that I would turn BB-8 into a human and be his boyfriend? No, you monster, what is wrong with you? He’s a sweet little bb.
Final Fantasy XV (PS4, 2016)
Man. Final Fantasy XV did not sound all that attractive to me on paper. So I’m a dude taking a road trip with three other dudes? And this is a Final Fantasy game? A series which has had some amazing female party members that I still love? And they won’t be in my party. Okay. Got it. Sounds terrible. But it wasn’t! It was pretty great, actually. I actually ended up really digging the dynamic of the four guys, and although I would have preferred she be a permanent party member, I really liked Aranea and enjoyed having her as a temporary party member. The world was so beautiful, too, and I actually found the combat to be one of the most enjoyable in the series. The story itself was a little confusing at times, but the ending is pure melancholic beauty.
Injustice 2 (PS4, 2017)
Seeing as how I don’t play fighting games with friends, because I am a friendless loser (hahaha, just kidding… unless…) the only way for a fighting game to make it onto my list is to have great single player content. And both Injustice games have excellent single player content, with great stories, lots of solid fights, and in the case of the sequel, tons of unlockable gear and customizable equipment. I had way more fun than I thought I would unlocking new costumes and accessories, and the graphics and effects are so good. I like just collecting cool costumes and, like, looking at my characters. As a fan of the DC universe and simple, straightforward fighting games, I had lots of fun times with this game.
Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360, 2010)
When BioWare announced that they were not working on a new Knights of the Old Republic game, and instead were working on a new, original sci-fi RPG, I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. I loved KotOR and their follow-up, Jade Empire, and though it was developed by Obsidian I also really loved KotOR II: The Sith Lords. ”Why create a new universe and characters when you have the Star Wars brand?” I wondered. But I ended up adoring the original Mass Effect, and its sequel was even better. The storyline of becoming the first human Spectre, the terrifying Reapers (and the sound they make), commanding your own ship and crew, finally getting a chance to romance Tali, moral decisions carrying over from the first game… it was all so great, and if they release the long-rumored HD remastered trilogy set, I will almost certainly play through the saga again someday.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS4, 2015)
Once again I feel like I’m seeing a trend in some of my thoughts on these games. Several of them, this one included, begin with some variation of “I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I did.” I loved the previous Metal Gear Solid games, but the concept of an ‘open world’ entry in the series was very concerning. And while the narrative experience in MGS V didn’t have the same impact as previous entries in the series, probably because of my many sidetracks and wanderings, I ended up really fucking hooked to the gameplay loop. Part of it was, of course, the old “here’s a base to fix up” move. I love that shit, so I found myself doing mission after mission to collect money, personnel, and equipment for my base. And you get D-Dog to come home to? I also found Fultoning things and people out of places a ton of fun, I came to appreciate the 80s songs I could play on my Walkman, and despite the problems inherent in her depiction, I really liked Quiet. I walked away from MGS V shocked both by how different it was than previous MGS games, and how much I liked it.
Rock Band 3 (Xbox 360, 2010)
Frickin’ Rock Band, am I right? I still get angry when I think about how Activision flooded the market when they got the Guitar Hero IP, leading to oversaturation and players and developers (mostly) abandoning music rhythm games. The first two Guitar Hero games, along with the Rock Band series, provided an experience like few others. You played with plastic instruments, sure, but they gave you a real, tactile sensation of rocking out to so many awesome songs, familiar and not. They eventually let you create your own character and band, and embark on a tour, features I was very excited to see develop in later installments… that never came. Rock Band 4 was solid, but Harmonix was open about the very limited budget the game had, which probably explained the shallow single player experience. So Rock Band 3 was, for me, the pinnacle of the series. Whether I just wanted to chill and play guitar on random songs or get out some aggressive energy on drums, I was set. And don’t get me started on playing with friends. One person on guitar, one on bass, one drumming, and one singing? Such a magical experience. Even writing this is making me want to pick up the ol’ plastic axe once again.
Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360, 2011)
I am a huge Batman fan, and this game is a huge love letter to huge Batman fans. The first game to successfully pair a super hero with an open world, it really captured what many of us imagined the Batman experience to be: being overwhelmed with crimes occurring in multiple places, solving mysteries with a keen eye and a few gadgets, dropping down from the shadows to thrash a group of thugs and zipping out again, and coming face to face (or face to Two-Face) with members of the infamous Rogues’ Gallery. And Solomon Grundy! The story is such an excellent Batman tale, too, subverting expectations and shocking us in the best ways. Arkham Knight may be superior in some ways, but Arkham City holds a special place in my heart.
Jurassic World Evolution (PS4, 2018)
I haven’t played very many sim or tycoon games, but I love Jurassic Park a ton, and the screenshots for this game looked like the closest approximation of the Jurassic Park experience that I’ve seen over the years. I was still very hesitant going into it, and I didn’t buy it right away. Would it stress me out? All of the building and managing? I just wanted to hatch and take care of some dinosaurs, I didn’t want to worry about customers or money or any of that. But then I read that you could drive a gas powered jeep around your parks, and you could fly a helicopter around to take photos or tranquilize/medicate your dinosaurs. That pushed me over the edge and I bought the game, still uncertain about how long I’d be able to stand the pressure of having to make a park that performed well and didn’t just house rad fucking miracles of modern science. To my great surprise, I actually enjoyed the management aspect of the game, even in intense situations, like when a predator broke free from its pen, a pen of herbivores got sick, and a huge storm hit my island, breaking fences and taking out power, all at the same time. It was stressful handling it, yes, but it was so rewarding when everything settled down and I had control of the park once again. They recently released DLC that allows you to recreate the original Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar, so I might very well be returning to the game again soon, and I’m excited.
Until Dawn (PS4, 2014)
I grew up with horror films, and I still love the genre. Until Dawn is 100% a playable horror film. Even in its sometimes cheesy lines and stilted acting, it reminded me of so many classic slashers and scary movies set in cabins in creepy woods. It pays homage to lots of specific horror movies and tropes, and the author of the narrative brings in elements of his own horror movie, Wendigo, to add an element of surprise to the formula. The game is also gorgeous, rendering its human characters among the best in all of gaming. I also grew fond of the cast, and how many games have Academy Award winners’ (Rami Malek) likenesses in them? Though some of the decisions and consequences were, shall we say, suspect, I enjoyed playing the game multiple times to try different paths and save or kill different characters. I haven’t loved the follow-ups from the studio, but my affection for this game has me hoping they’ll produce similar caliber experiences in the future.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch, 2017)
I sometimes hesitate to call myself a Legend of Zelda fan, because there are quite a few more Zelda games that I haven’t played than those that I have. But the original Zelda games for the NES, and Ocarina of Time were formative parts of my gaming history, and, uh, I have a fairly large tattoo of Princess Zelda on my arm. And it’s specifically the Zelda from Breath of the Wild, because she is strong, smart, sassy, and my favorite version of her in all of the games I’ve played – and the ill-fated animated series (though she was pretty cool in that, too). Her aside, it took me a while to appreciate this version of Hyrule, but the more I uncovered bits of story and history, the more I saw a seemingly large, empty world as a living tomb, a once great kingdom now overgrown with trees and moss, ghosts of the past haunting its ruins and shadows. Add to this a simple but classic Zelda story, and eventually I found myself in love with the world, the game, and my adventures within them.
Persona 4 Golden (PS Vita, 2012)
Maybe it’s fitting that we begin and end with a Persona game, because I’ve played three of them in the last two years (and the dance game associated with each) and I have fallen in love with the series because of them. So it’s safe to say it’s impossible for me to look back at this decade of games and deny how much they’ve defined my experience as a lover of games. In terms of gameplay mechanics, combat, and interface, Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 are very similar, but one of the things that makes each Persona game special is its characters, and as with 5, I grew to greatly admire my friends and party members in Golden. Chie and her love of kung fu, Yukiko’s traditional Japanese grace and contemporary attitude, Kanji’s closeted queerness, Rise’s adorableness, and more. If every Persona game going forward has the same gameplay but with new locations and characters, I would be totally happy. The ability to play a character in long, elaborate, multifaceted drama with a cast of colorful characters will never get old.
I’ve been meaning for a fair while to write a blog about my gaming tattoos, but my problem is that, uh… I can’t stop getting them. So every time I sit down and think “time to write that blog,” I remember that I have a new design in mind for a few months from now. Oh, and one for a few months after that. And I’ll probably get one when… Ultimately, I’m working on a “piecemeal” sleeve, which is basically a sleeve of various tattoos that aren’t necessarily connected (though usually there is a “filler” between them that brings the disparate pieces together). So I still have a few small-medium designs that will fill the gaps on that arm, and then some tiny-small designs to act as filler. I’ll share those at the end, but because I’ve been collecting these for some time, I guess I want to start at the beginning.
[Cue nostalgic 8-bit video game music]
[Cut to a younger Joey, age 16, doodling in a notebook]
[Joey turns to camera, slightly surprised and bemused]
“Oh, hello. I’m Younger Joey. And I thought this was a good idea but now that I’m writing lines for my younger self, I realize how absolutely dumb this is. Let’s go back to normal writing, like a normal person.”
Ahem. I’ve wanted a tattoo or two since I was a teenager. I used to doodle ideas of what I wanted my first tattoo to be, including (as you might imagine of a 90s teen), band logos, a scorpion, my astrological sign (Scorpio, and yes I had a pet scorpion and a silver scorpion ring and many other scorpion-related things, I WAS 16 OKAY), something with Freddy Krueger, video game icons, and more. It wasn’t until I joined the Air Force when I was 20 that I decided to actually go through with it. I was getting a decent-sized, steady paycheck, after all, and there were several tattoo shops of varying quality around Keesler Air Force Base, where I did my technical training. My first tattoo was not gaming related, however. I had a fresh new notebook that I was doodling ideas in, and there were several video game designs (an NES controller, Pac-Man and ghosts, a Tri-Force, and other now-cliché concepts, I WAS 20 OKAY), but it wasn’t until about a year later that I got my second tattoo, a Starman Deluxe from EarthBound.
Let me pause here and apologize for a few things. First off, I am not photographer, and some of these pictures were taken by me. The non-photographer. I mean, I’m not even, like, a decent Instagram picture-taker. So please excuse the bad lighting, posing, focus, etc. It’s hard to take pictures of your own tattoos, man. Second, some of these pictures are fresh, meaning I took them immediately after the artist finished, so they are puffy, raw, and maybe a little bloody. Having someone scrape a violently vibrating needle across your skin for a couple of hours will do that. Lastly, I must apologize for my skin. I know that some sections of my body look like paper-thin sheets of slightly hairy pig skin stretched over a sack of moles and blemishes, and I’m okay with that. So just overlook it, alright?
Where were we? Ah, yes. I deliberated for a long time about which video game tattoo would be my first. I spent hours scanning through hundreds of images from some of my favorite games. Because I’d only had one tattoo, and I wasn’t planning on getting all that many more, I felt like this tattoo had to pack a lot of meaning into a relatively small space. I decided on a Starman Deluxe because EarthBound is one of my favorite games of all time, and the art design from that game seemed to me to be a lot more tattoo-friendly than, say, Chrono Trigger, my favorite game of all time. There are many great characters and enemies in EarthBound, but I landed on the Starman Deluxe because, well, it’s a badass robot from space with shoulder spikes. Plus the Starmen (Starmans?) are pretty iconic, and given the number of classic rock references in the game, I have always assumed they were inspired by David Bowie’s song “Starman,” and I love David Bowie. So it all just kind of made sense.
Then, after six years and four non-gaming tattoos, I got my second game related tattoo – uh, yet another EarthBound tattoo. I know! I know. I love a lot of different games, but after getting the Starman Deluxe I really wanted to get the four main characters from the game, too, so they were always near the top of my list of tattoos-to-get. I like that they all have a distinct look, there are multiple colors going on, and my artist (Brian at Spider Tattooz in Sycamore, IL) actually honored my request to do them in their original pixel form. I don’t think I quite appreciated at the time how difficult that is to do, but since then I’ve had several artists compliment them and reveal that it’s a really tricky thing to pull off. So I am very happy with them, and I think they are holding up nicely (unlike the Starman, which you can see is already starting to fade a bit, sad face emoji).
By this point I’d realized that I probably wanted a few other video game tattoos on that arm, so I began collecting pictures and ideas to make a piecemeal sleeve. I made a folder on my laptop and filled it with characters, logos, symbols, etc. from my favorite games, and after yet another couple of non-gaming related tattoos, I made an appointment to get my next tattoo from my current artist, Erin from Proton Tattoo in DeKalb, IL. I’d looked up her work and really liked a thick-lined Link from The Legend of Zelda that she did, so I felt that she was the right person to do a Princess Peach tattoo, which I’d been looking forward to getting for years. It turned out that her handle is Sweet Peach Parfait, and, as she informed me as we discussed the design, the “Peach” was for Princess Peach herself. Serendipity at its finest. I gave her these three pieces of official artwork and asked her to make a design based on her own personal style.
And here is what she came up with. She went with a bust framed by a heart, and she added a flower because those are kind of her thing.
Princess Peach was my very first favorite video game character. Granted, I hadn’t encountered all that many unique characters by the time I’d played Super Mario Bros. 2, so I hadn’t really even thought of who my favorite characters were, but in that particular game she was a clear winner for me. She wasn’t as fast as the other characters, and maybe you had to try a little harder to pull up vegetables, but I loved that she could hover using her dress. Later, when I fell in love with Mario Kart 64, Peach was again my go-to character. So much so that I became irrevocably tied to her among my close friends, and would then always choose her when playing Mario Party, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, or almost any of the party-based Nintendo games. I was so happy with Erin’s work on this tattoo that I decided that I would go to her for my next tattoo as well, which was:
Ann, from Persona 5! I gave Erin the pictures above and again asked for her to come up with whatever she thought best, and she went with another bust coming out of a geometric shape. This time she went with an oval, which she filled with a beautiful teal that contrasts so well with the red of Panther’s Phantom Thieves outfit. I couldn’t believe how good it looked when she was done. I think even she was impressed with her own work, because she commented that it looked like she slapped a sticker on my arm. I saw someone on Twitter post a picture of their Ryuji tattoo, so I decided to comment on it with a compliment and a picture of my Ann tattoo, and Erika Harlacher (Ann’s voice actor in the game) actually liked and commented on it! How cool was that?
It was, Dear Reader, exceptionally cool. Insert the cool emoji here. The one with the little sunglasses. Cool. Like Ann, who was my bae in Persona 5, a game with incredible style and a million tattoo-able characters (some of which I plan on getting in the future). Interestingly enough (to exactly one person – me), I got that Ann tattoo exactly a year ago today. And it was at that time that I’d decided I wanted to stick with the theme of video game ladies as the primary components of my sleeve, so the next tattoo I got was Chun-Li, my oldest video game crush and the subject of a previous blog of mine.
Once again, I gave Erin the above images and she produced a breathtaking bust framed by a new geometric shape. This might be my favorite tattoo, in terms of aesthetic. It has the thick black outlines that she loves to do, but the delicate line work on Chun-Li’s eyes, nose, mouth, ribbons, etc. always makes me happy that I chose to get this one on my wrist, where I frequently catch glimpses of it. I love the mix of pink, blue, and yellow, too, though I do have to say that in terms of pain, this was one of the worst spots. It swelled a lot. My wrist looked absolutely pregnant when I unwrapped it later that night. It did not, sadly, produce any little baby street fighters, however.
I got my next two tattoos as a part of the Halloween sale that Proton puts on annually. Among the designs that I’d given Erin for future tattoos was a Bob-omb, from the Mario games. For the sale, she posted a whole sheet of Nintendo designs that she’d drawn up for the occasion, the Bob-omb and a Boo among them. I loved the Boo, so I really wanted to get that, but I also wanted to get an original design she made for the sale, which was the Prince from Katamari Damacy rolling a jack-o-lantern. Because, well, it’s the Prince from Katamari Damacy rolling a fucking jack-o-lantern. She was generous enough to allow me to get both designs, which was awesome. Prior to these, I’d always gotten tattoos that I had some kind of personal connection to, so these were the first I got just because I liked the way they looked. I mean, you could count Boo in with my personal history of Mario games, but that’s not why I got it. And that’s okay with me.
The next two on the list were also done on the same day (as each other, not the previous two), and one of them was the previously mentioned Bob-omb. I gave Erin a simple Bob-omb design and she went all out and added text, a bright explosion, and an old-school comic style. It is eye-catching and because of its central location on my arm, it really pulls everything together visually. That central location is my elbow pit, sometimes called “the ditch.” And let me tell you, it hurt like “the bitch.” That didn’t quite work but just go with it. But seriously, it hurt so. Bad. I got the other tattoo first, on the back of my wrist, and as she was doing it I remember thinking “this isn’t so bad. It hardly hurts. It’s more like a minor annoyance.” When she was tattooing my ditch I remember thinking “I might die and defecate at the same time, holy balls, can I just bite on something, does she have something I can bite on, is that weird, has anyone had a heart attack from getting a tattoo, I think I might have a heart attack and die and defecate, shit.” Or something along those lines. For, like, an hour and a half. It was fun. But worth it! It ended up not healing well, because I unconsciously bent it a little in my sleep on the first night and the scab formed weirdly because of that, but I’m going in for a touch up soon.
The other tattoo I got on that day, at long, long last, was a Chrono Trigger design. As I mentioned before, the art style of the game is such that there aren’t many symbols or icons or designs that would make a unique tattoo, so I wanted to get a character. And, since I was filling this arm with ladies, I went with the villain Flea. “Flea!?” I hear you gasp, mouth agape and fingers gently fanned out on your chest. “Not Marle? Or Lucca? Or Ayla? Or, one of your favorite characters, so much so that you’ve considered naming a future daughter after her, Schala!? I thought I knew you, man.” Well, it does sound like you know me, mysterious and fictional person who I just invented, but I went with Flea for a few reasons. First, I loved her character. She was so flirty and fun and I wished I could recruit her to my team instead of having to kill her. Second, I love her design. In a tall, dark tower filled with bats, skeletons, and three heavy metal edgelords (Magus, Slash, and Ozzie), she’s out here in white and pink, with a high, perky ponytail. Third, she has one of the best lines in the game. When Frog tries to out her as a man, despite her presenting and identifying as a woman, she says (in the SNES translation), “Male, female, what’s the difference? Power is beautiful, and I’ve got the power!” I also think the issue of her gender is interesting and perhaps historic, but that’s the subject of a future blog.
This brings us to my latest video game tattoo, one that, as a huge Legend of Zelda fan, Erin was pretty excited to do: Princess Zelda. Like Chun-Li, I wrote a blog about my love for the character, and also like Chun-Li, she is now my favorite tattoo. It’s difficult to choose between them. They share a level of grace and smooth detail, and I am honored to have them on my body forever. This was the largest of the pieces that Erin did, and it’s in a sensitive spot, right on the inside/back of my bicep. The colors are so bright and crisp, the lines are elegant, and she added one of those flowers that she loves – this time, a silent princess flower, which is obviously so perfect. I completely love it. Now I do that obnoxious thing where someone flexes their bicep and kisses it, but I’m just doing it to give Zelda a little smooch. I’m just kidding, I don’t do that. Because I just thought of it. So now I will probably start doing it. Forever.
People get tattoos for all kinds of reasons. For some, they are showpieces – reflections of their personalities through art. I won’t deny that I’m not super flattered when someone compliments my tattoos, but I mostly get them for myself. They are a celebration of the things that I love. I like looking at them, even now. I am planning on going in for another one or two in a couple of weeks, and I have several more planned. I was going to write about those future tattoos now, but this is already woefully long, and I like the idea of posting an update blog in a few years, when the sleeve is totally done. Until then, thanks for reading, Dear Fictional Reader, who I am fantasizing made it all the way to the end of this blog.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I look back at my wishlist for 2017, I’m surprised by how many items were eventually announced (after E3, but still). Some of them were givens, sure, but I was surprised that Soulcalibur VI actually became a thing, and with Geralt in the mix, no less. Anyway, as I said in that blog, I love to speculate, even if some of my hopes end up being just that. With that in mind, I’m making a new list for this year, and some of the entries will, unfortunately be the same as they were last year.
Virtual Console (or, well, something like it)
This was on my list last year, but Nintendo recently announced that their online service, coming this fall, will be something of a subscription model, with access to a library of games included. Great! In theory! The problem is that the release library is very small compared to the wealth of games that were available with the Virtual Console. I’m all for some multiplayer Dr. Mario action, but I am really hoping Nintendo announces a steady release schedule for this service, or some kind of agreement with third parties to release individual games for purchase, even if it’s not called the “Virtual Console.” I love the mini consoles Nintendo has been releasing, but they are limited (in game selection and availability). So I want this, Nintendo. Please.
Mother 3/ Brand new EarthBound game
I will put this on my list every year until we see one. Paula be casting Prayer all up in this.
New Eternal Darkness game
Another repeat offender. I rambled on for too long last year about why I thought this was plausible, and it still might be, but I’m worried that Nintendo just doesn’t feel the need to produce adult horror games anymore. The original game was in development for the N64 and then ultimately released on the GameCube, when Nintendo was still semi-competing with Sony and Microsoft. Now, Nintendo seems content to do their own thing, which means a game like Eternal Darkness makes less and less sense as time goes on. But I still think it would be a great showcase for some of the Switch’s unique tech, like the HD rumble and infrared sensors. Oh well. I’ll keep my hopes high and expectations low for this one.
New Smash Bros. characters
So it seems an absolute given that the new Smash game will be the highlight of Nintendo’s E3 video, but what about the roster? Given that each game is fundamentally the same in terms of gameplay and design, the roster is what I’m most curious about. Sure, I want a robust single player experience outside of the multiplayer brawling action (return of Subspace Emissary, plz), but when that iconic siren goes off and “A New Challenger Appears”? Hype. They will almost certainly play on that in their E3 video, but who beyond the Inklings from Splatoon will they announce? With previous characters like Snake, Bayonetta, Cloud, and Ryu, I don’t feel like anyone is outside the realm of possibility. So, aside from every dang previous character returning, who do I want to see? For one, Crash Bandicoot. I get a weird surge of nostalgic joy when rival mascots show up in Nintendo games, and it’s not totally ridiculous, given that the Crash trilogy will be making its way to the Switch in July. Halo‘s Master Chief also sounds like a stretch until you consider the cache it would give Microsoft with Nintendo and Smash fans, a potentially useful thing to have considering how far behind Sony they are in sales. I would also love to see Lara Croft, who also has a new game coming out in the fall. Two last mentions that would be incredible but are probably impossible: Mickey Mouse and Rey (Star Wars). Rey because, well, she is awesome. But Mickey Mouse strictly because it would be another iconic character that no one thought was possible to get for the game. Both of these are owned by Disney, though, and they are famously stingy with their characters, so I have no hope for those last two.
Animal Crossing for Switch
My thoughts haven’t changed much on this. I was worried that the mobile AC game might give Nintendo an excuse to delay a proper console version, and with Smash Bros. being their big release for later this year, I’m still kind of worried that an Animal Crossing game won’t come anytime soon. Still, it would be nice to see an announcement at E3.
Yes, I’ve already put well over 300 hours into the PS4 version, but I would buy a Switch port on day one, especially if they finally lift the restriction on taking screenshots. I’ve romanced Ann, Futaba, and Kawakami, but I’m keen to give a relationship with Makoto a shot. And Haru. And Tae. And Hif-okay, I can hear myself and I sound a little desperate, so let’s just move on.
And that’s about it for Nintendo. I’m sure they’ll show more from the new Yoshi game, Metroid Prime 4, and maybe even the Pokémon game, but I’m only passively interested in those at this point. I’d like to see some fun new colors for the Joy-Cons, too, I guess. And an N64 Classic (though they might do the GameBoy first).
Most of what I’m looking forward to from Sony and third parties has already been announced, but it will be nice to see more from The Last of Us 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Days Gone, Spider-man, and maybe Soulcalibur VI and Anthem. So what’s left in the way of surprises? Well I’d love to see…
Final Fantasy VII
They announced this a while ago, but there has been some behind-the-scenes drama (uh, of course, it’s Square) followed by nothing but silence, so I would be pretty hyped if they showed an extensive trailer and announced that the first episode was going to drop this fall. True, the original game is not among my favorites in the series, but they will likely address much of that game’s clunkiness with this remake. And it would be one of those “oh snap it actually happened” moments in game history, so I have my fingers crossed that we’ll finally see something.
Until Dawn 2
This is a holdover from last year’s list, but it seems perhaps more likely this year, given that Supermassive Games has released a bunch of the other games that they had in the works. Those games were hit or miss, which I can’t deny makes me worry about a potential Until Dawn sequel, but who am I kidding? I would be super excited to see it announced at E3 and I would definitely buy it at release, especially if it had an optional VR mode.
Chrono Trigger/Cross sequel
I know this is a one-in-a-million shot. I know. Last year I left it as a footnote because it’s probably an impossible dream. But! I want it so bad. So I’m going to put it here in an attempt to will it into existence. Let’s do it.
I didn’t have a section dedicated to Microsoft last year, because their exclusives just haven’t really been all that exciting for me. But unless they’re late in the stages of working on their next-gen hardware, which I doubt because of the XB1 X, they need to come out with some cool and exciting games to make some ground in their battle with Sony. They can’t win this generation, but at this point in the cycle more people begin buying second consoles, so if they’ve haven’t gotten a Switch or upgraded to a PS4 Pro, there are plenty of people who would snag an XB1 if the right group of games enticed them. Games like…
Sure, Lionhead Studios closed down, but rumors have been swirling about a possible fourth game for, well, years. With Sony snagging many of the big RPG mainstays, it would be a smart move for MS to drop a big, beautiful RPG of their own. Hell, the original Knights of the Old Republic was one of the main reasons I bought an original Xbox in the first place. I didn’t really want one. I didn’t feel like I needed it, and it was expensive. But when I heard about an RPG set in the Star Wars universe, where I could choose to be Dark Side or Light Side, and I could romance characters… well, I was sold. And the Fable games have always been fun, colorful, and whimsical, so I welcome another.
New Perfect Dark game
These last couple of years have seen some strides, finally, for female video game, movie, and comic book characters. There are plenty of FPSs out there, but how many of them star a badass lady-spy like Joanna Dark? Rare and Microsoft flubbed Joanna’s star potential with Perfect Dark Zero, but if there was a time to redeem themselves and make a character that lived up to her original potential, it’s now.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that 2017 was among the best in history for video game releases. Hell, if it weren’t for Chrono Trigger and EarthBound both releasing in 1995, this year might have been the (personal) best year in my nearly thirty years of gaming. I love revisiting the memories I’ve had with games at the end of each year, but this year was particularly fun. Here are my Favorite Fifteen™ of this year.
15. Cosmic Star Heroine
This was another game ‘in the vein of Chrono Trigger’ that ended up not being very much like Chrono Trigger, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t deep, exactly, but it was easy to get into and had some fun characters and cute dialogue. I wouldn’t mind a steady flow of these kinds of simple, short, low-priced RPGs.
14. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
I don’t normally care for mobile games, but come on: it’s freaking Animal Crossing. While I would have loved for a more fully featured AC game, I still spend at least an hour playing this game every single day. Plus, its lack of depth gives me hope that Nintendo is still planning on a heftier game for the Switch. But as it is, it’s still got some of that classic Animal Crossing magic. Now, instead of decorating my basement to look like a creepy murder-hole, I do it with my camper. See? Magic.
13. Star Trek: Bridge Crew
Star Trek: Bridge Crew is like a slice of my dream Star Trek game, which would be a BioWare-esque RPG where you actually go through your last year at Starfleet Academy, graduate, get your first starship and then begin your journey through the stars. I don’t know that we’ll ever see that game, because it seems like licensing costs prevent publishers from having the will to throw enough money at a studio to do the series justice, but this game is an exciting enough sliver. Giving commands from the captain’s chair is exciting, but when you’re in a really tight spot and you jump to the engineer’s station to reroute power, then shove the helmsman aside to jump to warp, and end up back in the captain’s chair to drop shields and go stealth? Pretty awesome.
12. Star Wars Battlefront II
I was a little upset by how the whole microtransaction debacle prevented reviewers from judging this game from an objective critical distance, but after playing it for a while I could see why they couldn’t. It’s not the money part of it that was constantly nagging at me, distracting me from the game, it was the progression system. I’m still playing it, and it’s still hard to be excited about unlocking things because I know it’s going to take forever and I’ll probably stop playing before I get all of the things that I want. That aside, I can’t deny that I love playing the game – it’s hard not to, being such a big Star Wars fan and being able to fly Darth Maul’s Scimitar over a Separatist battleship, hop around Tattooine as a jumptrooper, or just stand around and exist as Rey. The gameplay is frantic and fun, and I smile almost every single time I’m playing as a droid and I drop a turret, only to hear my character say “good luck, turret!”
11. Mass Effect Andromeda
While this wasn’t the leap ahead for the series that I was hoping, it was more Mass Effect, which I will probably never complain about. Jumping from planet to planet, navigating relationships with smugglers, traders, and pirates, and (most importantly) wooing a certain spunky, blue teammate, made this adventure worthwhile. I’d have loved for a better villain and more engrossing plot, but I sincerely hope that BioWare doesn’t completely abandon the series. I mean, unless they go back to single-player Knights of the Old Republic games. A fair trade, I’d say.
10. Everybody’s Golf
More like Everybody’s Gold, am I right? Eh? Eh? No one? Anyway, I was totally shocked by how much I liked this game. I seem to go through phases with sports games, where I buy a new game in each genre every three or four years and get really into it, so I was about due. For me, golf games have to feel right. If the wind doesn’t affect the ball in a realistic way, or my ball bounces oddly, or slopes don’t change the trajectory of the roll like they should, the game just feels wrong. Everybody’s Golf feels very right, though, and I found myself spending a lot of my dwindling mid-semester free time playing hole after hole, hoping to unlock more courses to play with my friend. Good times were had by all.
9. What Remains of Edith Finch
Between this and Gone Home, I’m starting to think I just have a thing for walking around big, empty houses and looking through people’s drawers. But what drew me into Gone Home, in part, was the relative mundanity of the house. It was so normal that I found myself appreciating the care that went into making it look like a family had really lived there. In What Remains of Edith Finch I found myself appreciating the care that went into making it look like Tim Burton’s grandmother had once married Dr. Seuss’s grandfather and this is where that family lived. These games are all about detail, about how every bookshelf and stray magazine subtly contributes to the narrative, and this game in particular had so much color and quirk in its nooks and crannies. The overt nod to classic Tales from the Crypt comics also made me way more excited than it should have.
8. Assassin’s Creed Origins
I don’t know that any game, Assassin’s Creed or otherwise, will give me the same kind of wave-breaking, swash-buckling, booty-plundering thrill that Black Flag did, but Origins was its own kind of special. Yes, the pyramids and deserts and landscapes were beautiful, and the combat was (eventually) satisfying. But what this game did better than any other in the series (that I’ve played) was make its characters seem human and make me care about them. I found myself so impressed by how Bayek changed his demeanor and tone depending on who he was talking to that I plan on writing more on it at some point, but for now I’ll just say that it made him so much more believable and memorable than any other lead character in the series (sorry, Evie, love). That made every mission and story beat that much more meaningful and worthwhile, and I hope they carry that lesson into future games.
7. Emily is Away Too
Man. Emily is Away Too made me feel more feels in a shorter span than probably any game on this list. I spent a lot of time on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) in my late teens, and a fair proportion of that time was spent flirting (very badly) with girls and wondering if they were flirting back. So this game was not only nostalgic in its interface, but it also did such a good job of capturing the kind of hesitant excitement that came with every winky emote or exchange of favorite bands. Where the first game, Emily is Away, took that and added a cruel twist, this game allows you to actually experience the joy of genuine connection, despite it being completely artificial. And I really loved that.
6. Injustice 2
I played a lot of fighting games this year, but almost every single one disappointed me on some level. Injustice 2 was easily the exception, blowing away even its predecessor in depth, beauty, and fun. Every character was fun to play in this game, and for the first time in years I found myself looking forward to playing through each of their individual story/arcade modes. The main story mode was just as bizarre but immersive as the first game, but the cinematics were just gorgeous. Speaking of gorgeousness, the character models are stunning in this game, and I couldn’t stop taking screenshots of some of the many awesome characters, like Poison Ivy, Supergirl, and Scarecrow. I played many hours of this game and I still want to go back and play it as I write this. My only wish is that the next Injustice game brings DC’s Blackest Night storyline to the video game world. Zombie Batman versus Star Sapphire Wonder Woman? Yes. Please.
5. Stardew Valley
“You have to play Stardew Valley,” my friend Tabitha said. Again. And again. For months. I’d put it off long enough, so its release on the Nintendo Switch (which is one reason I’m including it on this list, the other being that it was new to me in 2017) meant that I had run out of excuses. I downloaded it, and after a few hours of playing I thought “well, I guess it’s okay. I’m not sure what the fuss is about, though.” The fuss, Joey-from-a-few-months-ago, is what happens after those first few hours. Stardew Valley is not about the big moments, it’s not about a steady rise and fall of action and drama. It’s a slow, deliberate trek through a subtly touching and immersive town of weird, funny people who are both normal and completely odd. I spent over 170 hours playing Stardew Valley, and I don’t regret a minute of it.
4. Resident Evil 7
As a Resident Evil fan from the very beginning, I’ve seen the series lose something about what made those first few games on the PlayStation special. I enjoyed Resident Evil 4 and 5, but both were a far cry from the cramped, claustrophobic mansion in the first Resident Evil or the empty and eerily quiet police station of its sequel. Resident Evil 7 captured that atmosphere again, and the fact that it did so in virtual reality is amazing. I wasn’t able to get past the nausea I experienced after the first twenty minutes or so (I didn’t try hard enough, honestly), so I didn’t get to experience it fully, but even without it I felt some of the same intimate terror that the early games evoked. I mentioned my odd penchant for big, old houses earlier, and the designers of this mansion did such a great job of giving each room its own unique brand of gross creepiness. Keeping the player in one general area makes developers put so much more care in the design of that space, and it almost always shows, as it does here. I know the game didn’t do as well financially as some had expected, but I hope that doesn’t dissuade Capcom from making future Resident Evil games in this same gloriously horrific vein.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Simple yet elegant is how I might sum up Breath of the Wild. One of the things I pay attention to in open world games is how dense and varied the topography and foliage is, and at first glance this game might seem to be lacking in that department. But after you start travelling the plains, gliding from mountains, scurrying along cliffs, you begin to see how smoothly everything flows together. That tree is there for a reason. That cluster of rocks is not there by chance. That half-buried statue means something. This Hyrule is not thick with action and activity. It is empty. Lonely. But it has so much life.
Add that to the simple but versatile combat, the beautiful art style, and the low-demand high-reward narrative, and Breath of the Wild ended up being my favorite Zelda game of all time.
2. Horizon Zero Dawn
Like other games on this list, Horizon Zero Dawn surprised me by how good it was. When Sony used the game as their showpiece for E3 2016, I thought “huh. It looks okay, I guess. I mean, I don’t get why cavepeople are fighting robot dinosaurs, and that seems like a bit of a gimmick, but it looks pretty, I suppose.” Once again, Joey-from-the-past, you were wrong. Breath of the Wild’s open world was indeed beautiful and visually poetic, but Horizon’s world was also gorgeous and extravagantly rich with not only life, but hidden relics of a forgotten world. I love both worlds, but I found myself pausing and just looking a lot more often in this game. I probably spent at least a few hours in photo mode, and that’s no exaggeration. Every moonbeam breaking through lush bushes, glowing machine eye bearing down on me, haze of fog hanging over a thick forest, had me captivated.
It wasn’t just the visuals of this game that won my heart, though. The characters, Aloy especially, were nuanced and subtle, believable and human. The voice acting was top-notch, the sci-fi storytelling was superb, the pacing managed to feel brisk despite being an open world game, and holy hell was the combat satisfying. When I began the game I felt intimidated by how deadly the machines seemed, especially the larger ones, but once I got a handle on dodging and aiming, I began to crave the challenge of a particularly ferocious robo-dino (or dino-robo?). I couldn’t survive by blindly button-mashing or hacking-and-slashing like in some other action RPGs, I had to think about my surroundings, my enemies’ weakness, the tools I had on hand, and the best weapon for the job. It was a deep but not impenetrable combat system, and it’s a big part of why the game became progressively more enjoyable as I ventured into new areas filled with ever-deadly machines. But I’ve said enough, I think. I loved this game. A lot.
1. Persona 5
Speaking of loving a game a lot, though, hot freaking damn did I love Persona 5. I wrote a whole blog about it not long ago, so I’ll try and keep this short, but this is the kind of game that only comes along once in a great while for me. A game that I think about at random points every few days, without even realizing I’m doing it. I spent something like 360 hours playing it to completion almost three times and yet I sometimes find myself wanting to start it up again. If Atlus releases the screenshot restriction on PS4, in fact, I will almost certainly play it again this coming summer. I love the art style, the fast-paced combat, the characters, the humor, the world… I’m rambling. I probably can’t say it better than I already have in my previous blog, but this game is truly special to me. It’s objectively an incredible game, but subjectively it scratched some internal itch for me that makes it one of my favorite games of all time. I’m a broken record, I know. But I really do love it to death.
There are two games that don’t qualify for me, because even though Mario Kart 8 DX is new to the Switch, it’s not new to me, and while Final Fantasy XV is new to me, it’s not new to any platform that I played it on (and it was released in 2016). But I mention them because I played a whole lot of both of them in 2017, making it an even more magical year for me as far as video games go.
And I still haven’t played everything 2017 had to offer, unfortunately. I need to finish Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, I bought but haven’t gotten around to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Super Mario Odyssey, and South Park: The Fractured but Whole, and I really want to check out Doki Doki Literature Club! 2017, it seems, is the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m glad to have had the chance to take part in it.
Way back in 2001, I was walking around an Electronics Boutique and I came across a used copy of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. I was always on the lookout for new RPG experiences, and the cover art for this particular game looked dark and somewhat sexual, which was even more rare during the PlayStation era than it is now (by far). I wanted to buy it but it was something like $40 or $45, and that was too much for a used game, I’d decided. I went into that store every time I went to that mall, always looking for the price to drop to $20 or $30, but it never did. No big deal, I thought. It wasn’t exactly a popular game that people were buzzing about, so I’d find it for cheap somewhere else, someday.
I never did, and the price has steadily increased to the point where I regularly see copies on eBay or Amazon for $200 (with manual and case). I picked up Persona 5 with very little knowledge of the actual game. I mean, I knew it was an RPG where you are a high school student who both attends class and fights demons… or something like that. But I avoided all previews or reviews of it because I wanted to go into the game with a fresh mind, untainted by expectation. I just got the platinum PSN trophy for the game yesterday, after 340 hours and almost three full playthroughs, and I wanted to write about my time with the game, but I was so overwhelmed by the experience that I wasn’t even sure what to say about it. I won’t let a lack of purpose stop me, though. I loved this game so much that I feel I have to say something about it, even if it’s less than cogent or coherent. So here I am. This is not a review, just some love in the written form. A warning, for anyone who might end up reading this: there will be some spoilers ahead, particularly in the pictures of my playthroughs that I’m posting.
When I first booted the game up, I was immediately thrown by the very clearly 1970s jazz/disco-inspired song that played over the opening animation. What had I gotten myself into? What kind of RPG draws inspiration from that era? Is the whole soundtrack like this? But the more I listened to it, the more I liked it. It was fun and energetic and unique. I would eventually fall in love with the entire soundtrack, especially the normal battle theme, “Last Surprise,” and the theme for a dungeon (palace) based on a casino, “The Whims of Fate”. There is a lot of music in Persona 5, and so much of it seems so fresh and unlike anything I have ever heard in any other video game. Even the music used for minor things like video games or crane machines was good.
One thing that kept coming up in podcasts or articles before launch was general praise for the game’s art style, and I was pretty smitten with just the few artifacts I’d seen online. But it’s hard to fully appreciate the level of detail and energy that pops from every character, level, and menu screen. It’s hard, too, to describe in absolute terms why I love this game so much, but a lot of it comes down to how much care seemingly went into the smallest of details. The meticulous detail put into the backgrounds of a shop, or how perfectly a character’s face is animated in response to a joke, or the ever-changing background chatter from classmates, neighbors, and city folk. I know video games are big productions with many people involved and the work environment can be grueling and at times boring, but it’s hard to think that a game as beautiful and elegant as this came from a team who didn’t passionately believe in what they were making and love every minute of making it.
If I’d read that status effects and enemy weaknesses were an integral part of Persona 5’s battle system before playing it, I would have been worried. Systems like that in other RPGs have annoyed me in the past, because it was a constant hassle to remember which enemies were weak to what, and then figure out what new enemies were weak to, then start all over. But Persona 5 fixes all of that by showing you enemy weaknesses once you’ve learned them, or revealing them entirely if you’ve captured that particular enemy (shadow/persona). I took to the battle system immediately and felt rewarded by how fast-paced and simple it seemed, even though it’s quite complex in reality. On a recent episode of USgamer’s RPG podcast, Axe of the Blood God, host Kat Bailey and co-host Nadia Oxford discuss their picks for best battle systems in RPGs. Kat argues for Chrono Trigger’s battle system, and I was elated to hear that she loved it so much, it being my favorite game of all time. I agreed, too, at the time of listening. But as I write this and think more carefully about Persona 5’s battle system, the choice becomes a little less clear. I do love Chrono Trigger’s tech system, and it does encourage experimentation with party configuration and all that, but once you get pretty high level and have the strongest weapons, techs aren’t as efficient as standard attacks. So playing a new game plus in Chrono Trigger means mashing regular attacks for most of the game, if you want to save time and magic points. You can get away with that in some battles in Persona 5, if you have a strong weapon and persona, but many battles demand your attention and force you to think about which party member or persona is best suited to knocking an enemy of their feet so you can go for an all-out attack. That might sound irritating, and maybe it is to some, but I found it exciting and (at times) challenging. I don’t yet know if Persona 5 has the best battle system of all the RPGs I’ve ever played, but it’s definitely among them.
I was also excited to hear that the Persona games have dating sim components, and I thought it was pretty seamlessly integrated into the plot in Persona 5. I mean, it would have been cool to have it be more acknowledged by characters around you, where maybe you are publicly a couple with your selected partner, but that didn’t irk me too much. Also, I agree with the notion that the player could have chosen a gender for their main character. I do understand that the developers might have found it culturally problematic in some scenes (like maybe the police interrogation scene early in the game), but I’m sure it would have been more immersive and satisfying for women to be able to play as women (or for male characters to pursue male characters, for that matter). There aren’t a lot of references to your gender in the game, so it seems like it would have been an easy enough thing to add. But overall I very much liked the dating component of the game. I feel like the game sort of nudges you toward hooking up with Ann, but that wasn’t exactly unwelcome on my part. She is beautiful, of course, but I also liked how laid back and fun she was. They implied at some points that she was an airhead, but I never actually got that vibe. She seemed smart and capable and willing to do what it took to help her friends. For my second playthrough I chose Futaba, because I identified with her otaku lifestyle and found her funny and charming and generally just pretty adorable. For my third playthrough I chose Kawakami. I have to admit that I was tempted to delay my pursuit of Ann in my first playthrough to see where things went with Kawakami, because the whole teacher/maid thing really did it for me, surprisingly. Well, maybe that’s not surprising, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t say I normally have a ‘thing’ for that kind of, well, thing. I liked her as a romantic partner a lot, though.
If someone asked me what Persona 5 was “about,” I might have a hard time explaining it. Nothing that I’d heard or read prior to playing the game adequately prepared me for it. A game about a high school kid who enters an alternate dimension with his friends to fight against things called shadows… maybe? You could start there, but this game is about so much more, and even if you listed all of them (justice, society’s fickle nature, friendship, love, greed, etc.) it still wouldn’t quite capture it. This is the kind of art that is more than the sum of its parts. I can go on about how much I love the art style, or soundtrack, or characters, or funny moments, or whatever else, but it wouldn’t do this game and my experience with it justice. I played this game three times in a row, for almost 350 hours, and somehow that doesn’t seem like enough. Maybe that says something?
Wow, what is happening with 2017? I don’t remember a year as busy with big, great games before E3 even hit. Developers usually save their big hitters for the holiday season (or rush them out the door for the same season), and sometimes there’s the odd game or two that couldn’t quite make the holiday window and is pushed back to spring. But with games like Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, this year just seems… different. It’s like 2016 was so unbelievably shitty that some ethereal force that controls video game releases has blessed us with a year of bliss to make up for it. I can (and probably will) write some pretty extensive entries about each of the games I’ve played so far, but I am currently juggling lots of work and class stuff, so I just wanted to give some brief but semi-coherent thoughts about each. It’s been a great year – for games – so far.
Resident Evil 7
Like many fans of the Resident Evil series, I’ve been increasingly disappointed by the recent RE games, most notably the sixth installment. I didn’t dislike RE 5, like many people, though I will agree that I missed the creepy atmosphere that the best games in the series had once mastered. But RE 6 was bad, and Resident Evil: Revelations couldn’t wash the bitter taste from my mouth, as good as it was.
As many have said, RE7 is a wonderfully dark return to the earlier games’ quiet, grim, claustrophobic atmosphere. I kind of wonder if the choice to use just one or two locations (the mansion and lab of the first game, the police station and sewers of the second game) had something to do with being conservative with design elements and saving on memory. Either way, when developers know the player is going to spend a lot of time in one place, it forces them to design that place very carefully and results in an added sense of detail and realism, I think. It makes the space more memorable, if anything, especially if it’s designed creatively. That’s how I felt about the house in RE 7. Every room told its own story about the family that once used it. Every maggot and newspaper scrap and rusted knob made me feel like this house has been lived in, so even when I wasn’t being chased by a walking oil-slick, I was unnerved and made anxious by my surroundings. I loved it. The PlayStation VR headset did make me feel nauseous after about fifteen minutes, so I stopped using it because I didn’t want it to affect my experience with the game. I’ve since read confirmations that ‘getting your VR legs,’ like sea legs, is a real thing, so I plan on trying to condition myself to play VR games that involve lots of movement soon and maybe replaying the game again this summer.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn was a truly wonderful surprise, and I want to write about in great detail at some point. When I saw the trailer at Sony’s 2016 E3 presentation, I thought it looked kind of cool, but I was hesitant to be very excited about it. When the tag line for a game involves mashing two disparate genres or periods together, I generally cringe. I’ve seen too many movies and played too many games that meld styles or genres just for the novelty of doing so. So I don’t feel too bad about being cautious about a game that might be described as ‘cave people fighting robot dinosaurs.’
But holy shit. However justified, my caution was ultimately unnecessary. Horizon is a beautiful game that is fun to play and satisfying to experience in terms of the narrative. Aloy is a wonderful character, the machines are superbly designed and animated, the world is lush and vibrant and feels natural, and the diversity of the supporting cast is inspiring. There were so many moments that made me feel powerful or capable, and I couldn’t help pausing frequently to take tons of screenshots – with the great built-in photo mode – of the sun cutting like blades through a dense tree line, or rain dappling a pond around me, or a hulking, screeching robo-tyrannosaur stomping through the grass next to where I’m hiding. I’ll include a few here, but I have a ton more that I might post at some point.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Mass Effect: Andromeda has gotten tons of hate after its release, and much of it, in my opinion, is unfounded or overblown. I will say that it has its problems, especially in the first few hours or so. One complaint that I concede to is the fact that the game does little to inspire you in the first few hours. It kind of assumes that you’ll be excited about a journey to a new galaxy and the ability to explore a small part of it, but if you’re not, you’re out of luck. I wish they’d had an intro movie that showed the preparation that went on in the Milky Way before departure, the excitement and anxiety that was building, the haunting spirit of adventure into the unknown that would certainly have pervaded the shipyards and space stations. And then, after a celebratory launch… darkness and silence. Let it linger. Fade some stars in, but hold that darkness close so that the audience begins to feel the same loneliness and isolation of six hundred years sleeping in the absolute stillness of intergalactic space. Then blast us awake with an unrelenting siren. Create that sense of chaos and frantic confusion that you want us to feel after waking up and finding not hope and adventure, but fear and futility. Everything is falling apart. The ship is damaged. The crew is either still sleeping or bewildered. All of that hope and intrepidness is cracking under the weight of panic, and the lives of countless people across several species is at stake… and you have to fix it. That would have been a better way to start the game, I think, especially for players who aren’t automatically excited by being a starship captain in unknown space.
I was one of those nerds who was excited and invested just by the premise, so it didn’t take me too long to find myself hooked, but I had some other issues with the first handful of hours. I had graphical issues, like facial clipping on almost every alien character model – eyes poking through eyelids, lips clipping through lips. Textures on characters, especially their suits, and ship walls and floors were muddy and had jagged lines, to the point where they looked worse than last-gen Mass Effect games. Oddly enough, even without a patch, this issue seems to have mostly cleared up for me. I’m around 45 hours in and characters and environments look a lot better. I don’t see any facial clipping and textures look a lot more crisp and clear. I wonder if it had something to do with how the game was loading its artifacts during the first playthrough.
I realize that at this point I sound like so many of the game’s detractors, but it’s partially because these issues seem mostly present in the first stretch of the game, and partially because I expected better of BioWare. In general, I very much like the game. I wish I’d had the ability to create a better looking Joey Ryder (why can’t I have an actual beard, like in Dragon Age: Inquisition?), but I’m definitely invested in my character and am forming strong attachments to my team. I haven’t fallen for someone as hard as I did for Morrigan of Dragon Age or Bastila of Knights of the Old Republic, but I’m having fun being flirty with Peebee. She’s smart and cute and spunky, so I imagine she’ll end up being my main squeeze. I’ll have more to say when I’ve played more, but I’m enjoying it a lot and foresee at least a few dozen more hours of planetary hopping about.
For as much hate as Mass Effect: Andromeda has gotten, I’m surprised at how little hate 1-2 Switch has gotten. Well, I don’t know if it deserves hate, exactly, but it deserves some criticism for its lack of depth and hefty price tag, I think. When it was first announced I was convinced it would be packed in with the system. When it wasn’t, I thought Nintendo would use the variable pricing of many Switch games and charge like $30-35 for it. When I saw that it was a full $50, I thought it might be a far more developed and fleshed-out game than I had originally envisioned. Nope. Just a collection of mini-games. Some of the mini-games are fun, sure, and it’s a great game to have to highlight the local multiplayer aspect of the system, but some of the mini-games don’t seem to work as well as they should, and some are just boring. You might have made the same claims about Wii Sports, but packing a game in with the system forgives many sins. I’m glad I have the game, and I look forward to playing with people who have never played it before, but I don’t expect to get much mileage out of it, and that makes $50 far too high of a price tag.
I also have three 2017 games that I’m itching to play: Persona 5, NieR: Automata, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ve heard many great things about all three, most especially Breath of the Wild, which seems to be destined for a hundred Game of the Year awards. I have an exciting summer ahead of me, it seems.
I’ve also just gotten around to playing a couple of 2016 games recently, so I’ll throw in some thoughts about those as well.
Street Fighter V
I have a spotty history with the Street Fighter series. Street Fighter II was one of my favorite SNES games, and I loved Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the original PlayStation, but many of the games in between just didn’t grab me. They often felt either too familiar or too new. I know, I know. Pick a side, right? When Street Fighter IV was announced, I thought the art style looked a little too goofy, but I figured I’d give the series another chance. After playing it, well, I still thought the art style was a little too goofy (I really hate when characters have gigantic feet, for one), but the fighting was pretty great. Street Fighter V keeps the art style, sadly, and the fighting is… mostly the same. I’m not a fighting game aficionado, though, so maybe I’m missing some nuanced mechanics or something. The new villain, Necalli, is terrible and I cringe every time he opens his mouth. I very much disliked how limited the roster was, especially because they make obtaining other characters a case of buying them as DLC or earning ranks in the online mode. Neither of those sat well with me. I was glad to have Chun-Li and Cammy, but I wished Akuma and Crimson Viper were in the core line-up. The story mode was weak until they added the free DLC version, which was actually pretty decent. I don’t know how often I’ll go back to the game, though. My crush on Chun-Li was once again reignited, though, and it inspired me to consider future short blog posts about various video game crushes I’ve had/have. But we’ll see.
Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Fortune
My first instinct is to begin my discussion of this game with a sort of embarrassed apology, but two things: 1) I’m not writing this for anyone other than myself, and 2) I know that this instinct comes from how the culture that shaped me treats sexuality, which is to hide it and be ashamed of it. I fight against that urge every chance I get, for many reasons, but that’s for a different entry, perhaps. I understand that this game hypersexualizes its female characters, and there are some problematic issues with gender throughout it, but I enjoy it and I’m not ashamed of that.
This is the game that I wanted to play when I bought the first Xtreme game, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, for the original Xbox. That entry and its sequel were, to me, too difficult, mostly because they imposed a time limit on how much you could get done before you’d have to start all over again. There was no way you could build up a collection of items and bathing suits because you could only make enough money to buy a handful of things before you had to start a new vacation and go back to not having anything. Xtreme 3 fixes that, allowing you to carry over all of your money and items to a new vacation, which makes getting rare or expensive swimsuits much easier. The mini-games feel balanced in this game, too, which is another definite improvement, specifically when it comes to the volleyball. It’s the core of the game and I never felt like it was very much fun or rewarding until this entry. The graphics seem a little lackluster for this generation, but they’re pretty good overall. And, speaking of video game crushes, I have a new one, thanks to this game. Momiji is the best. I’m actually considering getting the newer Ninja Gaiden games just to be able to play her in a cool combat role. I am in love. Don’t judge me, non-existent reader! But I digress.
As I said, I may end up writing about these in more detail over the summer, but I am going to try and write a little about every game that I play from now on. I want to capture initial impressions and thoughts for later use. And I’ll have a lot to capture soon, it seems. Not a bad predicament to be in, I’d say.