Persona 2: Innocent Sin – first impressions

After being turned inside out by my fall exams, I need something to take my mind off the impending doom of bad grades and extreme depression that will follow. The answer seems to be Persona 2: Innocent Sin, which I’ve been playing since my mindbendingly hard Corporations exam ended early today. (If you’re a law student as well, maybe we can agree on this: fuck Corporations.)

Like most of the people I know who are into JRPGs, I played Persona 3/4 and enjoyed them both, so I thought I would try out Persona 2, which I’d heard good things about. P2 is split into two separate games, Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment. And since Innocent Sin is apparently the first in the series, it seemed like the natural choice. Both P2 games were originally released on the Playstation, and Innocent Sin was later ported to the PSP, which is the version I’ve got.

This is the old original cover art for Innocent Sin, but I think it's a lot cooler looking than the kind of generic PSP cover.  Somewhat unsettling in that Kazuma Kaneko style.

This is the old original cover art for Innocent Sin, but I think it’s a lot cooler looking than the kind of generic PSP cover. Somewhat unsettling in that Kazuma Kaneko style.

Several things about Persona 2 will be familiar right off the bat to those of you who’ve gotten through your 60+ hour playthroughs of P3 and P4. The first is the high school setting. The idea of the Persona series is that it’s Shin Megami Tensei at high school, starring several students who have awoken to their innate power of Persona to fight demons. The same is true here. P2 is also, like P3/4, a lot more character-driven than main line SMT games.

There seems to be both a lot more and a lot less in P2 than in the later titles. There are several armor and weapon shops, a secret casino where you can play video poker and slots to win weapons and items, and a load of extra dialogue with your party members in each of these places (these don’t really add much except flavor, but it’s a nice addition anyway.) There’s a hunger mechanic that lets you give your party members temporary stat bonuses when they eat at one of the several restaurants in town. There’s also an interesting rumor system in the game whereby you can exchange rumors with certain characters and pay a detective agency in town (Kuzunoha Detective Agency, a nice reference for fans of the Devil Summoner SMT spinoff series) to spread those rumors that benefit your party. The “all rumors are true” theme that also crops up in Persona 4 a bit with the Midnight Channel is present in Innocent Sin and seems to be really prominent, both in the game mechanics and in the plot.

There are some elements of Persona 2 that will be familiar to P3/4 fans, like Igor's Velvet Room.  No fusion, though.

There are some elements of Persona 2 that will be familiar to P3/4 fans, like Igor’s Velvet Room. No fusion, though.

What’s not here is the Social Link system, which was created for Persona 3. P2 does set you up with a silent protagonist and a core party of characters that have good chemistry, like in P3 and P4, though. Fusion is also not present: new personas are gotten through a weird card-collecting system that I haven’t figured out yet. One nice thing about the Velvet Room, though, that P3/4 for whatever reason decided to lose, was a rotating soundtrack. As nice as “Aria for the Soul” is, I sure got sick of hearing it during my fusion ordeals in P3 and P4, but P2 mixes it up with a couple of other pieces, including Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1″. Which I’m extremely grateful for. Why P3 and P4 dropped everything else in favor of the Velvet Room’s main theme I can’t understand. It’s not like they could have had copyright problems with such old pieces; they’ve got to be in the public domain by now.

Enough of that. Pretty much everything else is good so far. About 6/7 hours in, the plot is engaging, and the art and music are really good, sort of how I’d imagine a Persona game on the Playstation would be. The only complaint about Persona 2 I might raise at this point is that combat is pretty slow – one of the early bosses I fought was quite easy to beat because he was barely doing any damage to my party, but he seemed to take forever to whittle down to 0 HP.

A proper review is forthcoming (whenever I finish the game, anyway) but so far I think most fans of the ultra-popular PS2 Persona games would enjoy Persona 2, despite ts pretty stark differences in gameplay mechanics from later Persona titles. Not to mention its relative graphic limitations. It was released in the 90s, after all, so you’ll have to give it a break on that count.

Persona 2 also has a kind of bizarre sense of humor like its successors.  That definitely helps.

Persona 2 also has a kind of bizarre sense of humor like its successors. That definitely helps.

Retrospective: Civilization II (or, why democracy is a pain in the ass)

On the brink of my fall exams, all my thoughts have to do with copyright and corporate law. This makes me pine for the days of my youth, when I would spend long days playing Civilization II, the second title in Sid Meier’s long-running turn-based world power strategy game. There are few things less painful than watching a horde of 22nd century Mongols hit every major city on your home continent with nuclear weapons, and this thought gives me some small solace as far as my exams are concerned.

I owned the PC original, not the Playstation port.  But this was the best cover image I could find, and they basically look the same anyway.

I owned the PC original, not the Playstation port. But this was the best cover image I could find, and they basically look the same anyway.

Everyone is all about Civilization V right now (and the upcoming Civilization VI.) V is a great edition to the series, but Civ II will always be my favorite title if only for nostalgia reasons. Unlike the hours I spent at my friend’s house playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and fighting over who had to play as Tails, my time with Civ II was not wasted, because the game taught me many valuable lessons. The first lesson I learned was that if you’re the king of an ancient city, you’d better build city walls, otherwise barbarians will plunder and capture it.

The more interesting lessons came later in the game, when you are able to unlock new forms of government through technologies. The world of Civilization II has six forms of government, four of which had various benefits (despotism and monarchy are lousy choices that you have to use early-game and should ditch as soon as possible: they cause your cities to have low production and lots of corruption.) The remaining four forms are the republic, democracy, fundamentalism, and communism.

Being a good American, I thought I’d go for democracy. After all, I love freedom, and nothing says freedom like the power to make a basically meaningless choice between two equally crap candidates from two god-awful political parties. So that’s what I tried out. As it happens, Civ II democracy does have a lot of benefits: you can allocate 100% of your tax revenue to science, which you can’t do with any other form of government, and your citizens’ output is extremely high, meaning more money in the state’s coffers. So why wouldn’t you choose democracy as your form of government?

Because it makes it damn near impossible to wage war. Each of your citizens in a city (represented per every 10,000, then 30,000, then 60,000 people in each city and up accordingly) will become discontent the number of military units you ship away from their home cities, so large-scale deployments are more or less out of the question. And even if they weren’t, the legislature is all too ready to stand in the way of your hawkish initiatives, the bastards.

Well, maybe they're right, because this is usually what your Civ II war will end up looking like: decimated populations, military units disrupting production in enemy cities, and tons of pollution from nuclear weapon use.

Well, maybe they’re right, because this is usually what your Civ II war will end up looking like: decimated populations, military units disrupting production in enemy cities, and tons of pollution from nuclear weapon use.

This was the most interesting aspect of Civ II to me. You can certainly play as a democracy and win the game by dumping 100% of your revenue into science. I never really bothered with this method, though, because to me it was a lot more fun to adopt a communist government instead: you still got pretty good production and high scientific research out of your cities, but without any discontented citizens (if they complain, send them off to Gulag!) or that pesky Senate to get in your way (if any of your Politburo colleagues presents a challenge to you, have him killed and make it look like an assassination, or hold a series of show trials followed by executions.) So you can churn out infantry and armored units and wage war to your heart’s content, or at least as far as your budget allows. You could do more or less the same with a fundamentalist government, though your scientific research took a serious hit.

This is a pretty good way to deal with those damned Mongols who always seem to want to conquer the whole world.

This is a pretty good way to deal with those damned Mongols who always seem to want to conquer the whole world.

To be clear, Civ II doesn’t require you to conquer the world to win the game. An easier, albeit more time-sensitive, victory method is to develop a space program through research dollars and reach Alpha Centauri before any other power. Fulfilling the space race condition does require you to build defenses against nuclear attacks, but you can pretty much put a stop to all aggression against your state short of sneak attacks by beating every other world power to the Great Wall and United Nations wonders, which force your enemies to offer peace terms in negotiations. If you’re going this route, you’re pretty much required to adopt democracy for its massive research and production benefits.

From talking to friends who also played Civ II, though, the communist/fundamentalist brute force method seems like the most common one. Why? The same state practices that I hate in real life and that could and almost have led the real world to disaster and the near-extinction of humanity I happily pursue in my game of Civ, and apparently lots of other normal, non-atrocity-committing people do the same. Is that just because Civ is only a game, or does that mean I’d pursue the same policies if I were a world leader myself?

The Civilization series puts god-like power in your hands as the ruler of a people and eventually of a world power. I think it’s only natural to want to see what it’s like to utterly wreck the planet for humanity and conquer everything by razing and occupying cities and stabbing your friends and allies in the back. But I also think Sid Meier and co. tapped into something dark in the human soul with these games, the part that might find some actual enjoyment in this sort of destruction and misery. After all, guys like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao existed, and many horrible tyrants before them, and they were all humans just like you and me, not devils out of a fairy tale. And such people still exist today in the form of brutal dictators and murderous terrorists. Who knows what any one of us might do when given absolute power?

In case there's any doubt, however, no, these guys are not my role models.

In case there’s any doubt, however, no, these guys are not my role models.

Sorry, this one was depressing. It must be because of the exams on my mind – I can’t get into a good mood right now. I’ll start writing again after I’m done with them, and hopefully about some lighter topics.

Retrospective: Saya no Uta

It’s Election Day here in the United States. I went to the polls today, in fact, though I didn’t really much like either of the choices I was given. It’s hard to get excited about electoral races in a two-party system.

Why do I bring this up? Because today I’m also taking a look at a game that I’m surprised wasn’t banned by law in the US, because it definitely walks some sort of line – definitely the sort of game that any good “family values” interest group would try to have dumped into the gutters if it had enough notoriety.

1763821-snucover

Some games are damn near impossible to review, and Saya no Uta (eng: Saya’s Song) is one of them. This 2003 visual novel was released by Nitroplus, a prolific developer also responsible for big names like Steins;gate and Phantom of Inferno. Nitroplus’ work tends to be pretty dark, and Saya is no exception.

Saya no Uta tells the story of Fuminori, a medical student who is involved in a car accident and is badly injured. To save him, his doctors undertake an experimental procedure. Fuminori survives, but at great cost: the entire world and everyone in it now appear completely grotesque and horrific in his eyes. All of his friends and associates look like monsters made of rotten meat (and stink as well.) Of course, the world hasn’t changed at all – only Fuminori’s perception of it. This fact doesn’t really help, though, even as Fuminori tries to continue living his normal life.

Fuminori, wearing the expression of a man who has just finished his exams after two weeks of binge studying and isn't convinced that he didn't fail all of them.  I know that look because I've had it.

Fuminori, wearing the expression of a man who has just finished his exams after two weeks of binge studying and isn’t convinced that he didn’t fail all of them. I know that look because I’ve had it.

Only one thing sustains him: the existence of a girl, Saya, the only person around who looks to Fuminori like a normal human being. Saya is a mysterious girl who approaches him shortly after his accident, seemingly without anyplace to call home, and Fuminori subsequently clings to Saya as the last thing in his life that seems at all pure or good. However, Saya isn’t merely a girl without a home – she’s something much more, and her relationship with Fuminori ends up driving him to extremes that he could never have imagined.

Saying anything else about the plot would spoil the game. All I’ll say is that it is one of the best VNs I’ve played as far as writing and emotional impact go. (For you anime fans, Saya no Uta was written by Gen Urobuchi, also responsible for writing the popular series Puella Magi Madoka Magica.) It’s short, too; just around five hours or so, and there are only a few endings, so Saya isn’t a massive time investment like other VNs tend to be.

She looks like a typical cutesy anime girl, but Saya isn't what she seems.

She looks like a typical cutesy anime girl, but Saya isn’t what she seems.

Warning: Saya no Uta is a hentai game. That’s to say that there are sex scenes in it. More alarmingly, Saya’s appearance and mannerisms (she comes off something like a young teenager, although the anime style adds some ambiguity to that) may seriously turn some people off. However, none of this bothered me too much, firstly because Saya doesn’t exactly have an age, at least as we understand it, and secondly because Saya no Uta is the only h-game I’ve played in which the sex scenes actually added to the game’s story instead of simply being some beat-off material shoved between normal scenes to sell more copies (I’m looking at you, Fate Stay/Night, but you’re not the only suspect.) In any case, the sex scenes in this game aren’t really made for that sort of thing, and I didn’t feel especially dirty for reading them. I did feel creeped out, but that’s exactly the feeling the makers were aiming for, after all. Together with the rough (in a good way) art style and the haunting soundtrack, Nitroplus succeeds at creating a strong atmosphere with Saya that you might feel drawn into.

So I feel like a creep now, writing about what’s technically a porn game (though I would argue it absolutely isn’t one in spirit, even if it does sit in the h-game category.) But hey, that’s why my blog is anonymous. God bless anonymity, right?

Anyway, Saya no Uta is up for sale through JAST here (of course, you can also buy the original in Japanese if you understand it.) JAST localizes a lot of Japanese VNs, and they apparently haven’t censored Saya at all, which is nice – censoring the game would pretty much kill the whole point of it. It’s supposed to be a little shocking, after all. But please don’t play it if you’re under 18 or you have a weak stomach. There, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Six great video game tracks

Music is a major aspect of a game. A soundtrack that fits well with the action of the game really helps its flow. Some game series are even defined by their soundtracks: pretty much everyone, even my mother who doesn’t know the first thing about video games, knows the Super Mario Bros. main theme, and other prime series from my (and possibly your) childhood like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man are known for their amazing background music.

Here are some pieces taken from game soundtracks that I think are especially good.

1) Shin Megami Tensei III – Normal Battle (Town)

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m a big Shin Megami Tensei fan, and SMT3 is just about my favorite game in the series. And Shoji Meguro, the soundtrack-writer for many of the Shin Megami Tensei titles, is one of my favorite game composers ever. His work displays a lot of diversity, from the weirdly jazz-poppy music of Persona 3 and 4 to the hard rock of Digital Devil Saga. SMT3’s soundtrack is sort of a mix of hard rock and jazz elements, and this piece is one of my favorites of the bunch.

2) NieR – Gods Bound By Rules

Time for honesty here: I have not played NieR. From what I can tell, it’s made by Square-Enix, it’s an actiony sort of game, and it is highly controversial, with some people swearing by it and other people swearing at it. It was a commerical flop, but that’s not the measure of a game’s quality, is it?

Despite not having played NieR, I have heard its whole soundtrack, and it’s really good. Very symphonic in that old Square-Enix Final Fantasy tradition, with an extremely talented female singer accompanying the music. This track really conveys the feel of a boss fight well, I think. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a boss theme. In any case, you should really listen to it. It sets an “epic” mood without feeling overbearing (like, say, playing a famous public domain piece like “O Fortuna“. Yeah, it’s great, but seriously stop using this piece, it’s so amazingly overused.)

3) Umineko no Naku Koro ni – Final Answer

Unlike the last entry, I have played Umineko – all 80 hours of it. One of the things that kept me playing/reading was the excellent soundtrack. It’s no mistake that Umineko is called a “sound novel” – the original game had no voice acting but a great set of pieces by dozens of artists that perfectly fit the mood of each scene. I don’t think there’s a bad piece in the bunch, really. “Final Answer” is an especially great one, but the Umineko soundtrack is consistently good – I could have just as easily picked 20 or 30 other songs.

4) Makai Kingdom – Rushing Out of the Land of the Demons

NIS games tend to have really good OSTs that set a cartoonish mood consistent with their goofy, sometimes weird humor. Despite being one of their lesser-known titles, Makai Kingdom has an especially good soundtrack, and “Rushing Out of the Land of the Demons” is my favorite in the track list. This piece really gets down both the frantic pace of a battle scene and the strangely relaxed attitude of the typical NIS game. Does that make sense? I just wrote that sentence and I don’t know if it makes sense. Anyway, this is a great song.

5) Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors – Digital Root

When I heard the Zero Escape series was not going to have an ending because of poor sales, I was thrown into despair. I had just finished 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward and was dying to know how the bizarrely twisted story would end. I guess we’ll never know now. But at least we’ll have the really nice evocative sort-of-ambient soundtrack of 999 to listen to. “Digital Root” and most of the other pieces in the 999 OST perfectly complement and feed into the sense of tension that lasts through the game.

6) Touhou Project (Perfect Cherry Blossom) – Doll Judgment

I don’t think I’ve ever let on that I’m a Touhou fan, so I’ll do it now: I’m a huge Touhou fan. I’ve been playing the Touhou Project games for several years now. I know all the characters. I’ve even read some of the official comics (which have totally nonsensical plots.) If you’re unfamiliar with Touhou Project, it is a vertical scrolling shooter series begun and maintained by ZUN, one man who creates all the games on his own. The events of the many Touhou games (now up to 15? 17? I’m honestly not sure) take place in Gensokyo, a magically separated part of Japan that is still stuck in the 19th century for some reason and is inhabited by youkai – traditional demons and mythical beasts (all taking the form of girls, of course, because Japan) who live alongside a bunch of scared out of their wits humans in a village. The main characters are a shrine maiden and a witch who can fly and shoot lasers and fight said youkai. ZUN’s creation has spawned a massive community of fans and fanworks.

The funny thing about ZUN is that he seems to be a better composer than a game designer. Every one of the Touhou games features a really catchy and driving soundtrack. Fans have seized upon this aspect of Touhou and produce mountains of albums based on ZUN’s music. In fact, “Doll Judgment”, while it’s really a good piece, just as easily could have been a different piece from a different Touhou game – there are way too many to choose from.

Retrospective: Disgaea

disgaea-10

I’m a big fan of Nippon Ichi Software. Their approach to the strategy RPG is unique, and their games have a light comedic quality that’s a real breath of fresh air in a genre that is choked with seriousness and end-of-the-world scenarios and angst-filled heroes (SRPGs as a whole aren’t as guilty of this sort of thing as more typical turn-based JRPG titles are, but they’ve got their fair share of DRAMA.)

NIS, a Japanese developer (if you couldn’t tell from their name – “Japan’s Best” I think it means?) started out getting notoriety with the release of Marl Kingdom for the Playstation. I’ve never played Marl Kingdom, but it is apparently an RPG about a teenage girl in a fairytale land with a puppet girl as her best friend and is full of Disneyesque musical numbers. For a reason that is totally impossible to understand, this game was stamped with the title Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure and imported to the US, where I’m pretty sure 98% of Playstation owners at the time were teenage boys who wouldn’t be caught dead with such a game in their Playstations (well, I know because I was one of them.) So the game flopped Stateside. NIS followed up with the SRPG La Pucelle Tactics for the PS2, which I have played, and it really tones down the pure unadulterated cheese of Marl Kingdom. You play as a tomboy nun-in-training who’s also a member of an elite demon-hunting team. So that’s different right there.

Prier, the protagonist of La Pucelle Tactics

Prier, the protagonist of La Pucelle Tactics

It’s still a pretty obscure game here, but La Pucelle must have been a relative success in the States, because big-time developer and publisher Atlus took a chance on 2003’s Disgaea and published it in the US. And Disgaea was definitely a hit – it would become the first title in a long line of sequels, spinoffs and ports to portable systems.

So what is Disgaea exactly? For the novice, imagine an SRPG – say a Fire Emblem or Shining Force game – with soldier and mage sort of characters moving around on a grid and attacking each other. Now replace these soldiers and mages with demons and monsters that have 500,000 HP, 300,000 MP and attacks that can bring down meteors and giant lasers upon their opponents. Every turn. Also, exploding penguins. That’s Disgaea.

Step 1: Become the Overlord of the Netherworld.  Step 2: Laugh menacingly inside your huge castle.

Step 1: Become the Overlord of the Netherworld. Step 2: Laugh menacingly inside your huge castle.

Disgaea tells the story of Laharl, the son of the king of the Netherworld, who unbeknownst to him has been dead for two years (because Laharl has been taking a two-year nap, you see.) Laharl, who now believes himself to have inherited the title of Overlord from his dead father, decides to show all his new vassals that he means business. Sadly for him, nobody seems to accept this kid as their new king, so he’ll have to use some force to get his subjects to obey him.

Laharl doesn't get much respect initially, no.

Laharl doesn’t get much respect initially, no.

Even worse, an angelic assassin has been sent from Celestia to kill him. Fortunately for Laharl, she’s new to the job and doesn’t really know what she’s doing (see top of page.) Together with his “loyal” vassal, Etna, the three of them end up having wacky Netherworld antics together. Or something. It’s definitely a nice story, and in 2003 Disgaea stood out for its humor where most other games in the genre were deadly serious. Juvenile jokes are mixed up with references to the Power Rangers (or old sentai shows if you’re from Japan) and 50s sci-fi serial Buck Rogers-type stuff. It’s a weird mix, to be sure, and it could be dismissed as a lot of pointless goofiness, but I think it works.

A pretty basic Disgaea battle

A pretty basic Disgaea battle

Gameplay-wise, as good for its time as La Pucelle was, Disgaea outdid it in every category. Disgaea is more or less divided into two parts: the initial game, which covers the main story, and the post-game, which is totally optional and can potentially go on forever if you let it. The core of the gameplay should be familiar to anyone who’s touched an SRPG before. You have your units and move them around on a map divided into squares on a big diagonal grid. The object of each map is usually to kill all the enemy units, though there are also maps where the goal is to reach a particular space on the map.

Disgaea has a lot more to offer than its regular missions, though – specifically two innovations that have become a staple of the series. The Dark Assembly (or the Dark Senate) is the first. Here, you can choose one of your characters to present a “bill” to an assembly of other demons who will vote on it. Subjects for debate include opening up new post-game areas, getting triple exp on the next map played, and even extorting money from the senators. If your bill fails, you even have the option of forcing it through – by beating up all the nay-voting senators in the assembly.

Like this, but with more swords and magic spells.

The second innovation in Disgaea is the Item World. The Item World is a truly devilish gameplay element. It allows you to level up any item in the game by playing through a succession of maps “inside” that item (it’s weird, I know.) Most items contain 30 levels, but some have 60 and some 100. Each level is designed to be beatable but is otherwise more or less randomly generated. The Item World is infuriatingly addictive and may well comprise the part of Disgaea you spend the most time playing.

An actual Item World level.  They're usually not this easy, believe me.

An actual Item World level. They’re usually not this easy, believe me.

Together with the ability to create new units from dozens of different character types and classes that can fight alongside the story characters, Disgaea offered an insane amount of customization and depth when it came out. I played the hell out of it and loved every minute, and that’s why I’m now an NIS fanboy. Not the proudest of badges to wear, but I will wear it all the same.

Disgaea has spawned three sequels featuring different casts and stories (Disgaea 2, 3 and 4), a direct sequel featuring the original cast (Disgaea D2), a bunch of SRPG spinoffs with different stories and different gameplay mechanics (Makai Kingdom, Phantom Brave, Soul Nomad and the World Eaters), a couple of stupidly difficult PSP platformers (Prinny 1 and 2), a weird visual novel sort of thing (Disgaea Infinite), a sort of crappy looking anime adaptation, and a truckload of portable system ports for the PSP, the Vita, and the DS (basically one for every Disgaea game and then some.) It also inspired this cross-stitch of one of its main characters, Etna:

To be honest, later Disgaea games have really improved on the old formula, especially the third one; Disgaea 3 is a great title that I like about as much as the original. Still, the original is the original and should get some respect. The original Disgaea is currently out in its PS2 original and as a port to the DS and the PSP. Of the two ports, the PSP one is definitely better, though the DS port has a couple of extras that fans might like (like the opportunity to get fan favorite silent girl Pleinair as a playable character.)

Pleinair doesn't talk.   That's her thing.  She has a sentient stuffed rabbit toy that sometimes talks for her.  No, I don't get it.

Pleinair doesn’t talk. That’s her thing. She has a sentient stuffed rabbit toy that sometimes talks for her. No, I don’t get it.

So if you’re unemployed and need something to do between searching for jobs, or you’re in solitary confinement for life and somehow get to have a PSP or Vita in your cell with you, I highly recommend Disgaea. I’d also recommend Disgaea 3, which is just as good cast-wise and has tons more content (and also looks prettier, being a PS3 game.) You can’t really go wrong with either one. The only danger involved is that you’ll become an NIS fanboy/girl, which is not really a fate I can recommend. Well, better than being a brony, I guess.

Misogyny in games?

Just yesterday, I received an email from Amazon informing me about the release of a game they thought I might enjoy. This game was Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus for the Vita.

This email deeply insulted me. If you haven’t heard of the Senran Kagura series, watch this (warning: this is technically SFW, but everyone you work with will think you’re a creep for watching it. So I guess it’s not really SFW after all.)

As you can tell, Senran Kagura is kind of a sexy Dynasty Warriors game, a beat-em-up with special moves and power meters and so on. Unlike any given Dynasty Warriors title, however, Senran Kagura features a cast of large-breasted warrior schoolgirls whose clothes are torn in very convenient patterns when hit. Understandably, the series has been accused of damaging the games industry and promoting sexism. Other imports have faced similar charges: here’s an article on Slate criticizing the weirdly sexual puzzle game Catherine upon the same premise. Should these kinds of titles really be fought against on the grounds that they degrade women?

Catherine is really more of a "Japan is weird" sort of title than a sexist one in my opinion.

Catherine is really more of a “Japan is weird” sort of title than a sexist one in my opinion.

The context of this release is also important. The “gaming community” (whatever that is) has recently been in an uproar over the Gamergate scandal (or the Gamergate non-story, depending on who you ask.) Several game industry journalists writing for big sites like Kotaku and Polygon have been charged with ethical failings after their sexual relationships with a certain female game developer were exposed. Violent threats were reportedly sent to the developer, and the industry sites in question followed with articles proclaiming that the gamer as an identity is “dead”, charging gamers with being misogynistic and increasingly irrelevant as a group. #gamergate proponents accused these writers of using misogyny accusations as a way to dodge questions about their own lack of ethical standards. Terms flung around by both sides have included loser, bitch, virgin, cunt, nerd, whore, manchild and attention whore.

Which brings me back to Senran Kagura, Catherine, and similar titles. Most of the argument over whether sexism is a problem in gaming and in the games industry seems to focus on the depiction of women in western games, but Japanese games are inevitably a part of the debate too, even if the debate itself is a purely western one.

A screenshot from Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus.  This one is actually pretty tame from what I've seen of the game on Youtube.

A screenshot from Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus. This one is actually pretty tame from what I’ve seen of the game on Youtube.

There may well be a misogyny problem in the gaming community. It’s been a boys’ club for a long time, and I think some backlash against changing standards of the depiction of women in the industry is only natural. There’s nothing wrong with having a change in these standards, and there’s nothing wrong with the backlash – it seems to me they’re all a natural part of the development of the industry (though it has to be said that violent threats are never called for and have to be condemned.)

However, I don’t believe that games like Senran Kagura or Catherine represent any kind of threat to the perception of women in society or in “gamer culture”. These titles are niche imports with small western bases of support. Moreover, some of them don’t purport to be realistic or meaningful at all. Senran Kagura, from what I can tell, is a celebration of creepy fanservice with a game tacked on. It’s about as far from serious art as you can get. The charges of misogyny might be more valid when leveled against more ambitious titles like Catherine, but those charges also tend to be less convincing. Moreover, these paternalistic, finger-wagging pieces posted on Kotaku, Polgon, and co., and similar output from Anita Sarkeesian and other feminist gaming critics accomplish nothing. They certainly aren’t going to shame fans into not buying these games. In fact, they may well net Xseed and Atlus a few more fans out of pure resentment.

In any case, I think the solution here is to let the free market sort everything out. If gamer culture really is changing, that change will soon be reflected in increased demand for games featuring strong female characters (in fact, I’d argue this is already happening.) At the same time, if some companies want to satisfy a separate demand for games featuring tons of mindless fanservice, there’s nothing wrong with that. If this really upsets you, take solace in the fact that a fair percentage of the guys who love those games also don’t go outside that often.

P.S. To Amazon, please stop insinuating that I’m a pervert. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. I mean, I did buy Akiba’s Trip, but it was purely for the gameplay, okay? I’m not that far gone, really.

An adjustment

I’m going to be taking down all my travel posts and dedicating the blog to game/other media stuff. Sorry to anyone following for my travel writing, but I’ve got some other plans as far as that material goes.

Some Undead Zombies appeared, and then I had to change my plans

Some Undead Zombies appeared, and then I had to change my plans

This blog was only ever about having fun, writing the kind of stuff I want to write without an eye to viewership or ad revenue or any of that bullshit. Right now, I’m trying to make actual cash money off of my writing, and I’ve done a lot of paid travel writing in the past, so I feel putting out my existing writing in the proper context would be a good way to show my style to potential clients hunting for reasonably priced copy that’s not riddled with speling erors or full of SEO terms CEILING TILE EXPERT ROOFS ST AUGUSTINE FL shoved haphazardly into SPECIALTY DOG FOOD STORES PHOENIX ARIZONA articles in a desperate attempt to get to page 1 of a Google search.

So that’s all. The blog isn’t over – I’ll still be reviewing games and probably some stuff, so if you follow this blog for that purpose, please don’t unbookmark me for that reason.