Megami Tensei #1: You’re not the hero of this story

Sometimes I won’t write anything for a week or two, and then in a few hours a few thousand words will spill out of my brain. This was one of those days, and the result is the start of a series on prominent themes in the Megami Tensei series of games and how I think they relate to life in general. I know, it’s a huge surprise that I’m writing about Megami Tensei. I only bring the god damn series up every other post I make. Anyway, I hope this mind dump makes sense to at least one person. It contains a few very general spoilers for Persona 5 and a lot of very specific story and ending spoilers for the original Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey.

It’s almost a cliche to say that we all like to think of ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. I recently had to attend a few events at my state bar association, where you occasionally get to hear some puffed-up language about the nobility of the profession of law. Law is a serious and complex profession, no matter what field you’re working in, and we are subject to real ethical standards (a fact that’s shocking to a lot of non-lawyers.) Perhaps as a result of this, there’s a tendency, especially among law students who don’t know any better, to equate being a lawyer with something like being a knight. We do take an oath upon being sworn in, and some aspects of discovery and trial could be compared to the dance of a duel between two champions. Otherwise, the reality of the practice is quite a bit dirtier and more mundane than that. (At least practicing law doesn’t usually result in someone getting axed in the skull.  But I’m still never returning to the endless hell that is the world of litigation.)

This kind of romanticism affects many more areas of life, public and private, professional and personal. And, of course, we see it in video and PC games. Many of us, myself included, play games to escape from reality, so it’s only natural that we want to play the role of the hero. There’s a reason Joker from Persona 5 is such a popular character that he made it into Smash, and it’s not because of his amazing dialogue. His being a silent protagonist helps, in fact, because the silence makes it easier to pour own your personality into that empty vessel, a point that a lot of people who complain about the Persona games’ silent protagonists seem to either miss or ignore.

And who wouldn’t want to play one of the heroes in Persona 5? Joker and his Persona are references to the fictional suave gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, and his Phantom Thieves as a whole are a callback to probably fictional romantic bandits like Robin Hood and his merry men of Sherwood Forest, only in a modern urban setting. Yes, Akira in the real world got a raw deal as a wrongfully convicted felon undergoing probation, but Joker in the world of shadows is a dashing hero. That’s not to mention the fact that even in the real world, Akira can romance almost all of the women around him.* Persona 5 does try to address serious social problems like official abuse of power, but in the end I see it more as an escapist fantasy than a commentary on reality. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. God knows I need my escapist fantasy.

Yeah, this is 100% fantasy…

You can’t live in the escapist fantasy forever, though. Eventually, reality will catch up with you. There’s another game in the Megami Tensei series that emphasizes this point, and it’s the infamously difficult dungeon-crawler RPG Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey.**

In most of the endings of mainline Shin Megami Tensei games, the silent protagonist is not really the hero of his own story. He typically ends up assisting the head of one of the extremist factions build its own paradise based either upon the principles of the Law alignment or the Chaos alignment. The word paradise should really be in quotes, however. A Law ending usually leads to the direct domination of human society by God, complete with a nice “cleansing” to get rid of the unworthy, which is most of us, while a Chaos ending usually leads to the destruction of human society by a horde of demons and the violent murder of the weak, which once again happens to be most of us. The same is true of Strange Journey, in which you play another silent protagonist the fans have dubbed “Space Marine”, a member of an international strike/research force sent into a growing mass of dark energy covering most of Antarctica. Turns out said mass is swarming with demons (what a surprise!) which has gotten so bad that Mastema, a mysterious black-winged angel, is also there fighting the demons under the direction of God himself (or so he claims, anyway.)

Never trust an angel in an SMT game.

Most of these mainline SMT games also have characters who represent the Chaos alignment and the belief in absolute liberty, following the lead of Lucifer, and a character who represents the Law alignment and submits body and soul to whatever avatar God happens to be using at the moment (often, but not always, the Old Testament YHVH, complete with his jealousy and smiting and weird mood swings.) And behold, two of your fellow crew members, Jimenez and Zelenin, take these roles and undergo a demonic and an angelic transformation respectively (equally monstrous transformations in the context of the Megaten universe, because both end up completely losing their humanity as a result.) Out of the three available ending paths, two involve joining your considerable power with Jimenez or Zelenin and bringing about either a new Earth ruled over by massive demonic worms that have apparently devoured most of humanity or a new Earth in which part of humanity has technically survived, but in a brainwashed state in which all people everywhere are constantly singing in praise of the Lord forever while standing on top of giant gray windowless buildings.

Yeah, I don’t… I don’t know about this.

Watching these endings probably won’t make you feel like much of a hero for helping to bring them about.*** They might even make you angry. This is what I was fighting for? you might think to yourself. Generally speaking, the closest you can get to a “heroic” ending in a mainline SMT game is by taking the Neutral path, which rejects both God and Lucifer in favor of humanity’s control over its own destiny. Perhaps for this reason, both getting onto and completing the Neutral path is usually ridiculously difficult. Maybe that’s the price you have to pay for opposing the wills of gods and renegade angels.

It’s not too hard to find analogues to God and Lucifer in humanity itself, either. Replace all of Earth with a single country, God with an oppressive tyrant ruling over it and Lucifer with a violent revolutionary leader trying to oust him and you’ve got the basic plot of an SMT game, and one that occurs in the real world all the time. The only real difference between the two scenarios is that while the victorious revolutionary leader often transforms into the new oppressive tyrant, the Lucifer of Megami Tensei has no desire to rule over humanity because that would run against his belief in absolute freedom. But even in the Chaos ending, the soil is ripe for the growth of a new absolute ruler who can win power through strength and charisma, creating a constant cycle of lawful tyrants and chaotic revolutionaries that overthrow them. Even the Neutral ending always feels more like a temporary fix than a permanent one – the powers representing the extreme alignments might go away for a while, but they never truly die. God and Lucifer always return in some form to submit humanity to more suffering. Not exactly the fun “hero slays the dragon and saves the princess” kind of story, and certainly not satisfying if you’re looking for a happy ending.

You’d think if Lucifer took the trouble to genderbend that he’d also try to come up with a less lazy fake name than this.

Maybe that’s just the point – there are ups and downs in life, but there is no ultimate happy ending. There may not even be an ending at all. The Abrahamic tradition, the one I’m most familiar with by far, views time in a straight line starting with with creation and the Garden of Eden and ending with the apocalypse and Judgment Day. But in other traditions, time is viewed not as a line but as a circle. It’s not evident in Strange Journey, but other mainline SMT games adopt this cyclical view of time. It’s not that heroes can’t be born in that cycle – heroes simply can’t break the cycle. Balance between Law and Chaos is never achieved permanently, and the resultant suffering continues forever because of it.

My own country is going through a political upheaval right now. Our head of state and government is contained in one person, and that person is definitely incompetent and possibly traitorous. We Americans like to think we’ve somehow earned stability and prosperity, and even that God himself guarantees said stability and prosperity. When I was growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, “God bless America” was a mandatory line in every politician’s speech, whether Democrat or Republican, almost as if by repeating this line over and over we could keep God’s blessings forever.

You don’t hear that line so much anymore. My own millennial generation is less traditionally religious than past generations, but there might be more to it than changing demographics. I think there’s a sense now that we could lose everything we have, and perhaps that God, if he even exists, doesn’t care. Perhaps he doesn’t even care if all humanity burns itself out because of our inability to handle the technology we’re developing. If that’s our ultimate fate, there isn’t a hero who can permanently prevent it. That’s the message I take from Strange Journey. It’s a depressing message, but an honest one.

Or maybe I’m just a depressive pessimist.  Yeah, that’s probably it. 𒀭

 

* I guess this point isn’t applicable to gay men or straight women. I’m not sure how well lesbian players can put themselves in Akira’s place either, him being a man and all. People have suggested bringing the female MC option back to a Persona game after P3P’s FeMC, or the possibility of at least one homosexual relationship (which did exist in implied form in Persona 2: Innocent Sin, but nobody seems to remember that game exists.) However, that’s a subject for a different post (and for countless, endless forum/imageboard/Twitter fights.)

** I technically haven’t finished this game, but I’ve gotten all the way to the absolute final Neutral route boss.  Yes, I’m pretty lousy.  I swear to God (or YHVH or whoever) I’ll complete it one day, just out of spite.  I made it all the way through Horologium, for fuck’s sake.

*** Depending upon your religious upbringing and how well it stuck, the Law ending in Strange Journey might seem like a good one to you. I don’t think Atlus intended for it to seem like a good ending but rather to be a mirror image of the Chaos ending. But if you think you’d enjoy singing hymns on top of a giant building for all eternity, more power to you. Just don’t make me join in. Well, I’d certainly be one of the unclean humans who gets banished to the outer darkness anyway, so I guess it’s a moot point.

An open letter to my friends in the practice of law

Today I’m doing something I’d typically never think of doing: showing some goodwill to my fellow humans.

What a ridiculous thought

Okay, I’m really not that bitter and miserable all the time. But sometimes I am, and it’s easy to forget at those times that I rely upon other people, just as the rest of us do. The most excellent Irina from the site I drink and watch anime (who also happened to take one of the best ideas for a site name that I didn’t think of myself) reminded me of this when she nominated me for the Blogging Chums Award established by one beams19. The rules follow:

This may seem like a bit of an odd award but I think it’s so important to tell the people closest to us how much we care about them, and in a world that is so full of hate and division, it’s the little things we do that can help make a big impact – so go tell someone you love them!

This award isn’t compulsory by any means but if you decide to take part, it would mean the world to me. I wonder if there will ever be a day when I’m scrolling through WordPress Reader and I see the Blogging Chum Award floating around on other blogs!”

The Rules:

Be sure to use the award image! (note: made by the author of Daring to Impress, which seems to be focused on fashion and such)
List the rules & about paragraph!
Thank whoever nominated you!
Write a letter to someone who means a lot to you to spread some positivity around the Internet – anyone will do!
Nominate 5 more people for the award and go let them know about it in their comments!

 

That’s some challenge. I could certainly thank any one of my fellow writers for their support and for doing what they do, and I do want to give my thanks to them. As the title suggests, though, there’s another group of people I want to thank today: my friends at the bar.  (The legal bar, not the bar you drink at, though I sometimes go to that kind of bar and meet friends there.)  I’m certain none of them will read this post, but if any do out of pure coincidence, it would make me happy, even if I am maintaining my anonymity here.

The practice of law is rough, frustrating, and dirty for many attorneys.  Some of us work in family law representing husbands and wives in the process of divorcing, splitting goods and property and the custody of children.  Some of us represent clients before administrative agencies with massive backlogs.  Some of us prosecute criminal defendants and some of us defend them in a criminal justice system that often seems twisted and backwards and stacked against the poor and working people, despite our stated standard of justice for all.  A few of us – fewer than most people realize – work at large firms for corporate clients, making big salaries but billing unbelievable numbers of hours per year, to the point that our free evenings and weekends are reduced or vanish altogether.  And 99% of the law is extremely unglamorous, no matter what part of it you practice.

“Counsel, please stop shouting and pointing at everyone.”

We all have one thing in common, though: we’re all subject to more or less the same rules of ethics, and we all bust our asses to make our clients and bosses happy.  And sometimes the effort required to perform the necessary work and maintain our ethical standards causes a lot of stress.  There’s a reason law is one of the highest-ranked professions in instances of depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide.  I’ve gone through experiences in my brief time as a lawyer that made me seriously question my decision to go to law school and sit for the bar.  Our own state bar association is finally acknowledging the problem, but aside from a help line and a referral program to mental health professionals, it doesn’t offer much in the way of aid.  And to be honest, it can’t – this profession is what it is, and there’s only so much you can do about the level of stress it causes its practitioners.

That’s why I’m writing this post to my friends in the practice of law.  I won’t lie – this profession does contain assholes, blowhards, and backstabbers.  But it also contains a lot of faithful, trustworthy, and classy people.  From my experience (and despite popular opinion) the second type of lawyer is more common than the first.  The friends I made as a law student and an attorney have given me a great deal of help with their support and advice, perhaps more than they know.  To those friends, I can only give my thanks and express my hope that I will always rank among the second type of lawyer and not the first.

As for the nominations – this is where I hit a wall.  As I’ve said before, this blog is a bit of a dead end since I’ve been out of the networking loop for the last, uh, five and a half years or so.  That’s something I’m trying to change, but for the time being, I will go ahead and tag The Otaku Judge and also Pete over at MoeGamer – no pressure, of course, and I haven’t seen the good Judge around for a while, but hopefully he’ll make his return soon.

Top games of 2017

Every podunk Youtube channel and blog is making its own best games of the year list, so I figured I should as well. So as not to fall behind.

1) NieR: Automata

Come for the hot android girl, stay for the existential crisis-inducing feels

I didn’t review this game because there was no point. Everyone has already declared NieR: Automata the best game of the year, and rightly so. I can’t disagree with that judgment. NieR has everything: android booty, robot-killing action, and a thought-provoking story. It’s also great having an irreverent, doesn’t-give-a-shit guy like Yoko Taro around in the increasingly self-important land of game developers. Or maybe that attitude is only prevalent here in America.

NieR: Automata also wins my “best soundtrack of the year” award. Yoko Taro and co. can throw that award on the pile with the others.

2) Persona 5

hnnngh so cute

I did review Persona 5, though once again I have to say that my review was completely unnecessary. People who don’t even like JRPGs loved this tale of high school students with magical powers who fight demons in a shadow world. I loved it too, but only 99% as much as NieR, so it gets second place. It also wins my “second best soundtrack of the year” prize. It’s really too bad Persona 5 didn’t come out in 2016. (Actually, it did come out in 2016 – but the NA release came six months later, so as far as I’m concerned it’s a 2017 game and it still loses to NieR.)

3) VA-11 HALL-A

Make way for best girl

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with “indie games”. Some of them take a brilliant idea and fuck it over with bad gameplay mechanics, while others have a decent sense of how to construct a game but can’t help pretentiousnessing all over the place until you’re fucking sick. VA-11 HALL-A is a game with a good concept executed well, one that’s fun and has great, memorable characters. You might not like it because it’s more or less a visual novel with a bartending minigame attached (if you’re the “games must have ACTUAL ACTION” type) or because it features a very young-looking sexbot character (if you’re the overly sensitive SJW type – never mind that this character is really one of the most interesting in the game and explores some of the possible morality issues surrounding her very existence.  I did know a few people who dropped the game for this reason.) But if you don’t like this game, you’re wrong. Yeah, I know, opinions and all. But you’re still wrong. VA-11 HALL-A is a great game, and you’re wrong if you don’t like it.

Wait, this game – this actually was released in 2016, wasn’t it?

Well, shit. Never mind. It still deserves to be on this list.

4) Gravity Rush 2

The gravity-bending heroine of the first Gravity Rush returns to the PS4 for more adventures.  Gravity Rush 2 is a good game.  Once again, if anyone tells you differently, they’re wrong.  Also, Kat is a really cute character.

There’s an important plot reason why Kat’s wearing that maid outfit, okay? Leave me alone.

5) ???

Okay, it’s time to admit that I haven’t played many of this year’s newest and hottest games.  I’ve been playing a lot of Stella Glow lately, but it came out in 2015.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about Horizon Zero Dawn but for some reason I don’t feel a great desire to play it.  It would probably be on this list if I’d bothered with it.

Anyway, have a happy new year.  Or not.  Whatever.  Does it even matter anymore?

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? 𒀭

* 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.

Edit (8/23/18): I wrote this piece when I wasn’t so useless and despondent as I am now.  I still think Persona 5 is a great game, but Persona 3 definitely beats it out as far as having realistic characters goes (take Yukari, for instance, who is incredibly irritating for the first half of the game.)  Even Persona 4 does a little better, with an antagonist who has an honestly pretty realistic motivation for doing what he does.  I also don’t really know what I meant by this game being Shin Megami Tensei V.  It’s pretty obvious that Shin Megami Tensei V is going to be Shin Megami Tensei V.  Even with the demon negotiation stuff in Persona 5, Persona and SMT are extremely different in tone and mechanics despite being both under the Megami Tensei umbrella.

Finally, not so sure about Makoto being best girl anymore – now I think it’s got to be Futaba.  But Makoto is still high up on the list.

First impressions of Persona 5 (it’s good)

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

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

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

The war will continue forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edit (8/23/18): In the end, Atlus barely even enforced the stream ban.  I watched a guy off and on who played the whole game through to the true end on Twitch and never got slapped for it, and last year there were a ton of people streaming the game on Twitch with presumably no consequence (except perhaps for DarksydePhil, who reportedly did get slapped by Atlus, though maybe they knew how much of a complete knob he is.)

Atlus: Persona 5 to be released not after 2022

p5

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

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

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

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

Persona 4: Cooking All Day

Akihiko Sanada: Boxing Legend

Persona 4 Absolute Arena Platinum Ultimate

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

Dojima and Adachi’s Drunk Karaoke Challenge