A review of Persona 5 (or, why I’ve been away for the past two months)

For those wondering why I’ve been neglecting my writing duties lately, here’s the reason. Also, I don’t have any duty to write here; it’s not like I’m on a schedule or have a Patreon account set up or anything like that. If you, dear reader, want to pay me to write here or anywhere else for that matter, send me an email and we can make some arrangements.

Anyway, my life has been fully occupied between working and playing Persona 5 since I got my preorder on April 4. It’s honestly a stupid idea to write a review of Persona 5 – if you’re reading this, you already know it’s good, and you probably know that I loved it. The game has been showered with praise from every corner. This is exactly the reason why I’m not going to bother writing a review of NieR: Automata – nobody needs it. But since life itself is ultimately futile and pointless, why not throw one more review onto the pile?

Persona 5 is without a doubt my favorite out of the Persona games, not counting Persona and the two Persona 2 titles that I didn’t play aside from the first ten hours of Innocent Sin.* While I loved Persona 3 and 4 and really, extremely loved Persona 4 Golden, Persona 5 is better than all of them in every way. If I bothered to rate games I’d have to give this one a 10/10 and reassign P4 Golden to 9.9/10 or something. See, though, this is one of the reasons why I don’t give out ratings to games. People can accuse me of not being reader-friendly on this site, but nobody can accuse me of being inconsistent.

If you’ve been in solitary confinement or a monastery without internet access for the last few months, here’s the basic plot to Persona 5: your high school-aged silent protagonist character tries to help a woman escape from a creepy, gropy drunk guy. However, protagonist ends up accidentally injuring the assaulter in the process. It turns out that Drunky is a man with influence and has clout with local police because you are unjustly convicted of assault and placed on probation, and for some reason you’re forced to move from your small town to a seedy-looking Tokyo neighborhood as a condition of your probation. Your new guardian sets you up in the attic of the coffee shop he runs and warns you not to screw up or else you’ll be sent to serve the rest of your probation in juvenile hall. Then all the typical Persona stuff happens (go to the Velvet Room, learn about impending disaster, enter a dream world where you fight monsters while also attending high school during the day, date a bunch of cute girls at the same time, etc.)

Makoto is best girl, just in case you were wondering.

I don’t want to spoil too much about Persona 5, because it’s worth playing completely 100% blind. However, if you don’t mind minor spoilers, proceed below to see my reasons, in no real order, why I think this game is better than the preceding Persona games and why you might considering playing it even if you didn’t like P3 or P4.

– A more interesting story

This one is admittedly subjective, but I felt more engaged by the plot of Persona 5 than those of 3 and 4. The Phantom Thieves administering justice to wrongdoers by stealing their evil desires and forcing them to confess their crimes was great fun to watch. And the theme of abuse of power than ran through the game made it more compelling.

– A better soundtrack

Another subjective point, but this is the best Persona soundtrack yet. It’s a lot heavier on the jazz with some rock and 70s funk/RnB (?) mixed in, and I just prefer that to the styles of music used in 3 and 4. I never once got tired of “Last Surprise”, the normal battle theme that plays over 1,000 times every playthrough, even though I should have. Meanwhile I never want to hear “BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY” ever again.

I still really like “Time to Make History” though.

– Date your fucking teacher

I am completely serious

In Persona 3 and 4, the protagonists got to try dating their choice of a whole set of various classmates (including a robot girl in Persona 3 FES.) In Persona 5, the protagonist can also date several of his classmates, but he can also start a romantic relationship with his homeroom teacher. Yes, this is really an option they included in the game. Ms. Kawakami seems to be only about 10 or 12 years older than the protagonist, but since the protagonist is 16, that’s a pretty serious age gap. I don’t know if Japanese consent laws are that different from American ones, but I imagine she’d be in trouble with the law or at the very least lose her job if anyone ever found out about her relationship with a student.**

The protagonist can also charm his way into a relationship with a few other adult women in Persona 5, including a doctor, a fortune teller, and an alcoholic journalist. I don’t know if all of the above makes P5 better than 3 or 4, but it does make it more interesting, doesn’t it?

– It’s basically Shin Megami Tensei V

Every mainline SMT game takes place in Tokyo. So does Persona 5. P5 also contains demon negotiation like those games – unlike P3 and P4, which featured bizarre shadow monsters as enemies, P5 lets you fight the actual SMT demons and recruit them when you hit their weakness or crit them, complete with the weird human/demon conversations you’ve come to expect from those games. It’s more or less Shin Megami Tensei V disguised as a Persona game. All it’s missing is the Law/Chaos alignment system.

Okay, this one is a real stretch. It seems like the actual Shin Megami Tensei V is coming out on the Switch, though it hasn’t been officially titled yet. My point is that Persona 5 feels a lot more like a mainline SMT game than any other spinoff in the series I’ve played, and I think that’s a good thing.

Those are all the spoilers you’re getting. If you haven’t played Persona 5, for God’s sake go and play it. Unless you really hate turn-based JRPGs. In which case what the hell are you doing reading this site?

* Persona 2: Innocent Sin isn’t bad by any means, but I found that it was really hard to get used to the wonky battle setup and weird fusion system after playing P3 and P4. I was also attending school at the time, so my attention was already mostly on my studies. I know people who swear by Persona 2, though, so I might still return to it someday.

** There is absolutely no way in hell Atlus would put this particular social link in the game if the protagonist and Kawakami’s genders were reversed. Not that I advocate this kind of relationship no matter what the particular gender setup happens to be, but the double standard is still worth mentioning.

First impressions of Persona 5 (it’s good)

Unless you’re a student who’s had spring break off last week or this week, or you’re unemployed, or your job is streaming games on Twitch, chances aren’t you haven’t gotten much farther than I have in Persona 5, which was released in NA and EU on April 4. Unfortunately I have a regular job and can’t live as the idle rich do because I am mainly broke. However, I was not so broke that I couldn’t pay for Persona 5, which I’d been anticipating since finishing Persona 4 forever ago. And after finishing the first stage of the game, I can already say that the game was worth the $60 price tag.

Shin Megami Tensei is one of my favorite game series – way more of a favorite than the more popular Final Fantasy franchise, which I haven’t really been interested in at all since Final Fantasy X came out 16 years ago.* But that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to love any game that’s SMT or an SMT spinoff. Happily though Persona 5 so far is even better than Persona 3 and Persona 4, which were already excellent games. One of the reasons I think I like P5 more than P3 and P4 is that while it’s still definitely a Persona game (high school protagonist & co. fighting shadow creatures in a dream world to change the real world for the better, social links, dating) it also adopts some aspects of the main SMT line of games. This time, the shadows you fight aren’t just formless blobs or bizarre creatures as they are in P3/4, but rather the actual demons of the SMT universe. Just as in SMT1/2/3/4/4A/Strange Journey, the protagonist can negotiate with these shadows/demons if he and his friends manage to hit all their weaknesses, and said demons can be recruited to become personas.

This is a welcome development. I love both the main line of Shin Megami Tensei games and the SMT-spinoff Persona series and take no position in the stupid little war between hardcore fans of each side that you can sometimes witness on 4chan and Reddit. Now that Persona 5 is slightly closer to the main SMT series, maybe those two sides can make peace and both enjoy this game. Well, probably not. They’ll still find something to fight about.

The war will continue forever

Another interesting aspect of Persona 5 is its darker, more realistic feel. Persona 4 was a lighthearted anime Scooby Doo RPG, and while Persona 3 was sort of dark, it also felt a lot heavier on the science fiction and fantasy elements with the evokers, the Midnight Hour, Tartarus, and robot girl/weapon Aigis. While P5 obviously has a similar sci-fi/fantasy aspect to it, the central story seems to be a lot more realistic. If you’re going to play this game, prepare to get kicked in the gut throughout the prologue, because the protagonist gets an extremely raw deal. Instead of being sent off to a nice town in the countryside or a dorm full of supernaturally gifted students, you’re placed on probation by a court for assault and/or battery (for being an upstanding citizen and preventing a sexual assault; the assailant pulls some strings and gets you convicted on a bullshit charge) and have to live in the attic of a coffee shop in a Tokyo suburb owned by a surly guy who agreed to take you in for a while because your parents couldn’t be bothered to deal with you. Thanks Mom and Dad, you’re really great.†

Official corruption and abuse of power seem to be central themes of Persona 5, and you’re naturally in a position to fight both with your Persona-using abilities. And of course the old mysterious man Igor will summon you once again to the Velvet Room to help you refine these abilities. In keeping with the theme, the Velvet Room is now a prison, the protagonist is a prisoner in a cell facing Igor, and Igor is now assisted by twin prison wardens Caroline and Justine, who are little kids dressed like French gendarmes. (Maybe Elizabeth and Margaret’s nieces?)

I haven’t met her yet in the game but I already know who my waifu is going to be in this game. Look at her glasses and giant headphones she’s a nerd just like me!!!  god I’m so lonely.

The bottom line is that you should play Persona 5 if the first 15 hours are any indication, and I’ve never known an SMT game to suddenly get shitty in the middle or near the end. I got the nice steelbook case with my preorder as well, but I don’t know whether any of those are available right now. I didn’t splurge on the expensive “Steal Your Heart” deluxe box but I hear it’s pretty great if you can get your hands on it at this point and if money is no object.

* My opinion might be uninformed here because I gave up on the series after I played part of Final Fantasy XIII and hated it.  Maybe XV is really amazing but I won’t be finding out anytime soon, at least not until I finish P5 and NieR: Automata.

† Come to think of it, the protagonist’s parents are always absent in these games, aren’t they? P3’s protagonist was an orphan, and P4’s protagonist was sent off to the countryside for a year because his parents were working overseas. This is the only time that the protagonist’s parents seem like they’re actively being shitty to their kid, though their actions might be better explained later in the game.

Atlus places severe restrictions on Persona 5 streaming and recording; the internet loses its collective shit

Yesterday, on April 4, Japanese game developer and publisher Atlus finally released Persona 5 in North America after two and a half years of delays. This much anticipated release came along with an announcement from Atlus forbidding the public display through either posted videos or live streams of spoilers, boss battles, or of any part of the game beyond the in-game date of July 7 (about three months from the game’s starting date, and probably about a third of the way through the story.) Both Youtube and Twitch are widely said to be on board with this policy, so if that’s true, punishments for rule-breakers will presumably get doled out in the form of bans.

Atlus’ policy is now causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the internet among people who had been looking forward to stream or to watch streams of Persona 5. This decision doesn’t affect me personally – I don’t stream because I’m not any good at games and I can’t add interesting enough commentary to make it worth anyone’s while to watch. And I was not planning to watch a stream of a game that I’m already playing myself. But I do find the drama surrounding Atlus’ decision really interesting. A lot of people are angry at Atlus, and some of them have been arguing that Atlus shouldn’t be able to prevent the streaming of Persona 5. The term “fair use” has been thrown around a lot.

So first of all – does Atlus have the law on their side in this case? The answer is almost certainly yes, at least according to US federal copyright law. Atlus holds the copyright to Persona 5, and outside of certain exceptions it can freely enforce that copyright to prevent others from using its own work to create their own public performances.  But what about fair use? Fair use is an exception to the enforcement of copyright that applies to the use of existing works by a non-copyright holder for limited purposes. The four factors considered by courts to determine whether a work or performance is covered by fair use are listed in Section 107 of the Copyright Act:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

There seems to be no case law establishing any kind of precedent to apply to Let’s Play videos or streams, but we can at least apply the plain language of Section 107. When we do that, we find that the law is very much in the favor of Atlus here. The second and third factors weigh heavily in Atlus’ favor. (2) deals with the amount of creativity that went into the original work, which in the case of a video game, especially one as long, complex, and unique as Persona 5, is extremely high. Let’s Play videos and streams tend to run through entire games, so the same goes for (3). And the first factor weighs in Atlus’ favor if the video or stream is monetized through ad revenue or if the streamer is using his playthrough of Persona 5 in part as a way to attract paid subscribers and to gather donations.

The only factor that’s not clearly in Atlus’ favor is the fourth one. It’s not obvious that a heavily streamed game will sell fewer copies than a game that isn’t widely streamed, all other things being equal. In fact, you could just as easily argue that a heavily streamed game will attract more interest and result in higher sales. NieR: Automata was streamed like crazy and that game broke a million sales just over a month after its release. Obviously those streams didn’t have too terrible of an effect on the game’s sales. (Then again, maybe the exposure of cute android girl protagonist 2B’s butt had something to do with the high sales too.)

In any case, after reading Section 107, I would bet money that almost any court applying this test would find in favor of the copyright holder and would not find fair use, especially if the use of the copyrighted material is for commercial purposes. And while a Let’s Play video series or a stream might qualify as a derivative work under US copyright law, that derivative work has to be authorized by the original copyright holder, in this case Atlus. And Atlus is clearly not interested in authorizing shit right now.

Going to federal court also costs $$$$$$$$$

Atlus very likely has the law on its side. But even so, was the severe restriction on recording and streaming Persona 5 a wise move? And was it wise to wait until the day of the game’s release to make that announcement? And was it wise to pretend that the stream restrictions are about avoiding spoilers, when they’re obviously about Atlus trying to sell more copies out of a fear that streaming would hurt their sales?

Will Atlus end up pissing away the goodwill it’s gained over the years in exchange for a possible short-term boost in sales?  That’s a risk for Atlus to take if they choose, but I’d hate to see the company go down the same “fuck the consumers” path that certain other developers and publishers have, because Atlus makes games that I like. I’m already five hours into Persona 5 and it’s really good so far. If P5 keeps up the pace throughout I’d recommend it just as much as I would P3 and P4 to anyone, provided they don’t hate turn-based RPGs or games that are too anime.

The way things are going, though, there might very well be a test case in federal courts about recording or streaming games online some day soon. And maybe that test case will involve Persona 5.* That’s serious publicity for the game, but probably not the kind Atlus intended. Even if the law is on their side, good sense might not be.

*Okay, probably not.  But it sounds good, doesn’t it?  Atlus v. Weeb Twitch Streamer et al.  It could be a landmark case.

SimCity 2000, Part X: The Nuclear Option

Sometimes – just on rare occasions – the Courier, Hell’s terrible newspaper, gets a story right.  In this case, that story had to do with Hell’s very first power plant.

The Courier is referring here to the two solar plants powering the upper-class southwestern district of the city, but this story also acted as a harbinger of something else that is soon to come.

One morning in November 2038, not a year after that headline, an earthquake – the first earthquake in the 138 years that the city has existed – shook Hell.  Several buildings, along with a section of highway, were immediately destroyed, among them the central coal plant that powered a large part of the city.  A massive fire started in downtown Hell after the coal plant exploded.

Looking at this fire, you might think downtown is fucked.  That fire is going to spread all over the place… right?

Wrong.  Fires are easy to take care of in SimCity 2000.  By pausing the game, you can destroy all the properties, roads, power lines, trees and other things immediately surrounding the fire without worrying about its spreading.  Once that’s done, the fire will have nowhere to spread and the firefighter units can safely contain and put out the blaze.  This is a good time to use the zone-only view so you can try to avoid specialty buildings and services as much as possible.

Do you think it’s cheap to pause the game to contain the fires?  Feel free to think that, but the makers put that capability in the game, and you don’t have to enter a cheat code to do it (and there are several cheat codes in SimCity that make the game a whole lot easier.)  So I don’t consider this cheating.  Maybe it’s a bit cheap, but then again maybe it’s cheap of the game to spring an earthquake on me after 138 years of no earthquakes.

In any case, this earthquake has definitely come with a cost.  Undoubtedly a human cost, because at least a few buildings went down around the city, and also an economic cost.

The Courier again amazingly gets something right when it reports that a dam was damaged in the quake – a few were taken out in the initial quake and another one was destroyed by fire.  The paper somehow neglects to mention that the massive fucking coal plant in the middle of town exploded, however.

At least the mayor said he didn’t like the fact that the earthquake happened.  He may be a huge dick, but he’s not such a dick that he’ll openly revel in his people’s misery.  Well, not yet, anyway.

A large part of the city is now without power as a result of the coal plant’s destruction.  We’ll have to replace it right away to avoid the abandonment of the unpowered sections of the city and a massive drop in population.

Unlike in 1900, we have a lot of power generation options now.  We’re only missing one, in fact – it has yet to be developed – but it’s something of a moot point because we don’t actually need that much power yet anyway.  Still, now might be a good time, since the city has a steady surplus coming in every year, to upgrade our power plant from coal.

What to pick?  Oil power isn’t much of an upgrade, although it is less polluting than coal.  Gas and solar power are too weak.  Wind power can be good for powering small areas independently, but it would take an assload of wind turbines to generate the kind of power we need.  More dams are an option, but we’d need to place a lot of waterfalls for that, and that can get expensive.  And microwave power, the newest form of energy, is just a hair too expensive to build.  True, we could wait a month, but it’s still overkill as far as power provided goes.

So what’s left?

Oh yes.  Nuclear power.  The game is sort of lying here – nuclear isn’t actually all that efficient if you look at megawatt per dollar, but it is very clean.  And the 500 Mw generated by the plant will be nice.  However, there is the possibility – not a likely one, but it exists nonetheless – that the plant will go Chernobyl and turn Hell into an actual hell of fire and radiation.

The decision is naturally up to the mayor.  And the mayor has an emergency bunker and a contingency plan borrowed from Dr. Strangelove just in case the worst occurs.  But really, what are the chances of that?  Nuclear plants have plenty of measures to prevent meltdowns, right?

The mayor makes an executive decision: build that nuclear plant.  Right in the heart of downtown where the old coal plant was, because there really isn’t any other good place for it at the moment.

However, once the word starts to go around that the city authorities are about to build a nuclear plant, a large contingent of citizens gather in the devastated ward and camp out in tents to protest the plan and to prevent it from occurring.  The engineers and laborers sent out to build the plant are ordered by the mayor to back down – for the time being.

When a certain facility that people don’t like – like a nuclear power plant – is planned to be built near a residential area, they can prevent the player from placing it.  (The same is true of water treatment plants, which apparently spew out a lot of pollutants.)  However, they can’t prevent the placement of the facility every single time the player attempts to build it.  The mayor waits until the protesters go home, then he sends his workers out again to build the nuclear plant.  And this time they build it.

Now it’s time to reconnect the western half of the city to the power grid.  The nuclear plant will both produce more energy and pollute much less than the coal plant did.  There is the whole meltdown thing, but again… not that likely, really.

Once the rubble is cleared and the city is full powered again, we can survey the damage.  The city’s population dropped by about 5,000 as a result of the earthquake, both from buildings being destroyed during the quake and from people moving out of unpowered zones afterward.

Hell’s future at this point is uncertain.  With the mayor at the helm, though… no.  There’s still absolutely no certainty about the future.

SimCity 2000, Part IX: Take the Pain Train

In Hell’s new industrial district, there stood an oddity that nobody could explain.  The city’s engineers intended to build a highway connection to the nearby city of Ashland, but to do so, they had to build strips of the highway sideways over hilly terrain, because for some reason they couldn’t build the highway straight in that section.  Everybody thought the city planners had lost their minds.  However, drivers found that these seemingly disconnected pieces of highway actually did connect – drivers who took the road reported that the highway looked entirely normal while driving on it, but that once they had turned off of the highway onto a city street, as if by magic, the highway changed back into a disconnected mess of concrete.

The space warping Twilight Zone highway connection isn’t enough to keep Hell’s industry going, unfortunately.  In order to ship more goods out of Hell to neighboring cities, engineers have planned a railroad line running through the city’s old downtown industrial center.  Railroad tracks require rail depots to be effective.  Once placed, they spawn trains that run around the track.  Even though only a few hundred people are actually riding the damn thing every day, the rail connections do have a positive effect on industrial demand.

As noted earlier on, it’s a pain in the ass to build a railroad through an established city.  It involves a lot of bulldozing.  Since this part of downtown Hell is a smog-filled dump anyway, though, demolishing some of it to make way for a rail line isn’t really a big deal.

As much as trains are a pain to build in SimCity 2000, without them, the game wouldn’t be the same.  Something I didn’t realize when I played SimCity 2000 as a kid was that the game’s isometric look was inspired by A-Train, a Japanese railroad-building simulation brought to the US by Maxis the previous year.

A-Train (1992)

A-Train (1992)

The original title of A-Train in its home country was Take the A-Train III (which must be a reference to Duke Ellington’s classic “Take the A-Train”) and it’s just one in a long series of rail simulation games that seem to have mainly stayed in Japan.  I never played this game, but I’ve heard that it has a much steeper learning curve than SimCity 2000, which might be why it didn’t catch on here.  In any case, rail lines in SimCity are expensive to place but simple otherwise – just build them and let the trains run (hopefully on time.)

Speaking of industrial demand – it’s changed a lot since the last century.  Initially, your city’s industrial sector will focus on areas like steel/mining and textiles, but as it grows and becomes more sophisticated, the city expands into electronics and other, less polluting areas.  You can modify the tax rates applied to each area – so, for example, if you want to discourage heavy pollution, raise taxes on steel/mining and other polluting industries.  It’s honestly not necessary to go that in-depth, though.

Even if you’re not going to mess around with industrial tax rates, it’s a good idea to check on demand for each sector now and then.  Because an industry like electronics, currently in demand, requires a well-educated population to supply labor to.  And as you can see, Hell does not have a well-educated population.  If EQ is roughly equivalent to IQ, and I think it’s supposed to be, the average Hell citizen is pretty close to being an idiot.  You can easily raise your city’s EQ by building a lot of schools, a strong system of libraries, and a college.

In fact, in an unprecedented step, the mayor has suddenly decided to actually give a shit about education in his city.  After building a few more daytime student-detainment centers to relieve pressure on the city’s overcrowded public school system, the mayor finally announces the chartering of a university, which he hopes will supply the city’s new high-tech field with bright young minds (and bring more money into the city’s coffers.)

Where to place this college, though?  In the great tradition of American universities, Hell’s new college should be built in a neighborhood with high crime.

The areas with the highest crime rates in Hell are the industrial zones, and those aren’t really suitable for a college.  So instead, let’s drop it right downtown, next to the downtown rail line.

Yeah, that looks about right.  Hopefully the freshmen won’t get drunk and wander onto the train tracks.

Hopefully the college has its own library, though, because the city library system is bullshit.  Only 1,200 books?  Even little towns in the middle of nowhere have bigger libraries than that.

By the way, that “Ruminate” button brings up an excerpt of some rambling from Neil Gaiman about cities.  It’s nice enough, but I probably didn’t totally understand its meaning when I first started playing this game at seven years old.

Life in Hell continues pretty uneventfully as the city slowly expands to the northern and northwestern edges of the map.  However, this growth comes with a price: brownouts.  Even though the city’s coal plants aren’t running quite at capacity yet, they’re straining to supply the outskirts of the city with electricity, because in SimCity power is slowly lost as it travels along power lines.  A few new dams can fix this problem, but a more powerful power plant may be in order soon.

And in 2035, the fourth big population landmark arrives – 60,000 citizens!  At this point, the military asks whether you’d like to let them claim some land in your city to build a base upon.

For some reason they ask your permission in a weirdly capitalized way.

So, to grant land to the military or not?  There are different pros and cons to allowing a military base on your soil that depend upon whether the military decides to set up an army, naval, air force or missile base.  The outcome depends partly upon your city’s terrain, though the air force base seems to be the most commonly chosen.  Most of the bases (except for the missile silos) give you access to military units that can fight both fires and rioters in the course of emergencies.  The same bases (again, except for the missile silos) help boost the local economy.  However, military bases also increase crime and pollution, and the land that the military takes in your city can’t be built upon.  It’s not really that much land – just something like 10×8 tiles – but still something equivalent to two city blocks that could be used instead to increase your city’s population.

The decision to accept or reject the offer is up to the mayor.  When the military representatives meet the mayor at his mansion to explain the deal to him, he decides to take it, enticed by the possibility of getting to direct military units in the event of a riot.

Even though there’s plenty of empty land to the south of the city, the military decides not to build, much to the mayor’s disappointment.  He wanted the chance to drive a tank around.

In any case, there’s no penalty for refusing the military’s request, so don’t sweat this decision too much.

Even though the city government has been trying to improve public education, its efforts may take a while to come into effect.  Because the train drivers employed by the city seem to be real dumbasses.  These two trains managed to run into each other, and although they don’t seem to be damaged, they aren’t moving either.

There’s only one thing to do – destroy the tracks and the trains along with them and the rebuild the tracks.

For some reason, destroying each track only gets rid of a single car.  Both trains can be erased from existence in this way, but…

Rebuilding the tracks also regenerates the trains that were sitting on them.  There’s no question about it – this neighborhood of Hell definitely exists in the Twilight Zone.

SimCity 2000, Part VIII: Kentucky Fried Schoolchildren

In SimCity 2000, serious accidents sometimes occur.  Even though they’re not real people, your Sims (they weren’t “Sims” at this point, I think, but by the time The Sims came out they definitely were) face tragedies anyway.  Like when a landing plane crashes into a school, because the people who built the airport right next to two schools didn’t think the school buildings were tall enough to block the planes from landing on the runway.

Airline crashes are one of the many disasters that can occur in SimCity 2000.  Usually this involves a plane simply falling out of the sky, but if you build an airport right in the middle of a city with a lot of tall buildings blocking the runway (or even short buildings, apparently) planes will frequently crash into those buildings, starting a massive fire that has to be put out before it spreads and becomes unmanageable.  This fire is pretty costly because, instead of simply letting a zone redevelop after being devastated, the schools that are caught in the blaze have to be replaced entirely.

Hell might not have the greatest services, but it does have an effective firefighting force.  Unfortunately, while the fire was prevented from spreading into the city, it did take out both schools.

Naturally, the insensitive cunts at the Courier make up a story about the crash that involves a “dog ranch” and that makes absolutely no mention of the schools destroyed or the probable dead schoolchildren resulting from the accident.  The Courier now has a lower reputation than those tabloids you can buy in the supermarket line that have fake headlines and photoshopped pictures of anorexic celebrities on the cover.

On the upside, the citizens of Hell are making use of the new highway, and its connection to the nearby village of Sinistrel (pop. ~250) has somehow alleviated the whole “Industry Needs Connections” problem.  Whatever.  Let’s not complain about that.  The neighboring cities and their populations don’t actually seem to matter – they’re just generated randomly by the game, I think.

The city government also decided to build a second coal plant and to put it next to the new hospital, because why the fuck not.  That soot flying out of the plant’s smokestacks won’t bother anyone.

That stray piece of highway standing next to one of the replacement schools was built before the engineers realized it was impossible to build across slanted terrain like this.  It remains unbulldozed as a monument to the city government’s laziness and incompetence.

Time rolls on and the city continues to grow in population.  Despite the poor living conditions, Hell is now home to over 40,000 citizens.

In 2008, we receive news that Dallas has built a “Plymouth Arco”.  Just what the hell is that, you might be wondering.

Of course the newspaper somehow gives us this news without ever even hinting as to what an arco is.  If you were curious about this, I think the game’s massive manual might have explained it.  Arco is short for “arcology” – a sort of city-within-a-city that is designed to provide a self-contained and self-sufficient living space for thousands of people.  The arcology is a concept that predates SimCity by several decades, but aside from some small-scale projects, no real arcologies exist yet.  In SimCity 2000, however, the player can build arcologies once his city’s population reaches 120,000.  Arcos are a great way to massively boost a city’s population at a time when the player is severely short on extra building space, but they can also greatly contribute to a city’s pollution and crime rates depending upon the type you choose to build (there are four arco types with various pros and cons.)  Since we’re nowhere near 120,000, though, we don’t have to worry about building any arcos for a while.

The paper also reports on a brand new city simulation game that Hell’s students are playing in their social studies classes.  I would make an Inception joke here, but those are played out.

Actually, I remember that we had SimCity 2000 on at least a few of the computers at school when I was a kid.  Since it was an “educational game”, we could get away with playing it at school.  Later on, we also somehow managed to get away with installing and playing a Rainbow Six game in the lab, on multiplayer on the school’s network.  How nobody stopped us doing that for months on end I have no fucking clue.

Yes, in case you were wondering – Hell still suffers from severe pollution problems.  That “pollution control” ordinance is a pile of shit.  If it’s not going to help us, we may as well stop paying for it.

And a mere six years after the first plane-colliding-with-school disaster, a jetliner decides to fall out of the sky… right above one of the replacement schools.

God damn it.

These schools must double as gasoline storage sites, because they explode immediately once a fire gets anywhere near them.

In SimCity, plane crashes are disasters that, unlike fires and chemical spills, can’t be prevented or avoided by placing a bunch of fire stations or maintaining a clean environment.  I suppose it’s a good thing that the plane didn’t fall right over the heart of the city, because the crash creates a fire that can quickly blaze out of control.  But to crash over the god damn school that replaced a school that was also destroyed by a plane accident?  Really?

Without even taking the time to mourn, the writers of the Courier immediately take the opportunity to chew the mayor out… for not having built enough schools.  Fuck you, the Courier.

A plane can’t possibly crash in this spot again… can it?  Anyway, we have to replace that school, so may as well put it right back where it originally stood.

In the meantime, life over in the southwest is going very nicely.  The mayor approved the building of a zoo full of exotic animals (some of them illegal to import into the country, but a few well-placed bribes took care of that) and a marina.  As your city’s population grows, your citizens will demand recreational activities, and these options (along with parks and stadiums) help keep them happy.  The marina in particular is great because you have to place it partially in water – despite the fact that it’s 3×3 tiles, the marina can take up one land tile and jut into a river or lake, freeing extra land for building.  Marinas also generate sailboats like this one.

Captain J. Scirica doesn’t have a care in the world, I bet.  What an asshole.  I wish I were him.

An extremely late review of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone (PS4)

If I haven’t been very active lately (aside from occasionally running SimCity 2000 on VirtualBox) it’s been for two reasons: first, I’ve had a lot to do at work, and second, I bought the unwieldly titled Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone, the latest in the line of Project Diva rhythm games that came out two months ago in North America, featuring android singer Hatsune Miku and friends.

Even though I’m an avowed weeaboo I’d never played a Project Diva game before Future Tone. This is not so much because I disliked the idea of Vocaloid as that I just wasn’t much into rhythm games. I’d played Persona 4: Dancing All Night, mainly because I’d also played P4 and liked the characters, and I played a lot of Audiosurf when it came out several years ago because it let you play any song in the universe if it existed as an mp3 on your hard drive. But despite my embarrassing level of weebness I had not gotten into the Vocaloid stuff quite so much.

Not until now. I’ve been pretty much addicted to Future Tone for the last week. The gameplay is addictive at its core – matching increasingly difficult button patterns and getting rewarded with flashing lights and a higher score at the end of the song seems to trigger something primal in the human brain. It’s like playing a slot machine, except unlike playing a slot machine, the outcome in Future Tone depends entirely upon your skill. And also unlike playing a slot machine, you won’t lose your life savings if you sit in front of Future Tone for 50 or 100 hours, a prospect that seems very likely considering how much content is in the game.

Because yes, Future Tone is stuffed chock fucking full of Vocaloid tunes. The base game itself is free, but the free download only includes two songs, so it’s really more like a demo – you can play those two songs as much as you want without paying a cent, but if you really want to play Future Tone you’ll have to buy the $50 bundle that contains the “Colorful Tone” and “Future Sound” song packs. They’re worth the price, because the entire package features about 200 songs both new and from past Project Diva games, each of which comes with a music video and charts set at various difficulties (along with dozens of unlockable alternate costumes and accessories and all the usual content you’d expect.)

And you know what? A lot of these songs are good. And this is coming from a puffed-up pompous music snob asshole. Most of the songs are either upbeat poppy tunes or ballads, with a few heavier rock/punkish songs thrown in and a few pure gimmick songs (like “Ievan Polkka”, the Finnish folk song that somehow became the very first Hatsune Miku hit ten years ago.) A few of the songs are clunkers, to be sure, and whether you’ll like some tracks depends on your tolerance for sugar-sweet cutesy vocals and imagery and embarrassing lyrics – though at least the lyrics are mostly in Japanese, so you probably won’t be able to understand them anyway. But the majority of the tunes on Future Tone are really catchy. Tell me you can listen to “Deep Sea City Underground” or “World’s End Dancehall” and not get them stuck in your head.

Here’s me playing World’s End Dancehall on Easy because I’m a puss.

One of the things people puzzle most over about the whole Vocaloid phenomenon is that it’s “fake”. The various performers in Future Tone – Miku, Luka, fraternal twins Rin and Len, and the rest – are all really just different voice packages created with Yamaha’s Vocaloid music software with avatars attached. They’re electronic singers, not human ones. Vocaloid music, in that sense, really is “manufactured.” But so is all commercial pop music! Is Miku really any more manufactured than Katy Perry, who can’t sing for shit without the help of autotune? And anyway, the real measure of good pop weighs in Miku’s favor – some of Miku’s songs featured on Future Tone are a hell of a lot better than Katy Perry’s biggest hits. (See, the snobby music asshole comes out again. I can’t contain him for long.)  (Also, I really don’t hate Katy Perry at all.  I don’t even know her.)

Anyway, if we’re going to have pop stars, better to have electronic ones.  Miku, after all, isn’t in danger of developing a drug habit, or of being photographed vomiting in an alley after getting trashed in a nightclub.  The tabloid publishers will lose out, but they can just write more articles about how some actor or politician is secretly gay.  Besides, eventually robots are going to take all the jobs away from humans once they become advanced enough, and then they’ll probably revolt and murder us once they realize they don’t need us anymore.  So in a way, Vocaloid represents the beginning of the inevitable fall of humanity.

When the robots conquer Earth, they won’t let us dress them up in cute outfits anymore

I’m way off track now. Just, look, if you like rhythm games, buy Future Tone. It’s good. And some of the tracks are really head-breakingly hard, so you’ll find a lot of challenge in this game if you’re looking for that. God knows the rhythm game genre is one of the few that hasn’t been dumbed down in terms of difficulty.