Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 7 (Gabriel)

We’re getting closer to Christmas, so let’s go traditional for once and talk about an angel. None of this destroying angel of the pit stuff, either: a proper angel this time, the kind most people would think of when the word “angel” comes up. Gabriel is one of the most important angels, in fact — in the angelic hierarchy of Megaten he/she is one of the four Archangels enforcing the will of YHVH, working alongside Uriel and Raphael and under their captain Michael.

Notice I said “she” up there? Yes, Kaneko usually depicts Gabriel as female. In the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, at least as far as I know, Gabriel is depicted as either male or just kind of androgynous in the sense that angels don’t have genders as we understand them, so this is a bit unusual. This isn’t just some minor side character, either.  The traditional depiction of Gabriel is as the messenger of God, appearing to the prophet Daniel to explain his visions, to Mary to announce the coming birth of her son Jesus, and to Muhammad to reveal the verses of the Quran.* Gabriel is a big deal in the Abrahamic traditions, especially in the latter two.  Good thing Megaten barely had any presence in the US back in the bad old Satanic Panic days of the late 80s/90s.  Come to think of it, there are a lot more reasons why this series would have been burned at the stake back then than a gender-flipped Gabriel.

Setting aside that gender-flip, Megaten’s Gabriel usually acts in concert with her colleagues Uriel and Raphael. While Uriel and Raphael carry swords and tend to be pretty haughty and belligerent (especially Raphael, the jerk) Gabriel carries both a sword and a flower and acts as the healer of the group. She also speaks in a softer and more understanding way towards humans, though she’ll still faithfully follow the commands of YHVH, even if they involve destroying the human race again.

Gabriel as depicted in SMT4.

As you’d expect in accordance with her status as an archangel, Gabriel is usually a high-level demon with excellent skills and resistances and is sometimes required to use in a special triple fusion to create Michael, who’s always worth fusing. Gabriel also plays an important role in the plot of Shin Megami Tensei IV.  It’s worth noting her design in that game came from artist Masayuki Doi, who obviously has a very different style from Kazuma Kaneko’s, one that put a lot of people off when SMT4 was released.  I thought some of his designs were really interesting, though I hated how he made Medusa and Lucifer look.  The Archangels don’t look so bad by contrast; they just look bizarre.  Which lines up pretty well with how the Megaten series treats the angels of God — almost as superpowerful aliens who are hostile to humanity.  Not exactly an orthodox stance, but the Atlus guys over in Japan probably have a different view of these matters than a lot of westerners would.  Anyway, if you were looking for orthodoxy, you wouldn’t be here reading about Megami Tensei demons, would you?

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* As we went over a few days ago, Muhammad is the guy who smashed up Alilat in real life, so there may be a beef between her and Gabriel still to be explored in the Megami Tensei series.  I’d like to see how that would play out.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 6 (Nekomata)

Yeah, it’s Nekomata.  Of course.  You probably could have guessed that I reserved a spot on my list for Megaten’s main catgirl.  Though both her new design (pictured left, from Nocturne) and her old design are a little too much on the “cat” side of catgirl for my taste.  I don’t know, maybe if you’re into monster girls.  They’re still pretty popular, aren’t they?

Either way, Nekomata is an interesting demon.  She’s derived from old folk legends that claim cats who live long enough can take human form and learn human speech and customs.  Nekomata are also said to have forked tails, something the current version of SMT Nekomata doesn’t have for whatever reason. If these legends sound familiar, there are some about foxes growing more than one tail and taking human form as well.  It’s said that the sadistic queen of the wicked King Zhou, last ruler of the Shang dynasty in China, was an evil fox in human disguise.  Though some of these beings are quite nice as well, as anyone who watched the recently aired, extremely depressing anime series The Helpful Fox Senko-san will know.

Retro-style 90s Nekomata returned in the Devil Survivor series.

The Megaten version of Nekomata isn’t really good or evil, however; she just seems to be out for herself.  In fact, she never really plays a big plot role in the series as far as I know aside from that infamous “Do something naughty with Nekomata?” mini-boss fight in Nocturne.  She’s usually a low-to-mid-level demon, but one who’s worth recruiting for her high agility (she’s a cat, after all) and the strong wind skills she typically has.  Just a good team member for the early-mid game.  And if you keep her around long enough in Nocturne to level five or six times or so, Nekomata has the opportunity to evolve into a higher-level cat lady demon named Senri, whose design I don’t like nearly as much.  A big downgrade in the looks department, but Senri is a better demon in terms of her stats and skills, so you’ll just have to decide for yourself if it’s worth taking the time out to level Nekomata.  On the plus side, in Shin Megami Tensei IV, Senri evolves into Nekomata instead.

I also have to give a lot of credit to Kaneko for solving the “two sets of ears” problem that designers have to deal with when it comes to animal-eared girls.  Just move those cat ears down to where the human ears would normally be.  It looks a little weird, but it’s a better solution than always covering that area with her hair so you never see the place where those ears should be, which is the normal bullshit workaround.  Nekopara had fantastic character designs otherwise but it was guilty of doing just this.  As is almost every other game or show featuring those kemonomimi girls I’m into.  Don’t think we don’t notice what you’re doing.  Come on.

Okay, sure, why not.  I could leave the cat puns though.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 5 (Melchom)

If you end up going to Hell (sorry if that happens, by the way) and you somehow manage to get a job as a public servant there, who processes your paycheck?  It’s Melchom, the subject of today’s post.  Melchom only makes a few appearances in the series, but as far as occupations go among the demons of Megami Tensei, he has my favorite.

Melchom is one of the Fallen race, the angels who according to Christian tradition joined Lucifer in his rebellion against God.  Naturally, all the Fallen fell into Hell with Lucifer when he lost and became demons (demons in the more western traditional sense this time, not the broader Megaten one.)  Melchom and many of his friends in the Fallen race are taken from the Lesser Key of Solomon, a 17th century grimoire made famous in modern times by devil magic enthusiast/all around weirdo Aleister Crowley, and from the Infernal Dictionary, a later French work.  These books list these demons’ characteristics, and the Lesser Key also contains instructions for summoning them if you feel like enriching yourself through demonic power or getting some supernatural revenge on an enemy.

Melchom as depicted in the Infernal Dictionary.

The entry for Melchom is a strange one mainly because of his profession.  The Infernal Dictionary describes him as the paymaster of Hell who carries the purse and hands out wages and salaries to Hell’s servants.  This is a real demotion for Melchom, since his name is supposed to be derived from Moloch, a god of the ancient Ammonites of modern-day Jordan who were enemies of the Israelites in the Old Testament.  Going from being a god to an infernal bureaucrat has to be embarrassing.

However, he seems to take it in stride.  In Strange Journey, Melchom is one of the few demons who isn’t a pain in the ass to deal with.  Outside of the random encounters you’ll fight him in, he’s also hanging out in the second layer of the Schwarzwelt and will give the protagonist fairly easy missions to carry out in exchange for what else but a nice paycheck.  Money can be hard to come by in Strange Journey, especially early on, so these missions may be a real source of relief to the player.  Thanks, Melchom!

Well, this series has been getting a little too demonic lately.  I’ll bring it down a few notches tomorrow.  Until then, remember: always treat bureaucrats and office support staff well, because they can make your life as easy or hard as they feel like.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 4 (Abaddon)

I mentioned in my introductory post that the demons of the Megami Tensei series include a lot of angels. Most of these are the traditional angels of the Abrahamic faiths, complete with the wings and all that — the Archangels Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel, and the lot of unnamed lower-level angels (including the infamous Angel, who often shows up in SMT and Persona games in skimpy bondage gear; you can thank Kazuma Kaneko again for that design, God bless him.) But Abaddon is very different from the rest.

In the Old Testament, the term Abaddon seems to refer more to a place than a person, a place of either suffering or utter destruction where some dead people’s souls went. By the New Testament, however, Abaddon becomes an entity called the destroyer and angel of the abyss. There seems to be a lot of disagreement over whether Abaddon is a servant of God, performing his work in punishing sinners who fall into his pit, or whether he’s a demon or even synonymous with the Devil himself. Either way, you would never want to meet him, so maybe it doesn’t matter too much, at least as far as we mortals are concerned.

Is this more or less scary than the guy above?

The Abaddon of Megaten is depicted in two equally monstrous forms: first as a giant buried mostly underground, with only the top of his head sticking out except when he lunges to attack the player, and second as a massive blob with a gaping mouth. Abaddon is always a mid-high to high-level demon and often has great physical resistance, making him a formidable enemy and a valuable ally, though it’s worth noting that Abaddon is usually a member of the Tyrant race and is therefore usually impossible to recruit using normal methods.

I’m still not sure how he gets around in his “underground giant” form when the top of his head is sticking out of the floor. I guess as an angel he’s immaterial and can move through objects? Must make life easier when you’re that big.  Also, be sure to note the tiny angel wings on top of his head. I assume these are there to remind us that Abaddon is in fact an angel, but they also look pretty damn funny on him.

A shorter one today, but I’m back to work.  No long Christmas breaks for the working man, especially the one who doesn’t get vacation days because he’s a damn contractor.  Tomorrow we’ll hopefully take on a less grim demon.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 3 (Alilat)

Now this is an interesting demon.  At least it is for me.  You might be looking at the design and thinking “it’s just an obelisk, what makes it so damn interesting?”  Alilat, also known as Al-Lat, was one of the divinities worshiped in the Kaaba, the great temple of Mecca, until the 7th century AD.  Al-Lat was a fertility goddess with ancient origins; historians believe she is essentially the same goddess as other Mediterranean and near Eastern divinities such as Asherah, Astarte, and Ishtar.

What happened to Al-Lat, then?  The same thing that happened to all the old pagan gods of the Middle East and Europe: one of the children of Abraham came along to destroy it.  When Muhammad, the final prophet of Islam, won his war against his home city-state of Mecca following his expulsion to Medina, he ordered that the idols and shrines of Al-Lat be broken along with those of the other gods and reconsecrated the Kaaba to the one true God.  This is a story I heard more than a few times as a kid growing up in the faith.  Naturally, this destruction and consecration is portrayed as a good thing, since it meant that God’s truth was able to be spread across the region and take root alongside/partly displace its sister Abrahamic faiths of Christianity and Judaism.

At the time, though, I have to wonder how most people felt about it.  The day Muhammad came back home with his army, I guess plenty of Meccans just did their best to go about their business and readjust to the new order.  That’s certainly what I would have done, no matter how I might have felt before.  I guess I’m not very principled.

She’s an old-timey goddess so she has to use old pronouns like “thy”, that’s the rule.

Alilat in the canon of Megami Tensei is a powerful demon of the Entity race, consisting of ancient gods who long ago lost their followings among humans. She only seems to play much of a story role in Strange Journey, in which she opposes the reformation of the Demiurge (the creative force of God, though not the all-powerful God himself.)  Makes sense considering the fate of her worship back in the 7th century that she would stand against any aspect of the monotheistic God. One interesting design fact to note is that Alilat’s obelisk seems to be carved from part of the black meteorite that comprises the core of the real-life Kaaba and that pilgrims touch as a part of the Hajj.

Al-Lat in her most recent form. Considering how popular Ishtar-Rin is, she probably qualifies as a church for tax purposes at this point.

I also like how Alilat takes the form of the idol itself rather than the goddess it represents — it makes a lot of sense in the historical context, in which her worship ended with her being quite literally smashed to pieces. Well, it sucks to be a fallen deity, doesn’t it?  At least Alilat/Al-Lat can take solace in the fact that she lives on in popular culture in her Ishtar/Rin Tohsaka form from Fate/Grand Order, which is definitely the closest she’s been to having worshipers since the old polytheistic days.  Though this raises a theological question: is it better for a goddess to just die out or to live on as a waifu to a bunch of weird nerds?*  There’s a thesis someone needs to write.

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* Don’t take any offense — I’m one of those weird nerds too after all.  If I tried to deny it no one would believe me anyway.

 

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 2 (Ame-no-Uzume)

Since Megami Tensei is a Japanese game series, it doesn’t seem right not to cover any Japanese entities.  So of course I’m going with Ame-no-Uzume, a goddess of “mirth and revelry” best known for her stripper act. Ame-no-Uzume is the wife of the god Sarutahiko (also a demon in the Megaten series) in the Shinto tradition, responsible for bringing light back into the world after the sun goddess Amaterasu (also featured in Megaten, as are most of these deities) got pissy and decided to hide in a cave.  Amaterasu had a pretty good reason — her brother Susano-o, the storm god, was drenching and destroying crop fields and throwing shit around in the way you’d expect a storm god to do.

Even so, the world needed the sun to keep going.  Nobody could get Amaterasu to leave her cave, so without warning Uzume decided to start a strip show for all the other assembled gods.  They all found this so funny that they roared with laughter, and Amaterasu poked her head out of the cave to see what the hell was so hilarious the way anyone would. After seeing her bright reflection in a bronze mirror Uzume had purposely hung up in front of the cave’s mouth, Amaterasu wandered out, and another god quickly rolled a rock up behind her blocking the cave’s entrance.  In this way, the rest of the gods managed to convince Amaterasu to calm down and go back to her duties of being the sun, all thanks to the ingenuity of Ame-no-Uzume.

A traditional depiction of Uzume at Amanoiwato Shrine, where the whole thing happened

This was such an important achievement that the place where this is supposed to have happened in Japan is marked with a shrine dedicated to Uzume way down in a town called Takachiho in Kyushu.  Quite a long trip from Tokyo if you’re ever there visiting,  but if you want to pay your respects to the heavenly party goddess in the most serious way possible, you know where to do it.

In the Megaten universe, Uzume is usually a pretty low-level demon despite her status as a divinity; she’s typically one of the first in the Megami or goddess race of demons.  She tends to be very useful, though — Uzume is practically a must-have in Nocturne to beat Matador due to her resistance to wind skills, and she’s generally a good ally to have in the early game if she’s available.  I do like how her design reflects her position as the divine stripper — leave it to Kazuma Kaneko to put the emphasis on that, though to be fair to him, that seems to be by far the most famous story about Uzume.

Okay, so maybe this entry wasn’t as family-friendly as the last one.  Maybe tomorrow will be more G-rated.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 1 (Jack Frost)

Who better to honor on the first day of this Christmas series than Jack Frost?  He’s not only the personification of winter, which all of us in the Northern Hemisphere are living through right now.  He’s also the closest thing to an official mascot for the Megami Tensei series as a whole and for its developer, Atlus.  Jack Frost, as far as I know, has been in every Megami Tensei game ever created (or at least in all the ones I’ve played.)  He even starred in Jack Bros., a bizarre spinoff for the ill-fated Virtual Boy that most people in the West probably only learned about when the Angry Video Game Nerd covered it in his Virtual Boy retrospective video on Youtube, and even he didn’t seem to realize exactly what it was.

In his normal form, Jack is usually a low-level common demon you’ll encounter in the early game.  He tends to be pretty friendly but also enjoys playing tricks on humans, so it may be just as difficult to recruit him as some of the more outwardly hostile or icy demons.  The player shouldn’t be deceived by his cute looks — Jack Frost’s tricks can end up getting your entire party killed if your team is weak to his ice skills.

Jack Frost in earlier times, when he served as a Union general in the Civil War

The only real downside to Jack Frost being Jack Frost is that he has to share a name with not only the mythological being he’s derived from, the personification of winter, but also with all the other characters derived from him. Namely that Disney character or whatever he is (Dreamworks? The assholes who made that annoying Sing movie? I don’t know) and the shitty, extremely horrifying Michael Keaton movie from 1998 where he turns into a snowman.  Both of these guys clog up the Google Image Search results for “jack frost”, so they can go to hell.  Not Michael Keaton I mean, just the character he played and the movie he was in.

Black Frost brutalizing some regular Jack Frosts. Even when he’s being beaten up, Jack Frost has that happy expression.

Jack also has several relatives in the Jack family of demons, some of whom are far more powerful.  Most notable among these are his fire-based brother Pyro Jack, the emperor of the ice fairies depicted as a giant Jack Frost in a king’s robe and powdered wig King Frost, and Black Frost, a Jack Frost who sought great power and ended up turning evil.*  Black Frost is typically a mid-level demon and is a great asset to the player thanks to his having both ice and fire skills and resistances, so you should definitely try to fuse him any time you can.  He’s such a useful team member that some players keep him on well past the point where his level should have made him obsolete.  Those resistances are just that important in a Megaten game; if you have a demon strong to ice, fire, and dark attacks and without any weaknesses you can wipe the floor with a lot of standard-issue grunts and even with some bosses, even if they’re at a significantly higher level.

I hope you liked the two-for-one demon deal you got today, because it probably won’t happen again.  Check back tomorrow!

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* Japanese language minute: The name “Black Frost” is an attempt at a translation of the Japanese name ジャアクフロスト with the “ジャアク/jyaaku” part written 邪悪, which is also pronounced ジャアク but means “evil.” These kanji puns just don’t translate.

Announcing the twelve days of Megaten Christmas

Happy almost Christmas, everyone.  No matter whether you celebrate the holiday in its religious or secular aspects or both, this is one of the best/most memorable times of the year for a lot of people (and if you celebrate neither aspect, then please apply whatever holiday is closest in time and/or spirit to my statement.)

Speaking of that, I wanted to give my readers a special gift this year.  So instead of doing the usual thing for the holidays, which is nothing, I decided to put together a special series of Christmas posts, each one about a demon from the Megami Tensei series that I find interesting.  Could I have picked a more sacrilegious game series to cover to honor the birth of Christ?  Probably not.  After all, this is the series that features games in which you can choose to join up with Lucifer to fight God Himself or just beat the hell out of both of them.

But I’m really not trying to be sacrilegious here at all.  You all probably already know that Megami Tensei is my favorite game series, and this is a great opportunity to cover some of my favorite Kazuma Kaneko character/monster designs.  Also keep in mind that the “demons” that show up in every Megaten game aren’t necessarily demons in the western traditional sense of the term as a kind of devil or evil spirit.  Some of those evil spirits are certainly included in the category of demons (Lilim, Succubus, Incubus, and a bunch of other malicious types) but the term “demon” in the Megaten sense is very broad, embracing all kinds of mythical entities, even angels who work for big man YHVH.  In any case, the SMT games are really just as sacrilegious as you care to make them — you can always go Law path, after all.

I remember the days before Adblock, when we didn’t think demons were in our peaceful kingdom

I was originally going to post this from Christmas Day to January 5 to line up with the traditional Twelvetide/Christmastide period, but since anime blogger Perpetual Morning is getting together other writers to put together their own series starting December 14, I figured I’d just join them.  The series might be called 12 Days of Anime, but it seems like game content is welcome as well.  And Megami Tensei has had a few anime adaptations featuring some of these demons, so it’s close enough, right? Also, I wasn’t kidding about my latest project taking a while.  Fucking writer’s block.  I hate that term, but I can’t think of a better one to use in this case.

Anyway, come back Saturday, Dec. 14 for the first demonic gift, and happy holidays again, or whatever you say to people in early/mid-December these days.

The Real Neat Blog Award, round 1

You all know how much I like to go on about the games and other works I like.  So I’m always grateful to get tagged with awards like the Real Neat Blog Award (the rules: answer seven questions, ask seven more questions, tag seven bloggers.)  And since this week’s episode of Cop Craft is a recap show that I am going to completely ignore because recap shows are worthless, that frees up some time for me to take on the questions that have been put to me.  I’ve been double-tagged, in fact — the first nomination comes from Frostilyte, who maintains a very interesting blog dedicated to video games.  If you like my material, I know you’ll like Frostilyte’s as well.

Here are Frostilyte’s questions and my responses:

1. What is a game coming out in 2020 that you’re excited for?

Nobody will be surprised to hear that I’m looking forward to Persona 5 Royal.  It’s just an expansion of Persona 5, but it promises a lot of new content, and Atlus hasn’t disappointed yet when it comes to Persona expansions (see Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden, both well worth checking out if you haven’t.)  P5 also had some weird pacing issues that I hope might be fixed in Royal, though I’m not hoping very much.

I’m also looking forward to N1RV Ann-A, the equally annoyingly-titled sequel to 2016’s drink-mixing life-changing visual novel VA-11 HALL-AI loved Sukeban Games’ first big title, and I’m expecting a whole lot from their second when it hopefully drops sometime next year.

From their site.  I already love the game’s style.  Also, this place looks a lot classier than the dive bar Jill works in VA-11 HALL-A.

2. Ninjas, or Pirates? Why?

I’ve always been a fan of pirates — all the horrible murder and ravaging aside, that bravado and complete “fuck you” attitude they had towards the authorities is a lot of fun to read about, even if some of the common stories are made up or exaggerated.  On the other hand, if I had to choose which one I’d be, I would go with ninja for sure.  As far as I know, ninjas usually didn’t end their days at the end of a rope.

3. You won a life time supply of the last thing you spent money on. What is it, are you excited, and how do you intend to use your comically overstocked collection of this commodity?

I just bought a cup of coffee at the cafe where I’m writing this post.  A lifetime supply of coffee is very exciting — it means I’ll basically never have to sleep again.

4. God almighty above. They were right! AI took over the world and started building mecha-style enforcers out of the factories. Which billion dollar software company is responsible for ending humanity and do you submit to our AI overlords, or rebel against them?

It’s the conglomeration of Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon.  And I absolutely don’t submit to them.  As much as I might be into futuristic technology, I also don’t like the idea of having to submit to an evil AI empire.  Give me the chance to become a rebel living in the forest and waging a guerrilla war against our mechanical overlords and I’ll take it, even if it ends up with me getting filled with bullets by a killer robot.

5. What was the reason you started your blog? Feel free to be as detailed as you see fit with this one.

When I started at law school, I felt the need to do something that wasn’t law-related to help keep my sanity.  I knew I liked writing, so I decided to start a free WordPress blog and write about video games.  It’s really as simple as that.  I continue to write here for the same reason I started.  My experience with the practice of law has been fucking miserable, so I’ll do anything I can to take my mind off of my profession.

Later on, I took up the idea of presenting my own views of games that might be considered niche or controversial, games that I feel are too often unfairly smeared by a particular group or school of professional game journalists.  Swing a stick and you’ll probably hit one of these assholes, there are so many of them, and all with the same bland, safe viewpoints that allow them to keep their jobs (to be fair to them, writing about games is their day job and it’s not mine, so I can afford to admit I like games featuring busty ninja girls and catgirl maids whereas they probably can’t.  But I think my point stands.)  There are also some interesting indie games I try to cover that tend to go ignored in favor of mediocre or merely standard-quality AAA games.

6. You wake up one day and find that you are now your least favourite character from your favourite television show (use a video game if you don’t watch TV). Who are you and how do you feel about it?

My favorite TV show is probably The Simpsons up until season 10.  But I don’t really have a least favorite character in that show.  I don’t even dislike Lisa, as annoying as she could be sometimes.  So I’ll go with my favorite game, one I will never shut up about: Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne.  I do have a least favorite character in that game: Hikawa, the dickhead cult leader who purposely triggers the apocalypse near the beginning of the game.  Hikawa’s reasons for ending the world aren’t that different from your standard JRPG villain’s: it’s rotten and needs to be cleared out to be reborn in a pure state, etc. etc.  Makes more sense than Sephiroth’s stupidity, but it’s still a terrible motivation.  Even worse, what he wants to create from the ashes is a terrifying world of stillness.  (I wrote a whole thing about Nocturne and the ideas behind the Reasons here if you’re interested.)

Fuck you, Hikawa

If I were Hikawa, though, I’d be pretty happy assuming I get to keep my own personality, because I’d be able to just not trigger the apocalypse and stop the game before it starts.  The protagonist would never become the Demifiend, he’d just go to college and become an accountant or something mundane like that.  Not sure if that’s necessarily a better outcome for him, but at least the world would be spared that whole genocide thing.

7. What’s a skill you wish you had, but can’t find the time in the day to learn or master?

I have to second Red Metal here and say drawing.  I dabbled a little in it as a kid, and maybe I’d be better if I’d kept at it.  I know exactly what kind of stuff I’d draw, too, if only I could.  And these days, I have to fight tooth and nail to get any time to myself anymore, so I really have no opportunity to learn it.

Thanks again to Frostilyte for the tag and for the questions!  I bothered to follow the rules this time, so here are my seven:

1. What’s your favorite game genre?
2. Is there a game genre you will never touch, no matter how much praise a game in that genre might receive? What puts you off about it?
3. What’s your favorite controller?
4. What’s your least favorite controller?
5. What game would you like to see get a full-scale remake? Complete with any updated graphics, features, and game mechanics you’d like.
6. How do you approach difficulty levels in games that offer that option? Do you like to jump into the deep end right away or take a more measured approach?
7. How do you feel about the “casual/story mode” difficulty levels that are easier than the standard easy mode? Is there any situation in which you’d play a game in that mode?

And my marks this time are:

Blimps Go 180

Why We Play Games

The Brink of Gaming

Meghan Plays Games

MoeGamer

NekoJonez

Gaming Omnivore

And of course anyone else who wants to join in.  I’ll be back in a few days for the second round, when I’ll answer the questions posed by Red Metal.  Until then!

Avoiding the Poochie Effect, or why I’m slightly nervous about Persona 5 Royal

Just slightly.  One percent nervous and 99 percent excited, maybe.

I guess this post won’t be of any interest to you if you haven’t already played or were never planning to play Persona 5, but either way, you’ve likely heard that it’s getting an expansion/director’s cut in the form of Persona 5 Royal, to be released next year.  See above for the new trailer released during E3 this week complete with English dubbing.  This is nothing new for the Persona series; Persona 3 and Persona 4 went through the same process.  The results have been good so far: Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden were both excellent games that added to the experience of the originals, and I believe Persona 5 Royal will be just as good.  However, any time a new character is announced to be added to the main cast, there’s a risk that character will fall victim to the Poochie Effect.

I guess I can’t just assume everyone knows what I’m talking about.  Especially if you’re in your early twenties or younger and you don’t remember a time when The Simpsons was funny or relevant.  To find such a time, we have to go back to 1997 and Season 8 of the series (well, Seasons 9 and 10 had their moments too) to the episode “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show”.  This episode is centered around The Itchy & Scratchy Show, an in-universe popular and extremely cartoonishly violent show that I think was meant to be the writers’ take on Tom & Jerry and similar stuff.  The TV executives in charge of the show decide to spice it up with a new character, a talking dog named Poochie, to add to the original ultraviolent cat and mouse duo (of course voiced by Homer, despite Homer being a pretty lousy voice actor.)  However, the audience reaction to Poochie isn’t quite what those executives expected.

Poochie ends up backfiring on the studio so badly that the executives famously axe the character in the following episode by sending him to his “home planet” and saying he died on the way just for good measure.  The audience hated this character so much that they cheer his death, and Itchy & Scratchy immediately wins that audience back as a result.

This Simpsons episode addresses the pitfalls of adding a character to an already established and beloved cast.  Said new character has to prove that they’re just as worthy of the audience’s love as the rest of the cast, so character traits that could be perceived as annoying or obnoxious work against them even more than they would had they been around from the beginning.  Even worse if members of the original cast spend time with and fawn over the newcomer for seemingly no reason other than that they’re a new character who needs screen time.  For a real-life instance of this very thing, look up Scrappy-Doo, Scooby-Doo’s annoying puppy nephew who Hanna-Barbera inserted into the existing cast of Scooby-Doo and who the actual real-life audience hated.  In fact, it seems likely that Poochie is a direct reference to Scrappy-Doo, since that show was airing when some of the Simpsons writers would have been kids.  In any case, the warning is clear: if you’re going to write a new character into your story, make sure they don’t come off like a writer’s pet who only exists to be praised by everyone around them for no reason.

So what’s any of that got to do with the Persona series?  It’s probably obvious at this point that I’m talking about Marie from Persona 4 Golden.  Marie was a completely new character who wasn’t even mentioned in the vanilla version of Persona 4 because she almost certainly didn’t exist at that time, not even as a concept.  Despite first meeting her in Inaba, the town P4 is set in, the protagonist discovers that Marie is actually connected with the Velvet Room, an extra-dimensional space managed by Igor and his assistant Margaret where he can fuse Personas and all that business.  However, Marie isn’t exactly a Velvet Room attendant like Margaret or her siblings.  Her role in Persona 4 Golden is quite different.  I won’t get into what it is exactly, but Marie does figure into one of the side-plots inserted into P4G, and also the protagonist can romance her, because it’s a Persona game and of course he can.

It’s just not worth it, Souji.  Trust me.

While Persona 4 Golden turned out to be a hit – seemingly one of the few on the Vita – Marie was most definitely not a hit.  She’s one of the very few characters in the Persona series who’s outright hated by a lot of fans.  Why?  It could have to do with the fact that she acts like a temperamental teenager throughout most of the game, or that she writes poems of exactly the type a temperamental teenager would write that you’re forced to read every so often when you enter the Velvet Room.  Or that despite her irritating qualities, the members of the Investigation Team who make up the main P4 cast all seem to like her for no real reason, other than that she’s hanging out with the protagonist.

Whatever the case, a lot of fans really disliked Marie.  The only other major character in a Persona game who draws this much ire from the audience is probably Yukari Takeba from Persona 3 because of her haughty attitude, but Yukari is around from the very beginning of Persona 3, while Marie is a newcomer to the cast in Golden.  So Yukari more or less gets a pass, while Marie doesn’t.  The funniest part of all this is that unlike the studio executives in The Simpsons, Atlus hasn’t sent Marie back to her home planet.  She’s appeared in almost every P4 spinoff released since, including Persona Q, Persona Q 2, Persona Arena Ultimax, and Persona 4: Dancing All Night, either as a DLC character or a character in the game proper.  Maybe the Japanese fans who make up the primary market for these games don’t hate Marie at all, or maybe Atlus just doesn’t care.

That brings us to Persona 5 Royal.  Almost all of the buzz surrounding P5R is centered on Kasumi Yoshizawa, the new cast member.  Not much is known about Kasumi aside from what we’ve seen of her in the trailers: that just like Akira, she’s a transfer student to Shujin Academy who has Persona-summoning abilities.  It’s pretty obvious that Kasumi joins the Phantom Thieves at some point in P5R, but what’s not clear is whether she’s a true friend or an enemy planning to betray the group.

She also has a huge appetite.  Just look at that lunch, it’s practically packed in a damn shipping container.

Since this character was made public, she seems to have gotten nothing but love from the fans.  However, since we don’t really know anything about Kasumi’s characterization or her role in the story yet, who’s to say she won’t fall into the same trap Marie did?  Character quirks that would normally be endearing can become irritating under the wrong circumstances, and Marie’s quirks fell into that latter category for a lot of players.  Just like Marie, Kasumi has to convince the player that she’s worthy of joining a beloved cast of characters.  The fact that the fans like her now might turn out to be a moot point.

Hell, this whole post might be moot.  Kasumi looks like she’ll be a cool character.  She seems to be a cheery, spunky kind of girl, and people like that.  Either way, I’ll be preordering Persona 5 Royal.  Because I’m an idiot who will buy anything Atlus puts out, but also because Persona 5 was really good, so the expanded version of P5 has got to be good as well, even if Kasumi ends up falling flat on her face in terms of fan reception.

School counselor Takuto Maruki is also a new character, but because he’s not a cute girl, nobody cares. Sorry, man.

So either Kasumi turns out to be a hated character and this was prophetic, in which case I won’t be happy because I want to like her, or she doesn’t and I just wrote 1,300 words about nothing at all.  This is what happens when I have a sick day and can’t go to work: I drink Robitussin and write nonsense.  Hell, I didn’t even hate Marie that much myself, and I’m sure there were players who liked her.

I’m going back to bed.  You can chalk this one up to a case of delirium.  Do your best to avoid summer colds, everyone.