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.

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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.