Retrospective: After Dark

When I set up a Windows 98 virtual machine for the purposes of starting my godawful SimCity 2000 series, I also picked up a few different .iso files to run on it.  One of those wasn’t a game, but rather a collection of screensavers bearing the title After Dark 4.0 Deluxe, released in 1996 by long-defunct developer Berkeley Systems.

After Dark 4.0, which also contained a collection of screensavers from older versions.

What’s the big deal about a bunch of screensavers, you might be saying to your screen.  The big deal is that screensavers were very much “the shit” back in the mythical period of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when flat-screen computer monitors were unheard of.  At that time, everyone used CRT monitors, great bulky heavy things that made a satisfying smashing sound when you dropped broken ones out of a twelve-story window into an empty alleyway.*  The primary trouble with the CRT, aside from its weight and size, was the fact that images left on the screen for a long enough period of time would become “burnt in”, leaving faint shadows of themselves behind even when the screen was turned off.

In order to prevent this, the first screensaver was developed and released in 1983.  This screensaver and its immediate successors simply made a screen go black after several minutes of no activity, preventing the image of the desktop from being burnt into it.  By 1989, however, Mac and later PC users could avail themselves of After Dark, a program that contained a whole collection of creative, colorful, and sometimes bizarre screensavers. They were often customizable and occasionally even interactive – a few contained pretty fun mini-games. After Dark quickly became a massive hit – sort of the pre-internet version of going viral, in which more and more screens seemed to be running After Dark screensavers.  The 4.0 release was the final one, however; by the late 90s screen burn-in wasn’t really so much of a problem, and people apparently decided they were happy enough with the default Mac and Windows screensavers.  Berkeley Systems was sold soon thereafter and eventually folded.

Since screen burn-in certainly isn’t a problem for me today, on my flat screen running VirtualBox, I downloaded the After Dark 4.0 .iso file for entirely nostalgic purposes.  And since this is my god damn game review website, I can write a quasi-review of something that isn’t a game if I feel like it, and I do.  The following are my favorite After Dark screensaver modules, loosely ordered:

Bad Dog!

This module features a spotted black and white dog that jumps onto your desktop and starts digging holes, tearing components of your computer out, and making a complete mess of things.  I enjoyed watching this dog utterly destroy my family computer at home, mainly because the destruction was purely cosmetic and temporary.  I can imagine a few old folks panicking at this screensaver, though, if they didn’t know quite how it worked.  A nice prank to play on Grandpa, maybe.

For some reason, Bad Dog! turns my desktop red and blue on VirtualBox.  I don’t know why.  The screensaver isn’t supposed to do this.

Puzzle

Puzzle also wrecks your desktop, this time by turning it into a sliding-block game that never ends.  This is yet another good potential “let’s prank Grandpa” screensaver, though he’s probably caught on by this point.  I always wondered about whether the puzzle might somehow return the desktop to its original state at some point.  The odds of that happening are probably incredibly small.

Confetti Factory

A factory full of steel bars and conveyor belts collects falling confetti that builds up into multi-colored mountains.  Every once in a while, the factory staff goes on break, and ducks cross the screen while quacking.  Like many of the After Dark screensavers, it doesn’t make sense, but it is relaxing to watch for some reason.

Rodger Dodger

Rodger Dodger isn’t so much a screensaver as it is a game.  You are the purple-green morphing soccer ball, and your object is to get through all 20 levels by collecting the green squiggles and getting to the goal while avoiding the spiky hazards that move either in one direction or randomly around the game board. It wasn’t anything special really, but it was surprisingly fun for a mini-game that came bundled with a screensaver collection, and I’m sure many thousands upon thousands of bored, dead-inside office workers wasted some company time with it.  Just make sure to point your screen away from your boss and facing a wall so he can’t catch you goldbricking.

Rat Race

Rat Race is not a simulation of the soul-draining, suicidal-depression-inducing competition for material goods and meaningless honors that our society demands of us all, but rather of a literal race where rats are the contestants.  It’s fun to bet with your friends on which rat will win, and then to scream at the screen when it turns out you picked the dipshit rat who doesn’t understand that he’s supposed to run in one direction around the track instead of running in circles and grooming himself.  Damn it, Doug, what are you doing?  I bet five dollars on you.

Flying Toasters

Yeah, of course Flying Toasters.  Flying Toasters is maybe 99% of what people remember about After Dark and the company that developed it.  A flying toaster is on the box of the physical copy of After Dark 4.0 that I don’t own and was more or less the mascot of its developer.  The image of the flying toaster was featured in the 90s drama Beverly Hills 90210, and a band that somehow still exists and is touring named themselves The Flying Toasters.  The flying toasters even inspired a lawsuit against Berkeley Systems by members of the 60s-70s band Jefferson Airplane, who complained that the image of a silver toaster with wings was too similar to the winged toaster on the cover of its 1973 live album Thirty Seconds Over Winterland to not be a violation of its copyright. (They lost.)**

There were at least three or four versions of the Flying Toasters screensaver, each one more complex than the last.  The first was pretty simple – just a bunch of toasters with wings flying through a black sky alongside some flying pieces of toast.  By 4.0, the newest Flying Toasters screensaver included baby toasters, speeding toasters being chased by police toasters (complete with red sirens), toasters juggling pieces of toast between each of their compartments, toasters performing loop-de-loops and barrel rolls, and even bagels.  I prefer the simpler versions, myself.

Starry Night

My favorite screensaver ever.  Starry Night was on the very first After Dark release in 1989, and it was one of the most commonly used together with Flying Toasters.  Yellow pixels blink into existence eventually forming a city skyline against the night sky, full of multicolored stars, with an occasional falling meteor.  You can adjust the height and number of buildings on screen, which generate randomly.  Very simple, but very nice and relaxing to watch, especially on a dark night.

Unfortunately, screensavers are no longer much of a thing – who needs After Dark to waste time with at work when you have the internet?  Especially now that we have smartphones that the boss can’t prevent us from using.  Still, these were a small part of my childhood growing up in the 90s, and I felt like giving them a proper tribute.  If you’re interested in playing with these old screensavers, you can find a copy of the .iso file here.  You can also buy a physical copy online if you feel like paying someone for their old disc.  You’ll probably need to set up a virtual machine, though – I don’t think there’s any way in hell any modern operating system will run it.

* This is purely hypothetical and not something that we did on a drunken dare one night when I was in college.

** Jefferson Airplane v. Berkeley Systems, Inc., 886 F. Supp. 713 (N.D. Cal. 1994).  The court found that Jefferson Airplane could not properly bring a lawsuit against Berkeley Systems on the basis of copyright infringement because they hadn’t registered the image of the flying toaster on the cover of their album with the U.S. Copyright Office.  In general, copyright can be established without registration, but a suit for infringement can’t be sustained without it.  See 17 U.S.C. § 411(a).

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SimCity 2000, Part XII: Build That Wall

About 150 years after its founding, Hell is just about bursting at the seams.  The city has some land left to build upon in the corners and edges of its limits, but that land is hilly and difficult to effectively develop.  The traffic has gotten so bad in the city as a result that the mayor finally approved the construction of a limited-service subway system connected to the main rail line.

Subways are pretty goddamn expensive to build in SimCity 2000, so the hope is that citizens will ride it to alleviate traffic problems.  Nobody’s riding the new subway system yet, but it may take them some time to get used to the concept of underground travel by train.  Considering the fact that the mayor is using secondhand East German tram cars that move at 15 miles per hour in order to cut costs, the citizens of Hell may be right to avoid the subway for now.

Still, something has to be done to allow for more growth.  The mayor and his friends need a larger tax base to make more money to build unnecessary projects and to hold elaborate parties featuring ice statues that urinate fountains of expensive vodka.* The real problem at this point isn’t traffic, but space.  Most of the good land has been used.  Most of the southern part of the city’s grant is still empty, but the mayor and the city’s elite don’t want the common rabble anywhere near their retreat in the southwest.  What to do?

After a few brainstorming sessions in his Scarface-esque mansion, the mayor decides on a new plan for growth that cedes the southeastern corner of the city’s grant, currently empty, for further development.

This is a nice, promising patch of land, but for one problem: the big fucking hole in the middle of it.  Holes in cities aren’t very convenient as far as building goes – placing zones and roads through them is possible, but it’s so awkward that they basically have to be built around.  However, there is a solution to this problem: the terrain-editing tools.  We’ve already used the lower terrain tool to make room for a stadium in our city.  Now let’s use the level terrain tool to get rid of this annoying hole.

Drag straight over the damn thing, and it’s gone.  Now the site of Hell’s newest neighborhood is ready for development.

Before building, however, a barrier has to be built, both to define the boundaries of this new development and to keep it out of view and away from the upper-class southwestern district.  We can’t have the grubby hoi polloi stinking up the nice part of town, can we?  In fact, this was one of the conditions the mayor placed upon the development of this area.  So what’s the best way to create this boundary?

The raise terrain tool!  We can’t build an actual barrier with wood or bricks or anything, but we can build an earthen wall with this tool.

The wall is up.  Now Hell can safely expand into this new territory.  Though the mayor thinks the wall might have to get a bit higher eventually.  Trees have been planted on top of these new hills for some reason, perhaps for aesthetic purposes.

A few years later, building really begins.  And hey, this doesn’t look too bad, really.  This new part of Hell might be halfway bearable to live in.

In fact, as a result of some changing policies from the mayor’s mansion, life has gotten measurably better in Hell.  The advisors aren’t complaining quite as much as they used to.  And with the new development in the southeast, the population of Hell has risen to almost 75,000.

Comparable to the national average!!!  Yeah!

In case you were wondering, the mayor has not approved any more ordinances.  All the money-making ones (top left corner) are naturally in effect, but only the probably ineffective pollution controls and the neighborhood watch/citizen-arming neighborhood watch programs are running otherwise.  A lot of these other programs are beneficial for a city’s population and would probably be advisable to pass, but the mayor doesn’t take advice well. Not advisable advice, anyway.

The only free ordinance on the list, in fact, is the “Nuclear Free Zone” provision.  It doesn’t cost a thing to pass and boosts residential demand, but restricts the building of nuclear plants.  But since the mayor already built a nuclear power plant in the city, checking this box probably wouldn’t do much of anything.

And right around this time, the paper reports on the discovery of what will turn out to be the last and best source of power in the game.  Nuclear fusion power, unlike nuclear fission, is safe and can’t result in a meltdown.  While it’s expensive at $40,000, it’s also the most cost-efficient source of energy in SimCity 2000.  We won’t be using it, though.  Not for a while anyway.  The mayor just had that nuclear plant built – he wants to get some use out of it.  Near-plane-related accidents aside.

With its stadium and its filthy subway system and its bumper-to-bumper crowded highway, Hell has become a legitimate big city (at least by SimCity standards.)  However, it can reach even great heights.  Will growth in Hell continue without anything bad happening?  Sure!  I can’t see why not.

* You might think I made this up, but it was done at least once in real life.  In 2003, the former CEO of the defunct corporation Tyco went on trial after an Enron-style scandal involving the company broke.  One of the accusations against said CEO was that he spent the company’s funds on insanely expensive and non-company-related events like his wife’s 40th birthday party, which took place on Sardinia and “featured an ice sculpture of Michelangelo’s David spewing vodka from his penis.”  More amusingly, to me anyway, the party also included “a birthday cake in the shape of a woman’s breasts with sparklers mounted on top.”  If your wife is cool with having a titty-themed birthday cake at her party, you know you married the right woman.

SimCity 2000, Part XI: Bread and circuses

We left the SimCity of Hell several months ago, but it is not forgotten.  Heaven will not allow the crimes of its mayor to go unpunished.  Or something.  Anyway, please enjoy Part XI of this formerly dormant quasi-LP series.

One way you can tell that life has returned to normal after a disaster is that people start to complain about relatively minor things again.  Going by that metric, Hell has definitely recovered from its earthquake quickly.  Shortly after the quake that killed thousands and the quick rebuilding, the citizens begin griping about not having enough fun things to do.

Although they’re demanding a marina, really any of the entertainment options will do to sate their desires.  The more expensive and bigger options naturally make the people happier and let them distract themselves from the fact that they’re apparently sitting on top of a fault line and right next to a nuclear power plant.  Since that’s the case currently, the mayor decides to build the biggest and best entertainment venue possible: a stadium.

Stadiums take up a 4×4 tile space, though, so it can be hard to find a place for them without bulldozing entire city blocks.  Instead of doing that, let’s create more space by moving some earth around.

The terrain-editing options cost money to use (think of it like hiring a crew to haul earth around) but they’re not really too expensive considering their value in creating more space to build on.  In this case, let’s lower some terrain at the top of a still-undeveloped hill.  This will make for a great spot for the stadium.

Lowering this terrain ended up causing the destruction of a few buildings and a road, but that’s a small price to pay.  That’s how the mayor feels, anyway.  And since the city has the power of eminent domain, it can pretty much do whatever it wants as far as demolishing existing buildings goes.  (In real life eminent domain is a lot more complicated and requires the government to fairly compensate the owners of the land being taken if it turns out that the government has the power to use the land in the first place, but in Hell, eminent domain is an absolute privilege.  Just like sovereign immunity!)

Anyway, let’s just build the damn stadium already.

Before you can build, though, you’ll have to pick the sport played at the stadium and the name of the home team.  As far as I can tell, these options are purely cosmetic, so pick your favorite sport, as long as your favorite sport is baseball, soccer, football, rugby, or cricket (though if cricket is your favorite sport you’d probably be just as happy watching grass grow.)  Since I’m a god damn American, though, we’re going with football.  And since there’s already a soccer option in place, we know that this is American football.*

I didn’t name this team the Llamas, by the way – that was the game’s suggestion.  At Maxis in the 90s they had an obsession with llamas and related animals like alpacas for some reason.  We may as well go with it.

Hell yeah.  Doesn’t that look majestic?  The mayor is pretty pleased with the whole arrangement and looks forward to the increased business that the stadium will bring from out of town.  (He doesn’t care about the increased traffic, or the increased crime around the stadium, or even about the cost of building it – it’s the taxpayers’ money, after all, and the mayor doesn’t live in the city anyway.)

The mayor, now high on the feeling of building massive prestige projects, orders the building of a university hospital downtown.  Not for the purpose of helping his citizens – though it will help raise life expectancy in Hell – but just to brag to other mayors that his city has a university with its own hospital.

The Llamas really suck, by the way.  Maybe it’s just because it’s their first year.  Hopefully they start to gel better next season.

Two years pass, and the Llamas don’t get any better.  Here’s some better news, though – the average intelligence of Hell’s citizens has risen!  A whole lot, in fact, from 76 to 87.  87 still isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was thanks to the building of the university and a few libraries.  People are living longer lives as well, though pollution is still a serious problem.

Maybe things are looking up for Hell!

Or not.

Another plane falls out of the sky in 2050, and it decides to fall in almost the worst possible place – right next to the nuclear power plant.  Every fire truck in the city is lined up in defense of the plant before the plane even hits the ground.

Thankfully, the crash only takes out a few pieces of road and rail (along with every person on board, presumably.)  The fire is easily put out.  But if the plane had crashed a few tiles to the southwest, it could have caused an enormous disaster.  Nobody is sure whether the plant can withstand a fire without causing a meltdown, but it would be better to not have to find out.

Despite the danger posed by the nuclear plant and the fact that it was nearly involved in an accident that could have caused a catastrophic meltdown, people keep moving to Hell, which now contains over 67,000 souls.  Maybe it’s the low property tax.

* Coincidentally, both the pro and college football seasons just started here in the States.  I hope my alma mater doesn’t choke like they have the previous few years.

A review of Dreaming Sarah (PC)

Once again, I’m late to the party.  I came across Dreaming Sarah, an exploration platformer made by the independent developer Asteristic Game Studio, just recently, despite the fact that the game itself was released in 2015.  At first I thought it was related somehow to Dreaming Mary, another independent game that came out a few years ago, but it’s really not.*  In fact, the developer says straight up that his game was directly influenced by Yume Nikki, a Japanese RPG Maker game in which you control a girl who is exploring her dreams.  Yume Nikki has influenced a ton of games, so that isn’t a big surprise.  The influence is especially evident in Dreaming Sarah, though.  You play as silent protagonist Sarah, a blue-ponytailed girl who mysteriously awakens in a field in the middle of a strange forest.  Although this is a platformer, Sarah cannot punch or kick or stab anything – there’s no combat in the game, in fact.  Her only goal is to break out of her dream and into the real world, where she’s trapped in a coma.  You might expect this fact to be concealed until the end of the game, but the developer throws it out there right in the first line of its description, so I guess it’s not meant to be a secret.

Fortunately, Sarah can discover various items throughout her dream world that give her new abilities and that unlock new areas of her dream world.  Most of these items are hidden in worlds other than the initial forest area, worlds that are often far more bizarre and surreal than the forest.  Sarah also runs into other people and beings, residents of her dream worlds, who sometimes have helpful advice or a new item to offer.

I hate these fucking eyes, really I do.  They don’t do anything; they’re just creepy.

As Sarah unlocks new areas in her dream world, the game drops hints about what might have happened to her to cause her coma.  I should note that, even though I wouldn’t exactly call Dreaming Sarah a horror game, it does contain some unsettling imagery.  Even more unsettling that the above eyeballs staring right at you.  Yes, really.  I won’t spoil it for you, though.

Dreaming Sarah also contains a few puzzles.  Some of them are quite easy, but a few require you to take cues from your environment that may lead you to a new item. The puzzles are all doable, and none of them are really difficult at all, but they do require the use of dream logic – Sarah is exploring her dreams, after all, so this is fitting.

Even in my dreams, I get carded.

There’s not actually much more I can say about Dreaming Sarah without spoiling parts of it.  I really like the pixel art and the general style of the game.  Special mention has to be made of the background music, which is made by one Anthony Septim (who gets top billing in the game, right after the initial title screen for some reason.)  Every track fits the changing environments in Sarah’s dream world and adds to the mood.  Just like the background music in Yume Nikki, it’s simple but effective.  I’ll be following Septim from now on, along with Garoad, the guy who wrote the soundtrack to VA-11 HALL-A.

I’ll also be following Asteristic Game Studio.  I’m not going to say Dreaming Sarah was amazing.  It was about two hours long as I played it, and despite the variety of strange dream worlds it all felt a little lacking at the end, as though it could have been something more.  In fact, it’s kind of hard for me to say the six dollar price tag is justified.  I enjoyed the game, but I also bought it during a sale, and it might be worth seeking Sarah out on sale too if you’re interested in it.

Then again, two Big Macs cost more than six dollars, and I’d say that playing Dreaming Sarah is at least better than eating two Big Macs (and playing Dreaming Sarah won’t devastate your colon, either.)  So maybe the value of the game is entirely relative.  But I do see a lot of potential here, and I hope this developer follows Dreaming Sarah up with something even better and more fully realized. 𒀭

* Dreaming Mary is well worth playing, though it’s much more of a nightmarish horror game in the vein of something like Blank Dream.  Unlike Dreaming Sarah, it’s also free, so if the wallet is light at the moment and you can’t spare even a dollar (or six dollars) for a game then it’s a good option.  The same is true of Yume Nikki.  And Blank Dream, which I reviewed here.  In fact, you’d better just play all of them.

The myth of the entitled gamer

My apologies for the second two-month break in a row. Aside from finally finishing NieR: Automata (which I might have a few things to say about soon) I haven’t been doing very much game-related at all since writing that review of Persona 5. My focus was primarily on my duties at work, and it’s lately been on my search for a new job following the recent completion of my one-year contract. Anyone who’s found themselves in this kind of spot can probably relate.

I’d rather be on the Bunker with all the cute android girls than here, but what can you do.

Still, I have to keep myself sane, and so I have to take some time out of the day to write. And today I feel like writing about a prevalent concept in game journalism and criticism that I find completely maddening – fan entitlement, or the idea that fans of certain series feel unduly entitled to have things done “their way”. This is a very interesting concept to me, especially since it seems to crop up more in the world of PC and video game criticism than anywhere else. It’s also a concept that, as you can tell from the title of this piece, I find to be utter bullshit.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, refer to this piece written by Jim Sterling, a very well-known, ridiculously dressed game reviewer who produces several popular review series on Youtube. Sterling is best known for his legal run-ins with garbage game developer Digital Homicide, but he also wrote the above article for Destructoid several years ago in which he claims that hardcore fans were “ruining” newly announced titles in long-running franchises. The following excerpt sums up his position well:

It’s the sheer selfishness of these so-called “fans” that really irritates me. They don’t care about other fans, or even the developers. They don’t give a shit that if a developer catered exactly to them, that they could risk making a game with limited appeal and lose money. You’d think a fan would be happy to see a game in their favorite series make some money, but apparently not. The more hardcore the fans, the less happy they seem to be.

We have all seen the sort of hardcore fanboy/fangirl that Sterling seems to be writing about here. The type that demands that each and every aspect of the upcoming game in his favorite series be absolutely faithful to his vision of what makes said series special. And naturally, each hardcore fan of this type might have a slightly different vision for the series. However, the picture Sterling paints here of the legion of lunatic fans threatening to ruin good game series with their obsessive complaining leads us to ask three questions:

1) How many of these sorts of fans are there?

2) Are their complaints based on obsessions over minor aspects of the series, or are they grounded in reasonable concerns?

3) Do the above two questions even matter?

It’s impossible to accurately answer the first question because one man’s deranged fan is another man’s standard consumer. One subset of fans might really care about a game’s artistic style and might be irked when that style changes, for example, while a second might only care about whether the gameplay is fun and well-balanced, and a third might really be bothered by a subpar soundtrack. Which of these sorts of fans are foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics, and which are perfectly sane and reasonable people?

The second question ties into the first. Take all of the above hypothetical subsets of fans, dump them into the same Discord server or subreddit and they may well tear each other apart, because each of those fans is either obsessing over a minor aspect of the game or is expressing legitimate concerns about the game’s quality depending upon their points of view. Most people will probably agree that the sound Sonic the Hedgehog makes when he jumps doesn’t really matter when considering the overall quality of a Sonic game, but the fact that Sonic CD used a different jumping sound effect from the classic Sonic games of the Genesis/Megadrive bothered at least a few fans enough that they felt they had to bring it up. To most of us, Sonic’s jump sound is no big deal; to them, it is. Are their concerns automatically invalid because they’re not shared by a majority or even a significant minority of fans?

Sonic CD does have a weird jumping sound effect.

The most critical of these questions, however, is the third, and my answer to it is an emphatic no. Whatever the ratio of sane and rational to insane and lunatic fans is in any given fandom, wherever you choose to draw that line, it simply doesn’t matter because potential buyers of games cannot possibly have an entitled attitude regarding those games. The concept of gamer entitlement, and more broadly of fan entitlement, is completely bunk.

Let’s get technical about this. According to Merriam-Webster, entitlement is “a belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges.” And a privilege is “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.”

When you buy a PC or video game, are you expecting to be granted a privilege; that is, a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor? No. Almost by definition, a privilege is given for free or for a nominal sum, or as an additional part of an exchange (for example, I contract to work for you, you contract to pay me a salary, and I receive the added privilege of using your company’s parking lot.) When you buy a game at retail price, however, you’re paying more than a nominal sum for a product that you hope will be worth the price in terms of the enjoyment you derive from it. It’s an equal exchange: your hard-earned money for the work of the game’s developers. Under the circumstances, therefore, neither side is entitled to anything before the exchange is initiated: you aren’t entitled to a game unless you pay for it, and a game’s developers and publishers aren’t entitled to your money unless they can convince you that their game is worth buying. The same principle naturally applies to any kind of product, whether it’s a work of art or entertainment or otherwise.

Tharja from Fire Emblem: Awakening. I’m not posting the screen in question because it’s NSFW depending on your job’s tolerance for honestly pretty tame images of anime girls in bikinis.

So when some fans of the Fire Emblem series kvetched about Nintendo censoring one screen in one of the DLC missions in Fire Emblem: Awakening featuring Tharja, the fan favorite creepy goth mage girl, bending over in a swimsuit in the North American release of the game, was that an instance of fan entitlement? If the DLC had been provided as a gift to players, you could perhaps argue that it was, but it wasn’t – we had to pay for that mission. You might think the complaint about this very minor instance of censorship was silly, but it was not an instance of entitlement if those fans were not going to buy the DLC otherwise.*

The next time someone makes an argument about fans acting “entitled” and being “whiny”, then, think about whether that’s really the case. The truly insanely hardcore fan with the long list of extremely specific demands is relatively rare – rare enough that such people seem to be pretty much ignored by developers and even mocked by their fellow fans. But one can’t blame fans for having certain expectations of their series they follow. When Jim Sterling wrote that “[y]ou’d think a fan would be happy to see a game in their favorite series make some money” he missed the mark completely – when developers make conscious decisions to change their series to appeal to wider audiences, they necessarily run the risk of alienating their established fanbases. As in any business, the developers are taking a calculated risk that may or may not pay off, and they can’t really complain if they lose old fans as a result – because they were never entitled to those fans in the first place. 𒀭

 

* By the way, Awakening is a great game that I highly recommend if you have a 3DS. Aside from the couple of missions that are specifically designed to provide you with tons of gold and EXP, though, the DLC content isn’t vital to the experience. Especially not if you’re playing the beach DLC just to see Tharja’s butt, because you’ll be greatly disappointed if you’re playing a North American or European copy of the game, which you probably are. If you’re looking for that kind of material, just go to Pixiv and plug サーリャ into the search bar (but not while you’re at work – I can’t stress that point enough.)

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.