But nobody came: A non-review of Undertale

Nobody is shutting up about Undertale. It’s won accolades as the best game of 2015 from many reviewers, even from the crotchety bastard Yahtzee Croshaw (probably my favorite reviewer, even though he absolutely hates JRPGs, the bastard.)

So I’m not going to give Undertale a traditional review.  As much as I liked this game, there’s really no point to throwing my own inconsequential opinion on top of the pile of millions of other thumbs-up, A+ and five star reviews. Instead, I’m going to tell you when I knew that this game really was different from the standard RPG/dungeon crawler/puzzle game it came off as at first.

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There are some spoilers here about the first chapter of the game and about one character in particular, so if you haven’t played it at all and want to go in totally fresh, there’s your warning. If you’ve started to play but have lost interest after 20 or so minutes for whatever reason, though – maybe this will encourage you to keep playing!

I went into Undertale almost completely raw. All I knew was that several people had told me that I had to play this game, and for once, I took their advice. The only other thing I knew was that there were generally two approaches to the game: either kill your enemies or befriend them.  I wanted to see both endings, and I decided to start with the “kill everything” route.  Thus I began my Undertale journey by blazing a trail of destruction through the ruins, the setting of the game’s first chapter.  I grinded like a good RPG player, killing monsters I encountered and gaining EXP and LV.  I had a “MERCY” option as well, which I supposed I should have used if I wanted to make friends with the monsters facing me.  I didn’t need that option for what I was doing.

Eventually, I cleared the ruins of monsters.  The music changed to a creepy low-pitched rumbling, and strangely, I kept having enemy encounters, but no monsters appeared on the screen.  Just one statement, printed in small text: “But nobody came.”

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The screen you get when you’ve cleared the area of monsters.

Okay, that’s… weird.  But as long as I’m making progress, hey, whatever.

My path of destruction led me to Toriel’s home.  This motherly goat lady had saved my life at the beginning of the game and now offered me a new place to live, a refuge from the dangers of the underground world.  However, I had no interest in living in some little underground house.  I had to get back to my own home.  And I suspected that I’d have to get rid of Toriel to get there.

This is gonna be hard.

This is gonna be hard.

I ran down the stairs into the basement, which turned out to be a tunnel into the rest of the underground world, where I’d be able to hopefully find a way back to the surface.  Sure enough, Toriel blocked my way out of the ruins and refused to move.  As much as I liked this lady, she was in my fuckin’ way, and so she’d have to go down.  I’m King Badass of Big Shit Mountain and nobody is going to stand in my way and survive.  Not even my new sort-of adoptive mother.

She went down in one hit.  I’d expected her to put up a fight, but no.  Apparently she didn’t really think I’d attack her.

I felt really bad about what I’d done right after the fight ended.  My feelings were confirmed in the next room after the gate exiting the ruins, where I ran into “Flowey the Flower”, as he calls himself.

Let's not and say we did

Let’s not and say we did

This asshole flower tried to kill me in the first scene of the game, and Toriel saved my life.  How could I have killed her?  Even if she had been standing in my way, she’d only had my best interests in mind by trying to keep me in the ruins, away from the dangers of the rest of the underground.

Well, shit.

I quit my “kill everything” strategy.   In fact, I started at the beginning with a new file.  I didn’t really have the stomach to kill everyone I came across, especially not Toriel.  I hadn’t anticipated that I’d actually give a shit about the characters in this little puzzle dungeon RPG thing, but sure enough, I did.  And thankfully, on my new save, I was able to spare everyone and progress.  Even Toriel let me leave the ruins after several bouts of bullet-dodging showed her that I was ready to find a way to the surface, back to human civilization.

I was making friends with everyone, and it all seemed to be going great.  Until I met this flower again.

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He knew.  He knew I’d killed Toriel in my aborted first playthrough.  I could save over my old file, but I couldn’t erase what I had done.  The game remembered, and it wouldn’t let me forget.

This is just the first in a series of “what the fuck” moments that Undertale has to offer the player.  And these moments are what set it apart from the standard RPG/dungeon crawler/puzzle game.  As much as I enjoy hating popular things because it’s cool to do that, the hype surrounding Undertale is entirely justified.  If you haven’t played the game and you ignored my warning near the top of this page, here’s my full review of Undertale: play it.  It’s only ten dollars to buy (available both on Steam and on creator Toby Fox’s website.)  That’s a bargain for what you’ll get in return.  The soundtrack is really good too.

Okay, that’s all I’m going to write about Undertale.  The game seems to be starting to get a massive fandom now, and it’s honestly getting a little weird.  If I had waited three more months to get this game, in fact, I might have been put off of it forever by its inevitable legions of creepy obsessive fans.  I’m not talking about people who just like the game, I’m talking about people who roleplay the game’s characters on message boards and write fanfiction.  I think some of them might be furries, too.  Not that any of that is the fault of Toby Fox, but still – play the game before the weirdos spoil it for you!

Spooky RPG Maker game review: Blank Dream

Before I start this review, a warning: this game deals strongly with the theme of suicide.  Please leave this page now if you don’t feel comfortable reading about this subject.

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Of the several RPG Maker games I played or watched during my marathon RPG Maker spooky game session a week ago, Blank Dream was both the best and the most emotionally moving.  If I’m being totally, completely honest, I got all verklempt when I got to the true ending of this game.  I was a little bit choked up, which is a thing for me, a person who has not gotten emotional at either an artistic work (minus possibly one) or a personal circumstance for over a decade.  It may be that I’m an emotionally stunted man – I almost definitely am – but it may also be that Blank Dream is just that good.

Blank Dream tells the story of Mishiro Usui, a high school girl who faces bullying and abuse at school and extreme pressure from her family at home.  These stresses drive Mishiro to kill herself by drowning in a lake.  When she wakes up in a strange shadowy world, however, Mishiro has no memory of who she is.  By looking into mirrors scattered around this limbo she’s found herself in, Mishiro slowly recovers her memories and realizes the wish that led her to commit suicide – her desire not only to die, but to erase herself entirely from existence.

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The above description makes Blank Dream sound like a bleak and lonely game, and in some ways it is.  The mirrors that the player has to find are located in parts of limbo with names like the Realm of Spirits, the Realm of Blood, and the Realm of Death, and in typical RPG Maker horror game fashion, each of these realms contains puzzles that the player must solve and enemies that must be avoided.   However, Mishiro also is joined in her search by two other dead characters: Ryotaro, a professional-looking guy in a suit, and Yuzu, another high school-aged girl who claims to have been stuck in limbo for several years.  These characters also have mirrors that the player can find, and their stories are intertwined with Mishiro’s.

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As described above, Blank Dream involves many heavy themes.  Certain characters contemplate and talk about stress, depression, and suicide.  It’s easy to imagine how a game creator could screw this up badly, because Blank Dream also contains the kinds of jumpscares and chase sequences involving spirits and monsters that could cheapen the experience (a problem that the otherwise good RPG Maker horror game Misao suffers from.) However, Blank Dream doesn’t suffer from these kinds of abrupt tonal shifts.

The game features plenty of deadly traps, blood-thirsty ghosts, and chases down darkened hallways, but they all work in the context of the larger story because they represent challenges that Mishiro must face to make it to her mirrors and to recover her memories. Many of these traps, like the one above, require creative thinking on the part of the player to solve. A lack of creativity in problem-solving usually leads to death. (How can Mishiro die in limbo if she’s already dead? There really is a reason for this – play the game and find out!)

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There are five different endings to this game, but it’s not all that difficult to achieve the true ending if you’re paying attention. I mentioned that I got misty at the true ending. Just to be clear, I’m not the sort of person who goes for tearjerkers at all – movies, novels, and games that go straight for the tear ducts do absolutely nothing for me, and they usually just piss me off (see John Green’s critically acclaimed but absolute bullshit Young Adult novel The Fault In Our Stars for a good example of this kind of work.) Blank Dream doesn’t feel manipulative at all, though, maybe because the characters are written so well. This game doesn’t feel like it was made just to pull at the heartstrings; it tells a compelling story that feels real. And that’s the key, I think. (Though as John Green proved with his own novel, you can just be straight up manipulative in your story-telling and still sell millions of copies and get a movie made based on it that gets an 80% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Seriously, fuck you, John Green. I like your Youtube history series, though.)

Unfortunately, I can’t really say anything else about the game without giving away spoilers – Blank Dream is that kind of game. So all I can do is recommend it. If you’re looking for a really well-made RPG Maker game that has good puzzles and a great story, and if you don’t mind playing a game that deals with suicide and other heavy themes, Blank Dream is made for you. Blank Dream was produced by a company called Teriyaki Tomato (yes, really) and an English version of the game can be downloaded here.

Spooky RPG Maker game review: Bevel’s Painting

Over the break, I had the chance to play and watch a series of freeware RPG Maker (and Wolf RPG Editor) games with horror themes with a few friends.  (Before I go on, I should note that we weren’t recording ourselves uncontrollably shrieking at the games, like a handful of Pewdiepie imitators hoping to make it big with Youtube ad revenue.  Also, Pewdiepie’s routine is not funny and gets extremely irritating after about three seconds.  Sorry for the digression, but after writing off and on about video and PC games for over two years I finally had to say it.)

Despite technically all being “horror games”, the games we played in our weekend RPG Maker marathon varied pretty widely in theme and approach.  And while it wasn’t the best among the games, Bevel’s Painting was certainly one of the most interesting.

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Made in 2015 as an entry in an independent game contest by one Maninu, Bevel’s Painting tells the story of Bevel, a young white-haired girl who enjoys painting.  There’s not much in the way of dialogue in this game, and Bevel is a silent protagonist, so a lot of the story is implied, if that makes any sense.  Here, we know Bevel is a budding artist because she starts the game in an art classroom in front of an easel with a painting on it, and also because she wears something that looks like a beret.  Other than that, the game initially gives you no direction or narration, and Bevel’s classmates standing around in little cliques in the hallway outside the classroom won’t talk to her, so the only place to go is naturally inside the painting on the easel.

The great bulk of Bevel’s Painting takes place inside the “world” of Bevel’s painting.  Bevel has to navigate through various puzzles and traps to progress through her world.  While her art world starts out bright and happy (in a sequence that occurs shortly after entering the painting, Bevel is magically decked out in a princess outfit by animals and gets applauded by a crowd of colorful bees, worms, and alien-looking creatures) it doesn’t stay that way for long.  This is a horror game, after all, so it’s no surprise when the initial cheeriness of the game fades away into darkness and terror.  You can also expect to be chased by enemies a few times – and yes, you can die in the painting world if you’re caught or if you fall into a trap.  And like most games of its type, Bevel offers a number of endings – which ending you get depends upon several choices you’ll have to make when deciding how to solve the game’s puzzles.  The game also features a language gimmick: most of its text is in “Bevelese”, which is English with its letters replaced with gibberish symbols (the game helpfully offers a guide in the download file to help the player decode the language.)  The Bevelese thing does come as a surprise at first and can be a little annoying, but we quickly got used to it while playing, and the concept of a made-up language within Bevel’s art world makes sense in the game.

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Out of all the games I played/watched throughout our marathon horror RPG Maker game sessions, Bevel gives you the least information by far.  The game drops clues about where to go and what to do, but you have to use your mind to make the connections and solve the puzzles necessary to moving forward.  It also gives very little away about the story behind Bevel’s explorations – at least at first.  Bevel is (debatably) the only “real” character in the game, not counting the various creatures and beings you’ll run into during your playthrough.  The game doesn’t provide much in the way of dialogue and provides no narration whatsoever.  However, the game does provide serious hints later on about some of the issues Bevel might be trying to work through.  Without spoiling too much, I can say that the game goes into seriously dark territory near the end – although it never explicitly states anything about its protagonist, her experiences, or her feelings, they can be guessed at by the end of the game depending upon the ending route you’re locked into.  Bevel’s Painting goes far more for ambiguous creepiness and unease than it does for cheap scares, and that’s something I appreciate.

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All in all, Bevel’s Painting is well worth playing.  The game clearly owes a lot to Ib and Yume Nikki, two popular RPG Maker games that involve exploring mirror-universe painting-worlds and bizarre dreamscapes respectively.  Unlike those games, Bevel is very short – a full playthrough can take less than an hour depending upon your puzzle-solving and being-chased-by-a-monster skills.  Despite its short length and its ambiguous endings, though, there’s enough here to make the player feel that he’s achieved something by the end, at least if he manages to get one of the non-bad endings.  It’s not a terribly big or ambitious game, but Bevel is good enough to get a strong recommendation.  It doesn’t feature a lot of spooky ghosts or JUMPSCARES, but if you’re looking for a bizarre little exploration game with horror elements, Bevel’s Painting is for you.  Maninu’s game was translated into English (except for the Bevelese parts) by vgperson and the English version can be downloaded here.

Seven great video game tracks (part 2)

I love music and I love video games (well, some of it/them, anyway.) So how can I limit myself to writing only one post about video game music? Here’s another one.

1) Final Fantasy VII – Reunion

This is one of the most haunting tracks that ever came out of a mid-90s RPG.  If you’ve played Final Fantasy VII, you’ll know what event this track pairs with.  If you haven’t, it’s where the main character realizes that his whole life has been a lie.  Oh yeah, spoilers.

Honestly, the spoiler won't make any sense until you've played the game most of the way to the big revelation. Also, FF7 was released in 1997, so the spoilers statute of limitations has passed.

Honestly, the spoiler won’t make any sense until you’ve played the game most of the way to the big revelation. Also, FF7 was released in 1997, so the spoilers statute of limitations has passed.

Anyway, Nobuo Uematsu is a genius when it comes to video game music.  This is one of the most understated, quiet pieces in an FF game, but it’s effective as hell.

2) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Chemical Plant Zone

Sometimes you just want to play a game where you’re a blue hedgehog rolling around fucking everything up.  And not one of the god-awful fuck 3D Sonic games like Sonic 06.  I mean the real thing.  The old Genesis games had proper background music, and Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2 has one of the best tracks in the history of the franchise.  It’s a techno early 90s Sega Genesis track and that’s all you need to know.

3) Yume Nikki – Dense Woods A

Modern horror movies are garbage.  At least, the ones that are made and air in my country are garbage.  People go to the theater to say “oh no a thing moved in the corner of the screen” for 120 minutes.  But what can you expect from the same people who think Mamma Mia is worth giving money to a person to see.

At some point, anyway, you have to admit that our horror movies are garbage and to turn to video games, which keep the horror genre alive.  And among these games, old-school looking RPG Maker games such as Ib and The Witch’s House are surprisingly effective.   The great-granddaddy of these games is Yume Nikki, a freeware piece made by a mysterious man known only as KIKIYAMA.  Yume Nikki translates as “Dream Diary” and is about Madotsuki, a young girl who refuses to leave her 150th story apartment bedroom/balcony and lives her life through her dreams.  Her dreams happen to be mostly disturbing as fuck, and it’s your job as the player to guide Madotsuki through her dreams and to collect all the “effects” that let her use various powers.

Your dream always starts on the balcony. The sky is dark and the landscape is desolate. Play this game with the lights off at midnight.

Your dream always starts on the balcony. The sky is dark and the landscape is desolate. Play this game with the lights off at midnight.

Yume Nikki excels in creating a mood, and its background music adds to this effect.  The tracks are simple but incredibly haunting, and they’re extremely effective in the game itself.  Do yourself a favor and go play Yume Nikki if you haven’t already.  With the lights off at midnight.

(Ib and The Witch’s House both have really good BGMs too, and they’re far more horror in aim and theme than Yume Nikki, which is more of a surreal dream game.  So if you’re looking to actually piss yourself, go for those instead.)

4) Outrun – the whole BGM

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All of it.  This is a pure nostalgia pick, because like many other people in their late 20s Outrun is one of the first racing video games I ever remember playing, in my case as a small child who could barely manipulate the Genesis controller in an effective fashion.  But that 16-bit music certainly got stuck in my brain, even if I couldn’t get past the damn checkpoints most of the time.  There are certainly better soundtracks out there – this one is really more “background music” than a soundtrack – but it’s a very dynamic set of songs that doesn’t wear on me with successive listens.

5) Digital Devil Saga 2 – Hunting – Betrayal

The two Digital Devil Saga games are worthy additions to the Shin Megami Tensei family of games.  They’re much more traditional JRPGs than the mainline SMT games and other spinoffs – DDS doesn’t feature demon recruitment at all – but they’re well-crafted and tell an interesting story.  They also feature the always fantastic work of Shoji Meguro, who fully deserves a place in the video game soundtrack pantheon along with Uematsu.  And “Hunting – Betrayal” is one of his best battle themes, maybe his best ever.  The pure tension in this piece is astounding.  Listen to it with the dial turned to 10.

6) Umineko no Naku Koro ni – Dead Angle

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I’ve already taken a look at Umineko, but it’s worth bringing up again that this visual novel series has an amazing soundtrack, and “Dead Angle” is one of the best tracks in the game.  For the unfamiliar, Umineko is a very long visual novel mystery series about a family that is almost entirely murdered on a private island.  The game mixes up mystery with supernatural elements, and one of the central themes of Umineko is deals with the existence of magic and the line between reality and fantasy.  The game is honestly kind of a mess, but it’s a fascinating mess and, in the end, a satisfying story.  And the music is fantastic.

7) Final Fantasy VIII – Force Your Way

Speaking of Uematsu – again – this is my favorite Final Fantasy battle theme.  I didn’t love Final Fantasy VIII.  It was a good game, but it also had lots of problems, and the soap opera-level love story was fairly balls in my opinion.  However, the gameplay is still classic FF at this point, and the soundtrack is excellent.

I don’t normally read Youtube comments, because they tend to be so stupid that you can’t understand how the commenter managed to remember to breathe for long enough to write the comment and send it, but some user on the site aptly observed that “Force Your Way” sounds like the composer wrote eight different intros to a battle theme and shoved them all together.  And it works.  Even if the story of FF8 kinda doesn’t.

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Seven more interesting/weird search terms

A while back, I addressed some questions visitors typed into Google that brought them to this site.  I also tried to address some of the stranger search terms I found in my blog stats.  I enjoy thinking about this kind of thing, and as I have previously said, my website is a public service.  So get educated and read the following:

1) true demon run matador battle nocturne

As I’ve said way too many times on this site, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is one of my favorite games of all time.  However, it also throws the player into the deep end of the pool, and then into the even deeper end, and then into an end even deeper than that.  The Matador battle is the first instance at which you will realize that Nocturne is not fucking around.

Time to get the buffs

Matador’s here, time to get the buffs

The key to beating Matador is having the right demons with the right skills.  Matador will beat the hell out of your party if any of your demons are weak to his force skills (the elemental equivalent of wind.)  Unfortunately, by the time you reach Matador you’ll probably just be around level 14 or so, and your demon recruitment/fusion choices will be fairly limited.  The best party at this point, realistically, should include Uzume (immune to force and has Media, an all-heal spell) and should not include any demon that’s weak to force.  You’ll need to be level 18 to fuse her, so if you’re not, get to grinding.

Matador will also buff his speed and accuracy to a point where he’ll be getting guaranteed hits and will be near impossible to hit himself – the best way to deal with this aspect of the fight is to get the Fog Breath skill on Demifiend from the magatama Wadatsumi.  Pounding Matador with Fog Breath will slow him down and make the battle manageable.

Nocturne is all about thinking tactically.  Brute force is typically not the answer to beating a boss in this game.  Matador is just the game’s way of expressing this point to players who haven’t yet gotten it.

2) nasa space diapers photo

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Everyone who knows anything about astronauts knows that all astronauts wear diapers.  When you’re locked inside a giant airtight suit in the unimaginably vast near-vacuum of space performing repairs to a billion dollar orbiting space telescope, you can’t just go to a port-a-potty, so you have to wear diapers.  What few people know is that it was the development of space diapers for adults that led to advances in earth diapers for babies.

Here’s a pair of real astronaut diapers:

IMGP2699 space diapers

3) do you have sex in persona 3 portable

Persona 3 Portable is a game made for the PSP.  So if you’re asking whether there are sex scenes in the game, that should answer your question.  That said, P3P does feature the possibility of a relationship between a girl in high school and a boy in elementary school, so there’s that.

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You know that if male protagonist in P3 tried dating the depressed little girl in the park social link, which would be fucking weird and creepy at best, the police would be cooling his ass off in a jail cell for the entirety of the game.  Talk about some double standards.

4) is nescafe bad for you

I’m assuming that this searcher was inquiring about the instant coffee powder that Nescafe makes and that inhabits every cupboard in the non-Western world.  From what I can tell, Nescafe is not bad for you unless you consume so much of it that you die from a caffeine overdose.  Any other use of Nescafe should be fine, including sprinkling it on top of ice cream or dumping it in gin and taking shots.*

*I AM NOT A DOCTOR AND THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE.  PLEASE DON’T DO THIS.

5) freedom planet lilac hentai manga

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It’s depressing to me that my readership is apparently composed of furries who are looking for porn.

For the uninformed, Freedom Planet is a really good Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man X homage platformer.  I reviewed it here.  Also for the uninformed, this is Lilac, the main character of Freedom Planet:

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If you really want to see porn based on this character, Rule 34 dictates that are plenty of places to find it.  But I’m not fucking helping you with that.

6) public domain best & rare world famous wallpaper download

It’s funny to me that someone was looking for a public domain image that is both “rare” and “world famous” at the same time.  Seems like an oxymoron – if it’s so rare, would it be world famous?  It’s even funnier that this search brought the anonymous seeker to my degenerate furry hentai video game website.

Anyway, I’m here for the people, so this is the first result for public domain best & rare world famous wallpaper download on Google Image Search:

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Pretty nice.  I wish I were there.  Of course, this isn’t my wallpaper.  My wallpaper is naturally of my waifu.

Oh Horo why can't you be real ;_;

Oh Horo why can’t you be real ;_;

7) welcome to the nhk too real

… yeah.  Yeah.

Though if I’m anyone from Welcome to the NHK!, I’m not suffering shut-in Satou, but rather shameless nerd Yamazaki.

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I’ve been told that I have had drunken nerd freakouts similar to this one that I don’t remember.

Also, this:

;_;

;_;

I hope this exploration into the darkness of the human psyche was useful to you.  I have exams, so I’m going to be off for a few weeks, but I’ll be back if my Securities Regulation exam doesn’t cause me to have a heart attack and die in class, Electronic Bluebook running in front of my lifeless body with a half-finished answer to one question out of five.  Wish me luck.

Atlus: Persona 5 to be released not after 2022

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In a recent statement, Atlus promised that the highly anticipated RPG Persona 5 would not be delayed beyond the end of 2022.

“We’re trying to give the fans the kind of quality game that they’re expecting,” the company stated in a press release.  “We know a lot of people are looking forward to Persona 5, and we don’t want to disappoint them with a subpar game.”

Game director Katsura Hashino recently announced that the new Persona title would feature a cast of high school students being haunted by a series of strange occurrences.  “We’re really excited about this,” Hashino said in an interview.  “It’s a totally new direction for the series, if you don’t count Persona 4, Persona 3, Persona 2, or Persona.”

In the meantime, an Atlus spokesman noted, fans can look forward to the following upcoming Persona games with fixed release dates in 2015 and 2016:

Persona 4: Cooking All Day

Akihiko Sanada: Boxing Legend

Persona 4 Absolute Arena Platinum Ultimate

Fire Persona X (a crossover of Persona 3/4, Fire Emblem, and Final Fantasy X)

Dojima and Adachi’s Drunk Karaoke Challenge

Shut up and dance: A review of Persona 4: Dancing All Night

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I didn’t really plan on buying or reviewing Persona 4: Dancing All Night.  “A rhythm game?” I said to myself, dismissively, when I heard about this game.  “I shall not stoop to buy such an obvious cash-in.  I loved Persona 4 and Persona 4 Golden, and Atlus knows that and they’re just trying to get into my wallet.  But I have more integrity than they think.  Just fucking release Persona 5 already, please.”

Then I saw a friend playing the game on his own Vita and decided I wanted it.  Because really, Dancing All Night isn’t just a toss-off – it’s really a good rhythm game.  It even tries to have a plot, and the plot almost isn’t totally stupid!  Almost.

Protagonist (now officially named Yu Narukami, though I can’t get used to it because I never called him that in my P4 playthroughs) and his Investigation Team friends are roped into joining their fellow Investigator and former pop idol Rise Kujikawa for her big comeback as her backup dancers.*  She’s re-debuting at a big concert alongside Kanamin Kitchen, a newly popular girl group with a bizarre and slightly creepy animal/meat theme.

Is it a commentary on how pop idols are treated like meat by their fans, as mere eye candy? Is Persona 4 Dancing All Night really a deep and philosophical game?

Is it a commentary on how pop idols are treated like meat by their fans, as mere eye candy? Is Persona 4: Dancing All Night really a deep and philosophical game?

As you could guess from the instant you meet them, every member of Kanamin Kitchen gets dragged into a shadow-filled world and the Investigation Team has to save them.  Protagonist’s uncle Dojima, a grizzled detective, is also on the case, and he discovers that a bunch of fans of the group are going into comas after watching a creepy video on the internet, and these people are naturally being dragged into the shadow world too.  (As a nice reference for players of Persona 3, this condition is referred to as Apathy Syndrome.  Though we already got a P3 cameo in Persona 4 Golden and a P4 cameo in Persona 3 Portable, so this isn’t really a big deal.)

The big twist about this shadow world is that, until the TV world of P4, the characters can’t fight or summon their personas through the usual methods.  Instead – no joke – they have to dance to defeat the shadows and save each pop star.  Somehow, dancing well makes the shadows happy, then they dissipate into the air and blow away.  Or something.  The game tried to explain this, but it still doesn’t make any sense.

Even in Persona dancing games you have to battle supernatural monsters that are expressions of your dark inner self

Even in Persona dancing games you have to enter an evil shadow world to battle supernatural monsters that are expressions of your dark inner self

So the story really isn’t much of anything.  Story Mode is pretty short and is just kind of there as a placeholder – as far as visual novels go it’s about as light as you can get.  But the point of this game isn’t its deep and engaging plot.  The point is getting to see your favorite P4 characters bust moves to the great Persona music that you’ve come to both love and completely get sick of after hearing it five thousand times in battle and while running around town.  Every member of the Investigation Team takes the stage at some point, and all of them can be played in Free Mode.  A new character is also thrown into the mix, and as a special treat for fans Nanako is also a playable character.  Though the whole subplot involving Nanako, a little girl, performing pop idol songs on stage in front of millions of fans is kind of weird in itself.

All that aside, the gameplay is a lot of fun.  The game makes use of three of the four button on each side of the Vita (only the -> and ◻ go unused) and players can also tap the screen to use the scratch function.  Most of the songs also allow the main dancer to pick a partner to jump in at some point if the player’s hitting the notes well enough.  Mercifully, the game offers easy, normal and hard mode versions of each song, so even if you’re total crap at rhythm games you should be able to get through it.  And the music itself is obviously great.  My favorite battle theme “Time to Make History” is thankfully in there, and there are plenty of other plain unadorned tracks from P4 together with remixes, most of which are good (though I could easily leave a few of them.)

The developers obviously put a lot of attention into the details.  Each character’s dance style really matches their character (ex: Chie does a lot of kicks/kung fu stuff, Kanji headbangs) and the other characters cheer their friends on while they dance.  (My favorite: Nanako commenting on Protagonist and Yosuke’s “bromance” when they’re paired up.)  Atlus also thoughtfully included a lot of unlockable costumes and DLC for each character, some of which are extremely fanservicey.  So if you enjoy hearing Chie complain about you making her wear a bikini while she dances, this is the game for you.  You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.

But did you expect any less?

But did you expect any less?

All in all, I have to say I’m pretty happy that I got this game.  It’s a fun diversion from my bullshit law student life. I also really like the fact that both this somewhat fluffy, fanservicey rhythm game sits in the same Shin Megami Tensei franchise as the hardcore dark Lucifer-worshipping face-breakingly-difficult Nocturne.  Though Nanako dancing to the Junes theme is pretty fucking hardcore too.

* For those who didn’t play P4, the story behind this is that Rise retired from show business to settle down back in her hometown at the ripe old age of 15, where she gets tangled up in the events of the game. Apparently Japan retires pop stars before they even reach their majority.