Deep reads #5.1: Why I like Megami Tensei

This was bound to happen at some point. I’ve written a lot about the long-running Megami Tensei JRPG series on this site, certainly more than I have about any other game series — maybe even more than every other series put together. I don’t care to go back and measure that out, but it seems likely.

But why? What’s so special to me about Megami Tensei that I can’t shut up about it? I’ve written reviews of a few games in the series and about various aspects of it here and there, including these two commentary posts from last year. With this new set of posts, I want to dive into that question and examine what makes this series unique and what I think it may have to offer new fans just getting into Persona through the Persona 4 Golden PC port, for example, or wondering about news of the Nocturne HD remaster and the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei V.

As with the Disgaea series I wrote way back in January through April, this one will run as long as it needs to, and like that one, it’s partly meant to win over converts. But don’t worry! It’s fun in the world of MegaTen. At the very least, it might put you into the right mindset to deal with the coming demon apocalypse that will begin in 2033 when a portal opens over your city and Loki and Set fly out.

Speaking of Loki and Set, first things first:

A very brief history of the series and an explanation of just what the hell Megami Tensei is exactly

Megami Tensei (女神転生, literally “Goddess Reincarnation” though it’s never gotten an officially Anglicized title like that as far as I know) started out as a trilogy of novels by author Aya Nishitani. These have to do with a bullied high school student named Akemi Nakajima who summons the Norse trickster god Loki through a computer program he wrote to beat those bullies up, but the kid goes a bit power-mad, and Loki ends up using him to escape the computer and enter the real world somehow. Then Nakajima becomes an actual hero, trying to stop Loki with the help of his classmate Yumiko Shirasagi, who also happens to be the reincarnation of the Japanese creation goddess Izanami (which is where the title Megami Tensei comes from.)1

Following the success of the first novel in the series, two games were made titled Megami Tensei and released in 1987. The first to come out was a Gauntlet-looking top-down action game made by developer Telenet that has absolutely no connection with what came afterward. The second was a turn-based JRPG developed by Atlus for the Famicom and was the starting point for the now three decade-long series we’re talking about here. Though this game was based on Nishitani’s first novel, as soon as the sequel Megami Tensei II the series moved away from the source material and started doing its own thing.

But where does that Shin come from? And how do Persona, Devil Summoner, and all the other spinoffs relate to it?

And what makes this cover kind of misleading?

In 1992, Shin Megami Tensei was released for the Super Famicom. Like a lot of other game series that jumped over from the Famicom, this Shin was added as a prefix to set it part from older titles — the character 真 has a few meanings but here it’s used as something like “true”, like “hey, this is the real thing.” Like its predecessors, Shin Megami Tensei was a turn-based JRPG about fighting a demon invasion while recruiting demons into your party through a unique negotiation system. It also spawned a sequel, establishing what we now call the “mainline” SMT series, running through those first two Super Famicom games, SMT III: NocturneSMT IVSMT IV Apocalypse, and the upcoming SMT V.1

However, in the mid-90s Atlus started producing a load of new games in the Megami Tensei universe, using a lot of the same mythological figures and creatures that were featured as demons in the older Megami Tensei/Shin Megami Tensei games. Series like Devil Summoner, Megami Ibunroku Persona (the first Persona game, yes) and later on Digital Devil Saga and the strategy RPG Devil Survivor. These games either had sequels or started entirely new spinoff series, the most successful of which was Persona, which has gotten far more press than even the original series that spawned it.

It’s also important to untangle some of the title-related weirdness that’s gone on when these games have received NA/EU releases. Fans of Final Fantasy will be very familiar with these problems, getting a “Final Fantasy III” that’s actually Final Fantasy VI and so on. The issues with some of the 90s/00s titles in Megami Tensei are weird in a different way. In their attempts to sell this series to the West, Atlus messed around with its titles a bit, releasing Persona 3 and 4Devil Survivor 1 and 2, and the Digital Devil Saga and Raidou Kuzunoha games with the Shin Megami Tensei prefix when none of them were actually SMT games. Megami Tensei, yes, but throw out the Shin because it doesn’t belong there.

It doesn’t have a , but Persona games aren’t a bad place to learn a few other kanji. Thanks for the help, Ryuji! From Persona 5 (2016).

Thankfully, they seem to have quit doing this, but it’s still a bit of a mess for westerners who want to look up information on the Japanese versions of some of the 90s and 00s games. Basically, if the original title doesn’t contain that 真, it’s not SMT. That naturally has nothing to do with its quality or anything; it’s just a problem with classification. But hell, classification is important. How are we supposed to find anything without it?

I’ll stop boring you with classification talk now, though, and answer the question I posed in the beginning: what do I find so great about this series? Let’s get on to it:

1) Use of mythological, historical, and religious figures from around the world

Many game series that rely on myth and legend for their characters and worldbuilding use beings from one culture or part of the world. Or they go the route of Elder Scrolls and D&D-based worlds and use Tolkien’s old lore. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and I’ve really enjoyed games that stick to those standards.

But one of the reasons I find Megami Tensei so interesting is that it doesn’t limit itself to any one set of traditions. Certain games will have specific focuses, but as a whole the series branches out into the tradition of just about every culture it can find. Many of the demons in the series (and note: “demon” is a neutral term here referring to any supernatural or mythological being regardless of their alignment) are taken from pretty well-known and common sources, including the active Abrahamic, Hindu, and Buddhist religious traditions and the ancient Greco-Roman, Norse, and Egyptian ones, and sometimes with a special emphasis on Japanese myth. But there are also beings taken from traditions like the Buryat (best bird Moh Shuvuu), Ainu (Koropokkur), and Hawaiian (Pele). The addition of a few other “fallen” gods who were toppled by now-dominant religions like Christianity and Islam make for some interesting character relationships that play out in some of these games.

Alilat, an ancient Arabian goddess whose idol was smashed in Mecca, is back to take it out on your party. Well, not exactly, but I like to think she’s carrying around that grudge. From Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (2009).

The demon designs add a lot to this variety. Most of them were done by artist and series co-creator Kazuma Kaneko, who has an extremely distinctive style. Some of Kaneko’s designs are straightforward, while others get extremely creative, taking some liberties with the demons in question. But even when that’s the case, the designs still usually make sense. The two alternate designs for the common series Angel are good examples of both his approaches: the one that’s used in SMT I and II looks like the typical depiction of an angel from western tradition, while the design used in Nocturne and the Persona games is… well, not typical at all. Yet even that provocative “bondage angel” design has some connection to what an angel is supposed to be in our set of traditions here. It’s not just provocative for its own sake.2

And of course there’s the classic case of Mara, the villainous god of desire/temptation in Buddhist tradition, but also known among MegaTen fans as “dick chariot” for reasons that will be obvious if you look it up. I’ll do you a favor by not posting it here, but you’ll have seen it in some form or another if you’ve played a MegaTen game, and maybe even if you haven’t. That damn dick chariot just won’t stop showing up — he’s a fan favorite, after all.

2) The relationship between the supernatural and human

This connects to the first reason above. It’s also a theme that I plan to write about in a more in-depth way later on. But here, I can at least say that the Megami Tensei series does a lot more with its various gods, angels, demons, spirits, monsters, and mythical heroes than dumping them into a game and making the player fight them. Most of the games involve the human characters having to deal with the supernatural leaking over into the world of humans. This was the basis of the very first Megami Tensei novel and its game adaptations, and though the series has branched out greatly since then, that basic premise is still there.

The relationship between humans and gods and/or godlike supernatural beings isn’t a new theme for the JRPG genre. It’s been present in the genre pretty much since the beginning. The original Megami Tensei has its roots in that beginning, but other major JRPG series like Final Fantasy, Fire Emblem, and Ys also established it as a common theme. Megami Tensei carries that theme even further by having its human and demon characters not only fight but also bond and work together towards common goals. The demon negotiation system is part of that, one of its most unique elements and still one of my favorite mechanics in any game series. Cooperation between humans and demons also plays heavily into the plots of these games, however: particular demons join up with or try to influence human leaders to take actions depending upon their alignments, and the most powerful of them pull the strings from behind the scenes.

Or, you know, they become your demon waifu like Pixie here. From Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (2003).

In the SMT games and some of their spinoffs, this places the player character in an awkward position where fellow human party members will fall into one of the ideologies that make up these alignments. By the end, the player is usually forced into one of these alignments depending upon his dialogue and action choices at fixed points throughout the game. And it’s very much to the credit of the series that it never presents one of these paths as “the right one.” Megami Tensei doesn’t set values of “good” or “evil” on your decisions, going instead with a law-neutral-chaos scale and leaving the players to make up their own minds about the morality of their choices.3

By doing this, the series avoids falling into the trap of trying to force a morality-based karma system that may come off as overly simplistic. Such a system might work for some games, but it wouldn’t really work for MegaTen. While some gods, spirits, and demons certainly identify with being on the good or evil side of things, many of the others have little or no regard for these paltry human concepts of morality. Even the MegaTen version of big bad Lucifer, the Devil himself, doesn’t seem to consider himself evil but rather more a force of chaos, pushing a world of might-makes-right-based total freedom. Whether his goal is good or evil is up to you to decide.

3) A variety of gameplay styles

Megami Tensei is best known for being a turn-based JRPG series, and to be fair a lot of its games use that combat style, including the mainline SMT and Persona titles. If turn-based combat isn’t your thing, though, the series still has plenty to offer, like grid-based tactics battle systems (Devil Survivor) and real-time action (Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha.) So even if you’re completely allergic to the old JRPG “stand and wait for the enemy to hit you, then hit him back” standard, you don’t have to write MegaTen off completely.

And even the turn-based games themselves vary greatly both in gameplay mechanics and in atmosphere and narrative style. There have been a lot of complaints in the last decade about how “stale” the JRPG genre has gotten, partly because of its wearing down of old plot and character tropes and partly because of its use of the old turn-based combat system that hasn’t changed much since the 80s. That’s a take I generally don’t agree with anyway, but I do think MegaTen has been able to avoid being subject to these complaints both by defining its own unique narrative styles and by keeping combat fresh from game to game. Combat in SMT and the other series spinoffs has a different rhythm, relying on the player’s use of buffs and debuffs, exploitation of enemy weaknesses, and effective defense of their own weaknesses.

The Press Turn system in Nocturne is a good example of this: by hitting enemies’ weaknesses, the player only spends half a turn instead of a full one that can be used for a strategic advantage, but hitting enemies with attacks that they void, repel, or absorb costs the player extra turns or even cancels the player’s attack round altogether. The same rules apply to the enemy’s attacks, requiring the player to use both a strategic offense and defense to win. This creates a situation where the battle will tip for or against the player depending upon their party composition and how smartly they’re playing. As a result, brute-forcing your way through an SMT game is simply not an option.

Trumpeter toots as he pleases, no matter how overleveled you are.

And then, of course, there’s Persona. This MegaTen spinoff series has blown up everywhere, comparatively moreso in the West where Megami Tensei didn’t have much of a presence up until Persona 3 got some notice from players here. The Persona games use a modified form of the turn-based SMT battle system, but it’s their inclusion of the social sim aspect that really sets them apart from the rest. It wasn’t a new concept when Persona 3 came out — the Sakura Wars series had been doing it for a while by then — but it was a new concept to me when I picked the game up on its NA release in 2007, and despite a few pacing issues it really worked for me. But I’ll get more into that in a later post.

It’s also worth mentioning that none of these different spinoffs feel like cash-ins based on fads, as though Atlus was throwing out something slapped together for fans to buy up because it had MegaTen branding.4 All these various game styles are at the very least playable even if you’re not a particular fan of them (I’m awful at the Raidou games’ real-time action combat to the point that it’s just frustrating for me to play, but that’s more my problem than the games’.)

4) The music

Yeah, of course the music in this series needs its own section. Every Megami Tensei game I’ve played or even just seen played by someone else has had amazing music, without exception. This is largely thanks to longtime series composer Shoji Meguro (responsible for much of the music in the first three SMT titles, the Persona, Digital Devil Saga, and Devil Summoner games among others.) These soundtracks have very different feels that suit the mood set by each game: Nocturne and DDS combine hard rock with softer ambient-sounding tracks, the Raidou Kuzunoha games use some older jazz styles that suit their 1930s setting, and the modern Persona games have more modern-sounding soundtracks with emphases on rap/hip-hop (Persona 3), pop/rock (4), and jazz/funk (5). And though they don’t get as much attention, Persona 1 and the 2 duology have excellent music as well — I’ve had the battle music in Persona 5 Royal set to A Lone Prayer for a while and I’m not getting tired of it yet. The common point here is that these soundtracks are all excellent, full of memorable, moving, and powerful themes.

While Meguro is the most prominent music guy involved in Megami Tensei, credit also has to be given to Ryota Kozuka, composer for SMT4 and a great one in his own right, and Kenichi Tsuchiya, who provided the massively impressive church organ music for Nocturne and a number of other pieces throughout the 2000s. And of course, the performers get serious credit as well: rapper Lotus Juice played a big part in defining the sound of Persona 3, just as the singer Lyn did for Persona 5 — if Mass Destruction and Last Surprise were stuck in your head when you played these games, they were partly responsible for that.

I actually do like “Mass Destruction” but god damn did it get old after hearing it 500+ times in battle. From Persona 3 (2006).

I could make a list of my favorite Megami Tensei tracks, like say Normal Battle ~Town~, Hunting – Betrayal, Memories of You, Tokyo… but that would probably be an entire post (or series of posts?) in itself.

And as for the other reasons why I like this series — I’ll be getting into those in far greater depth starting with my next entry. I don’t plan to focus each of these entries on individual games or sub-series, but rather on concepts and approaches the series as a whole takes. This will still require going into depth about specific games’ plots, characters, gameplay mechanics, and themes, but I will be trying to avoid specific end-game spoilers. I don’t have any of the other posts even close to done yet, but this is a promise I’ll try to keep.

Hell, I don’t even really know how long this set of posts will be yet. Let’s just say that it will be as long as it needs to be. No need to worry about the details yet. I feel like I’m stepping into a minefield here anyway — may as well just charge ahead and hope for the best. 𒀭

 

1 But is SMT: Strange Journey a mainline SMT game? On one hand, it’s thematically in line with the other mainline games; on the other, it doesn’t take place in Tokyo and doesn’t have a numbered title. I’d say it falls into the same category as SMT if… — It’s SMT, but not a mainline game strictly speaking.

Again, though, I don’t know how much it really matters. You could just as easily argue the opposite based on the similarities SJ shares with the numbered games and where Atlus implies or some fans believe it lives in the series’ bizarre, complicated five-dimensional multiverse timeline. I’m not getting into any of that, though. I don’t have enough pushpins and yarn for it.

2 At least I don’t think it is. Maybe Kaneko was having a joke on us. He seems like he has that kind of sense of humor. Just look at Mara.

Also, I’m not forgetting Shigenori Soejima here — he’s one of my favorite artists, but I’ll get into his work when I dive into Persona specifically later on.

3 Nocturne’s Reasons are an exception, but aside from Shijima, Yosuga, and Musubi being a bit different from the usual Law/Chaos/Neutral paths, they operate the same way in the sense that the game doesn’t place a moral value upon them. I still think Hikawa is an asshole, though.

4 With the arguable exception of the Persona 3 and 5 dancing games. Technically they were fine, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get some enjoyment out of them, but the way they were released did come off like a cash grab, which is something I won’t even say about any of the other many Persona spinoffs. Still, they didn’t feel slapped together or anything.

Also with the possible exception of the gacha game SMT Liberation Dx2, but I can’t say because I haven’t played it. I’m naturally suspicious of the “free-to-play” gacha game model, but I’ve also heard that the game has had a lot of work and care put into it, so I don’t want to judge it unfairly. (Besides, even though I say I’m suspicious of gacha games, I’ve played both Puzzle & Dragons and Azur Lane, so who the fuck am I to talk.)

Other Megami Tensei games I’d like to see released for PC

This is a first: the second post in a row I’m making in response to a current event in the world of gaming. I promise this isn’t turning into a news site. However, the sudden release of Persona 4 Golden on Steam was a shock to almost everyone who cared about it, including me. I don’t have much to say about it, though, except it’s an excellent game that you should buy if you haven’t played it yet, but also that it comes with Denuvo built in which is a real pain in the ass not to mention a show of poor faith. I won’t be buying it yet, but that’s because I have a Vita in good working condition and several savefiles on my P4G card that I can go back to at any time and I absolutely need to finish Persona 5 Royal first. It makes sense that P4G is the first Megaten game to get a non-Japanese PC release, since just about nobody over here bought a Vita aside from me and maybe a dozen other people. And hell, the game is good enough that the Denuvo thing probably won’t matter to you.

No, that’s not what I’m talking about today. Since the door to Megaten PC ports is cracked now, let’s push it wide open. There are several other of these games I would love to see released on PC, so if anyone from Atlus is reading this, here’s my wishlist in order of what I want to see. Please note these aren’t based on what I think Atlus would be most likely to release but only on my preferences, so as usual I’m indulging in wishful thinking. On to the list:

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne

No surprise here, right? Nocturne is my favorite Megaten game and near the top of my favorite games list, whatever that would be. Yet it’s only ever been released for the PS2. It doesn’t seem like a PC port of Nocturne would be hard at all to make considering it’s now 17 years old. It would also make for a fine introduction to the mainline SMT series for new fans who have only played Persona 5 Royal and Persona 4 Golden so far.

Look, it even has dating, just like Persona. Well, sort of.

If I’m being greedy, I’d ask for the JP-only Chronicle Edition that replaces Dante with Raidou Kuzunoha, but people love their Dante from the Devil May Cry series so I know that won’t happen. Leave it to the modders to insert him later.

Persona 3 FES

This one is a lot more realistic than getting either Nocturne on PC or the complete Persona 5-style Persona 3 overhaul people keep clamoring for. A P3 port is the logical next step for Atlus to take after P4G: it’s a game that a lot of new fans haven’t experienced yet, but it’s still close enough to the newer Persona games in style that those fans won’t be put off.

I do think it’s more likely that we’d get the PSP-only Persona 3 Portable instead if only because of how popular its unique female protagonist option is. I’d still prefer FESPortable is sort of a “demake” anyway and lacks some of the features of FES, and most PCs would be able to handle FES in any case. However, the Answer section of FES is a character-destroying pile of shit, so maybe Portable would be better. But then again, you don’t really have to play the Answer if you get FES anyway, so maybe that doesn’t matter. I guess I’m torn over this one.

Persona 2

Both parts. Persona 2 has had a very weird history of western releases — we first only got Eternal Punishment, the second part of the two-part series, for PSX, then we got a port of the first part, Innocent Sin, on PSP but not Eternal Punishment on that system. It would be great to have a package including both games on PC, because the stories are supposed to be excellent in contrast with some quite honestly shitty gameplay and fusion mechanics. Maybe I’d actually get back to playing Innocent Sin again and suffering through that for the sake of the story. Once I beat Royal I’ll have 12 years to wait until Persona 6 comes out anyway.

Seriously though why would you give us each half of the duology on a different system and the second one years before the first, what the hell? I think they’re sadists.

Shin Megami Tensei I and II

I believe these are far less likely to be ported than Nocturne even, and for pretty obvious reasons: they’re a lot older and don’t contain any quality of life features, and II has never even received an official localization. And the localization of I was only for iOS for some fucking reason. But I’d still like to see these translated and ported, preferably in their slightly newer and more updated PSX remake forms. More complete overhauls would also be appreciated, but we’re already so deep in the unlikely zone at this point that I know that’s way too much to hope for. I’d rather hear news about Shin Megami Tensei V than about remakes of and II anyway.

***

There are plenty of other games that would be great to see released as ports on Steam like Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2, the PS2 Devil Summoner games, and SMT if…. However, the games I think we’re by far most likely to see are one of the two later versions of Persona 3 and any of the Persona spinoffs games they can cram onto Steam like the 3/4/5 dancing games and the Arena fighting games. Persona is the cash cow, after all. Or maybe we’ll really luck out and only get ports of obscure games that even most “serious” Megami Tensei fans don’t care about like Demikids and Last Bible. Only time will tell, but I’ll remain hopeful that we get something more on PC at least, because there are quite a few games in the series only playable on old consoles now that could use new life.

Enough of my complaints. Next time it will be back to business as usual. I already have some reviews and commentaries planned for the next few months — planning ahead, something I almost never do here. All this extra time staying at home has really paid off. But if Atlus surprises us with a Steam port of Nocturne, I’ll probably also be running an extremely detailed, tedious beat-by-beat playthrough of that game here. So maybe you should hope that doesn’t happen.

Seven great video game tracks (part 4)

Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans, and a good Monday to the rest of the world if you can bear it. Not that it feels that different from any other day. I don’t guess there are going to be as many barbecues as there usually are on this holiday. To commemorate it, I’m making a post that has nothing to do with Memorial Day: the fourth part of my favorite game music series, to demonstrate again that game music is not just “real” music but is also varied and diverse in style and all that. Not that I probably have to convince you of that if you’re already reading this. Anyway, on to the good stuff. As always, the order the entries are presented in doesn’t matter.

1) Kohei Tanaka — Old Town (Gravity Rush, 2012)

I’ve already written a bit about Gravity Rush — not so much about the substance of it but rather how I’d still probably want to date Kat if she were real, even at the risk of accidentally being flung into a wall thanks to her out-of-control gravity-shifting powers. So let me address some more substantive, less stupid material: the game’s music. You may not be familiar with the name Kohei Tanaka, but it’s likely you’ve seen or played something he’s written a score for if you’re into anime at all. He also wrote the soundtrack to Gravity Rush. It feels like a movie score, and I mean that in a good way. Almost feels like something out of a Ghibli movie. If you like Joe Hisaishi’s work, you should check this out.

The old European feel of the initially accessible part of town is enhanced by this Manneken Pis reference

I picked “Old Town” because it was the first track in the game that I heard a lot and got a strong impression of; it’s the music that plays in the first section of the city as you’re flinging Kat around in the air getting used to the controls. I’ll always associate it with Kat falling hundreds of yards out of the sky flat onto her face or tumbling into the void around the floating city. No, I’m not very good at this game.

2) Tatsuyuki YoshimatsuIn a Lonely Cave (Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, 2018)

Some of my favorite game tracks are the unexpected ones. Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is a retro-style action RPG that includes a lot of dirty jokes and lewd monster girls and stuff like that. It’s not an adults-only game, but there’s a lot of suggestive stuff in here along with all the hack and slash fighting slimes and bee-girls and lamias and similar beings. Since that really sells itself, the makers didn’t have to include a nice soundtrack, but they did anyway.

“In a Lonely Cave” plays when you enter a cave-themed dungeon area as the title suggests, and it made me want to stand in a corner and listen while enemies quickly beat down my HP. It’s very relaxing, especially the piano/acoustic guitar combo later in the track. Maybe this is too relaxing for a combat theme, actually, but I don’t care; I still like it.

3) The Humble Brothers — Terrain (SimCity 4, 2003)

Although I didn’t play it nearly as much as SimCity 2000, I was still somewhat into the series back in high school and bought SimCity 4 on release, and it was absolutely worth getting. In the spirit of the older SimCity games, it also had a good soundtrack. “Terrain” is an interesting one: it’s one of the tracks that plays during the map creation part of the game, but it sounds more like the backing music to a film scene of people walking through the mountains or jungle or some other wilderness, and not because they want to. Very ominous.

The song does suddenly cheer up halfway through, shifting into a major key. I don’t like that part quite as much, but I guess a SimCity game should provide some optimism to make the player feel like his future city will be a success, so I get that. I’d never heard of the Humble Brothers before writing this post, even though I’ve known this song of theirs for 17 years now, but they did a nice job. Maybe they’re too humble to make their identities known.

4) Jerry Martin — Buying Lumber (The Sims, 2000)

Another Sim game. I’m not the biggest fan of The Sims, and I didn’t touch its sequels aside from a very short time with The Sims 3 on someone else’s computer, but I can’t deny how amazingly popular and successful the series was. To their credit, Maxis poured a lot of work into it before they and EA together ended up crapping absolutely everything up, and said work included getting composer Jerry Martin to write music for the first game. This is a solo piano piece that is way, way more contemplative than you’d expect from the title “Buying Lumber.” This track plays when you’re in build mode while the game is paused, so the title makes sense in that way. Still, the few times I’ve been to Home Depot, I haven’t felt this melancholic while walking through the lumber aisles.

This is a depressing-looking house, but I wouldn’t call it melancholic exactly. This guy just needs to clean it up and buy better furniture.

5) ??? — Data Select (Sonic the Hedgehog 3, 1994)

Okay, enough of the profound contemplative music — next is the jaunty Data Select song from Sonic 3. This track doesn’t seem to have an official title; it’s just the song that plays when you’re on the screen to start a new game or load a saved one. I’m also not sure who exactly wrote it, because Sonic 3 famously had a large team of composers working on the music. These included guitarist Jun Senoue, whose work would be a lot more prominent in later 3D Sonic stuff, and keyboardist/frequent Michael Jackson collaborator Brad Buxer. Buxer’s involvement has led many fans to speculate that Jackson himself worked on some of the Sonic 3 tracks and had his name removed later because he wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality on the Genesis.

Too bad if that’s true, because the quality is pretty damn good. It’s impressive to hear how much these guys do with the limited resources of the 16-bit console. This is one of those tracks that a lot of people don’t hear all the way through — it is a data select screen theme after all; you’re not usually lingering on it too long — but it does go on longer than you’d expect. I like the light atmosphere it creates going into the game. If you like it too, be sure to also check out the Tee Lopes cover of the song. This guy was featured in the last entry in this post series; his fan works were good enough that he got hired by SEGA to write music for Sonic Mania, and that game had a great soundtrack too.

6) Shoji Meguro — The Days When My Mother Was There (and another version) (Persona 5, 2016)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m playing through Persona 5 Royal. I’m liking it a lot so far. Admittedly I’m not as in love with the new Royal-exclusive music as I’d hoped, but it’s still good. It’s hard for that to compete with the amazing soundtrack that already existed in the base game anyway, with songs like “The Days When My Mother Was There”. A lot of people highlight the dramatic vocal tracks like “Life Will Change” and “Rivers in the Desert” and those are indeed great, but I prefer these more relaxed pieces. “The Days When My Mother Was There” sounds like it should be more melancholic from the title than it actually sounds, but there’s some plot stuff going on that provides context if you’re hearing it while playing the game.

Each of the Palace themes in Persona 5 also has an alternate version, and I like this one almost as much as the main theme. I’m a big fan of the electric piano sound it has — I think that contributes to the 60s/70s fusion/funk/soul/etc. sound Persona 5 has in general.

7) Nobuo Uematsu — One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII Remake, 2020)

So I guess I have to eat my words about how I thought the FF7 remake wouldn’t be that good. At least I should prepare to do so, because I’ve been surprised by what I’ve seen so far. Not by the music, though, because I didn’t expect Square-Enix to mess up the excellent soundtrack of the original, and it seems like they haven’t. If you haven’t heard it yet, check out the new version of the classic “One-Winged Angel” with the full orchestra/choir treatment it deserves. Though for nostalgic reasons, I still like the original more. I don’t know, maybe that’s stupid.

Not everything about the original was better.

So that’s it for the latest entry in my favorite game music series. Four entries over six years — I really am lazy. Please look forward to the next entry in 2023. In the meantime, I’m still playing through Royal and a few other games, so I hope to get a couple of reviews/analyses up next month. There’s also a reason I featured a couple of tracks from the Sim series. That’s a not-so-subtle hint at the subject of the next deep reads post. Let’s see if I have anything new or interesting to say about that franchise. You can be the judge when it comes out.

For now, I’ll be taking the rest of the month off to work. I wish I could take off from work to write and play games instead, but as long as I stay on the projects I’m working on (which I absolutely need, so I hope I do) that’s not an option. That’s the life of a contractor: free, but also not all that stable. Well, what can you do. Until next time.

Seven great video game tracks (part 3)

It’s been a while since my last dedicated music post and nearly four years since I posted an entry in this particular series (see parts 1 and 2 back in 2014 and 2015*) but I thought why let it stay dead?  I’ve been working on that second deep reads post, which is proving to be more of a pain in the ass than I thought, but all this music is helping power my brain after work hours along with the caffeine.  I’m also in the middle of a 10+ hour round trip drive today across some boring state highways, and I’ve been refreshing my playlist and adding to it to get ready for that.

However, the main reason I decided to revive this series is that I’ve heard a few people online suggest that game music isn’t “real music”, which is utter horseshit.  So here are seven tracks to prove them wrong.  I’m sure they’d consider most or all of these “not real music” either, but judge for yourselves.  As before, these are listed in no particular order — they’re just seven more tracks from games that I like.

1) Yousuke Yasai – Point of No Return (Eschatos, 2011)

Somehow I haven’t brought Yousuke Yasai up once on this site, but the guy is a long-time game music composer who does some great work.  I especially like the soundtrack to Eschatos, a scrolling shooter released on the 360 and PC.  This game was put out in 2011 but the music sounds like something out of one of the Mega Man X games (in fact, I think Yasai did some music for the Mega Man Battle Network series, so maybe there’s a connection there.)  Point of No Return is my favorite piece on the soundtrack; it’s driving and powerful in the way you’d expect from a shoot-em-up, but also memorable and catchy.

2) Garoad – Every Day is Night (VA-11 HALL-A, 2016)

I know I’ve raved about VA-11 HALL-A enough here and mentioned how much I’m looking forward to Sukeban’s followup N1RV Ann-A.  The bartending mini-game with a visual novel wrapped around it worked just about perfectly for me.  But the soundtrack was a big part of the game’s success.  Composer Garoad did an excellent job with the background music.  Every piece adds a particular mood to the conversation Jill has with her mostly depressed/insane clientele, her weird boss, and her one more or less normal coworker.  The game even lets the player set up the actual in-game soundtrack for the bar every night on the jukebox, so you can create any kind of mood you like with this music.

Every Day is Night is one of my favorites — I usually started each night in the game with this song.  The title is apt; this and the rest of the soundtrack have a great nighttime feel, very fitting for this game that takes place entirely at night.  Though I also really like Safe Haven, the piece that plays when Jill is home from her shift at the bar.

It’s the soundtrack to my life, sitting in the dark in my shitty apartment

3) Kenichi Tsuchiya – Heretic Mansion – Shining Heaven (Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, 2003)

It’s a piece from Nocturne.  I know, what a surprise.  This one wasn’t written by Shoji Meguro, though.  Composer Kenichi Tsuchiya was also responsible for a fair number of the tracks in the game, including the organ piece Heretic Mansion – Shining Heaven, the theme that plays when you visit the Cathedral of Shadows during a full Kagutsuchi phase (if you haven’t played Nocturne I know this probably sounds like nonsense, but it really does mean something.)  Tsuchiya has written quite a bit of music for the SMT games and spinoffs like Persona and Devil Summoner, and I’m sorry that I’m only now getting around to mentioning the guy, because he is worthy of notice.  There are a few different Heretic Mansion themes, and they’re all pretty ominous, but this is the only one that’s performed entirely on what sounds like a giant church organ.  It sounds like it came straight out of the Baroque period.  Great stuff if you’re into that.

4) Shoji Meguro – A Way of Life (Persona 3 Portable, 2009)

Even so, I can’t go without listing at least one Shoji Meguro song.  This time I’m going with the opening theme to Persona 3 Portable, the PSP port of Persona 3 that included the female protagonist who’s now part of a weird multi-universe canon along with the male protagonist since they can’t exist at the same time in the same game.  It’s no wonder they haven’t tried this out since.

Fans argue over whether P3P or Persona 3 FES, the expanded PS2 version of the original, is a better game.  I prefer FES, but I still like the P3P exclusive music tracks, which include A Way of Life.  It’s just a catchy pop song.  That’s really all it is.  But Meguro is really damn good at writing catchy pop songs, so this one is worth a mention.  There’s no Lotus Juice either, so if you’re not a fan of his this is a good track to check out.  I like him, but his rapping can get old sometimes.  There’s a reason I didn’t put “Mass Destruction” on this list instead — it’s a good song, but it’s been burned into my brain so deeply that I can never listen to it again.

I remember when this game coming out was big news. Ten years, shit. I feel old again now.

5) Tee Lopes – Lights, Camera, Action! (Sonic Mania, 2017)

One of the best things about Sonic Mania was how it finally killed all the “Sonic was never good” bullshit going around the reviewer and critic circles.  The game’s music also lived up to the quality of the Genesis soundtracks thanks to Tee Lopes, a composer who had previously worked on remixes of music from Sonic and other series.  Lights, Camera, Action! is the first stage thrme in Sonic Mania and sets the game’s mood perfectly.  It sounds like a technologically updated version of one of the Sonic Genesis pieces, which is exactly what I was looking for (well, the same can be said for Sonic Mania as a whole.)

6) Toby Fox – Spider Dance (Undertale, 2015)

I never thought “spider girl” plus “maid” were tags I’d be into, but the weirdos who draw Undertale fanart taught me something new about myself. (source: zingexGG, pixiv)

Shit. Somehow I’ve gone all this time without even bringing up Undertale. I don’t even need to tell you about it, right? It was a massive hit back in 2015 when it came out. I guess a surprise hit as well, because I didn’t know it was a thing until it was out and everyone was raving about this weird indie pacifist RPG. I wasn’t quite as in love with it as some people were, but I did enjoy Undertale a lot; it obviously had plenty of time, effort, and care put into it. However, I did love the soundtrack without any qualifications. Game creator and composer Toby Fox wrote one of the best game soundtracks ever, in fact — nearly every piece in the game was so memorable that they stuck in my mind for weeks and months afterward.

It’s hard to pick this time, but I think my absolute favorite Undertale piece is Spider Dance. The frantic feel fits the mood of the scene perfectly; it’s just the kind of music that should play when you’re fighting against a deadly spider woman or trying to dodge all her attacks if you’re doing the pacifist thing. I guess I might be in a small minority here in saying this is my favorite; everyone really seems to love Megalovania, and people will even get teary over Toriel’s theme and all that. Those are great pieces too, but I just like Spider Dance the best.

7) Masafumi Takada & Jun Fukuda – Sleeping Intermission (Grow Up Nyan Nyan) (Contact, 2005)

Here’s a bizarre song to end with.  Contact was itself a weird game, a Suda51-written DS RPG that didn’t get a lot of attention when it was released and that since seems to have slipped into near-obscurity.  I reviewed it years ago here, and I haven’t played it since, but I still listen to the game’s music from time to time.  The Contact OST was composed by Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda, both big pros in the field who also worked on other Suda51 stuff as well as titles like God Hand.

Contact.  There’s a fourth-wall-breaking setup here that I won’t get into now, but it was interesting.

Sleeping Intermission might be a weird choice to pull from the Contact soundtrack.  It’s the song that plays when you send the protagonist to bed to heal his injuries and pass time in the game world.  However, during this intermission you get to play with the Professor’s pet Mochi by tapping him with the stylus while the hero sleeps it off.  It’s a bit strange like everything else in this game, and the same is true of the music, especially those digitized synth voice parts that play throughout.  But shit, I just like it.  I liked Contact too.  It’s worth playing if you have a DS, a 3DS, or an emulator.  Check it out.  I still think it deserved to be remembered more than it is.

And that’s it for now.  I’ll go back to being on semi-vacation here.

=

* Yeah, I know part 1 says “seven” in the title here but only contains six if you read the actual post.  I think I was too drunk to know what I was doing at the time.  That’s a safe bet to make back when I posted it.

The Real Neat Blog Award, round 2

And here’s part 2 of my Real Neat Blog Award posts, this time courtesy of Red Metal of Extra Life.  Red Metal writes in-depth analyses of games and films.  If you have any interest at all in either of those, you should absolutely check out Extra Life.

Once again, the rules are that I have to answer his questions (the game says there are supposed to be seven of them, but Red Metal asked 11 — I’m up for it, though) and then ask seven questions of my own and nominate seven other bloggers to answer them.  Not very different at all from the Sunshine Blogger Award that I’ve taken on a few times already.  Anyway, here are Red Metal’s questions:

1. Have you ever watched a film in theaters that featured an intermission?

Back in the day when an Arab actor could play a Russian character and a British actor could play an Arab character and nobody would complain

If I have, I don’t remember it.  I know I watched a few films on VHS as a kid that included an intermission screen in the middle with a musical score playing over it like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, but I missed out on the actual moviegoing experience in those cases.  It’s really too bad we don’t have intermissions anymore.  I guess studios don’t generally release movies as long as those old epics now.  Though they could have easily released the extended cuts of the Lord of the Rings movies and added intermission breaks.  I like the idea of giving the audience time to get up, get more popcorn or booze or whatever they’re refreshing themselves with, and go to the bathroom without missing any of the action.

2. What is the most expensive ticket you’ve ever purchased?

Unless we’re talking about plane tickets, it was probably a pass to Otakon back when it was held in Baltimore.  That con was a god damn mess; insanely crowded and too expensive.  I spent most of it drinking with friends, as I’ve done at every con I’ve ever been to, so it was fine in the end.  I never went to Otakon again, though.  Hopefully the DC location is able to handle the crowds better.

3. If you had to trade in fluency of your first language for another, which one would you choose?

Well, this is an easy one.  I already admitted to attending anime cons above, and everyone reading this knows I’m a massive weeb, so it’s Japanese without a doubt.  The prospect of playing a bunch of games that will probably never be translated is just too good to pass on.  On the other hand, it would be extremely annoying to have to relearn English, since I rely on reading and writing to make a living.  Include a three-month paid vacation with intensive lessons included to get my English back, and I’d be happy.

4. If you could appear on any game show (including ones that have ended), which one would you choose?

I used to want to make it onto Jeopardy as a kid, but just answering questions in question form seems a bit boring to me now.  I’d pick Takeshi’s Castle.  The odds of winning that game are incredibly low, but your friends and family getting to watch you pummeled by plastic cannonballs while you try to walk across a board over a lake would be fun.  Fun for them, at least.  (Also probably because I’m a weeb, see answer #3 above.)

In case you were wondering, yes, this is the same Takeshi who inspired the infamous kusoge Takeshi’s Challenge

5. As someone who has watched many classics over the past few years, I’ve concluded that old films are overall better than recent efforts. What do you think the current generation of filmmakers lacks that allowed their predecessors to shine?

I’m no expert in film, but if there’s anything I think current filmmakers are missing that previous ones had, it’s a sense of subtlety and perspective.  I know there are exceptions, but it seems like most movies that are trying to make a point today feel the need to hammer it into your head without bothering with shades of gray or nuance, which I find both annoying and insulting.

I know this one is a stupidly easy target, but I’ll never forget the ending to Surrogates, a 2009 movie I saw on TV that features Bruce Willis mumbling his way through a lead performance as a detective in a sci-fi future society where everyone uses artificial bodies while their organic bodies are in special chambers at home.  The movie’s a piece of shit, so I’ll just spoil it here: the big ending is that Bruce Willis’ wife destroys the computer that powers the surrogate bodies or something, and everyone goes back to living fully natural lives.  Which the movie presents as a victory without considering all the possible benefits of being able to use an artificial body.  Say you’re physically disabled.  Or you feel you were born the wrong gender and want to live in a body of the opposite sex without undergoing a major surgery.  No, apparently none of that shit matters.  No nuance, no shades of gray.  Technology bad, nature good.  Sure, movie, whatever you say.

Well, this is coming from a guy who admitted he would marry a deadly battle android if he could.  So you should probably take that opinion with a grain of salt.

Okay, so Surrogates was fucking garbage and I’m shooting fish in a barrel by criticizing it.  But even plenty of movies that are supposed to be good according to most critics often seem to fall into this trap.  I understand having an agenda, especially these days when the future seems so dark, but it’s no good letting your agenda take over your sense of perspective, not to mention your sense of humor.

6. How do you like your eggs prepared?

Over easy. I guess that’s not the safest way to eat them, is it? Doesn’t kill all the potential salmonella in there, but I haven’t gotten sick yet. On the rare occasion I’m at a Waffle House (say if I’m out at 3 am for some reason) I’ll order them scrambled.

7. How do you like your potatoes prepared?

I like a baked potato with sour cream, butter, and chives.  Not the healthiest option with all that sour cream and butter in there, but it tastes the best.

8. If you found yourself directing films, which genre would you want to specialize in?

Hard sci-fi, especially if the budget isn’t a problem.  There’s a lot you can do with that genre beyond the usual “humanity is doomed” kind of stuff we see now.  I have a few plot ideas, in fact, but I’ll just have to write them in story form instead since I don’t have the skills or money to make a film.

Planetes is the realest hard sci-fi series ever made

9. What is your favorite band/artist with a limited discography (i.e. no more than four studio albums)?

Red Metal already brought up a few worthy answers to this question like Joy Division, the Sex Pistols, and Nirvana.  I really like those bands (especially Nirvana; even though they were a bit before my time, they were a big part of my angsty teenage playlist right up there with Radiohead) but I’ll go with Jimi Hendrix and his band the Experience.  For as much influence as the guy has had on music, he only put out three studio albums — there’s no saying what he could have done if he hadn’t died so young.  I’ve always liked Hendrix, even his singing that a lot of people are unimpressed by; it fits his style perfectly.  Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding were excellent musicians too, let’s not forget about them.  And all three albums they put out were great.  I’m a big fan of Axis: Bold as Love, which I think tends to get a little overshadowed by the others.

10. There are many stories over the years of projects or ideas never getting off the ground or being canceled mid-production. Which one would you bring into reality if you could?

I really had to think about this one.  I know for a fact there have been games I was looking forward to at times that were canceled, but they may have ended up being lousy for all I know.  I’ll go back to music this time and say The Who’s Lifehouse.  Pete Townshend’s concept for Lifehouse sounds quite insane, but it would have been interesting to hear the result.  Then again, Who’s Next, the album we got from the wreckage of Lifehouse, was great anyway, and I care about the music a lot more than the concept when it comes to the rock operas I like.

11. What series do you feel managed to be consistently good for an extended period of time?

Disgaea.  Both the mainline games and spinoffs I’ve played range from good to excellent, with each game building upon what the previous one accomplished in terms of mechanics and features.  The prospect of the series ending because of developer Nippon Ichi’s possible bankruptcy is a depressing one.  I know it’s all business, but still, to see one of my favorite series perhaps facing its end is not easy.

If the series ends with Disgaea 5, at least it would be going out on a high note.

Thanks to Red Metal once again for the interesting questions.  Here’s my own set of questions:

1. How do you feel about content warnings and rating systems (like the MPAA and ESRB rating systems and the famous RIAA Explicit Content sticker?) Are they effective, or is the point of these ratings the same as it was when they were created?
2. Do you have hard limits as far how short or long a game should be?  Or a book, movie, or album — whichever you have a strong opinion on.
3. How do you keep yourself occupied during your commute or while on a long trip?
4. Is there a certain character in a work that you strongly identify with? What is it about that character that you identify with?
5. Have you ever read/watched/played a work with a protagonist who you ended up hating, even though you were meant to like them? Who was it and what put you off about them?
6. Do you prefer to listen to studio or live albums?  Or does it just depend on the band/artist you’re listening to?
7. Is there a series (of games, films, novels, whatever) that you used to enjoy but that eventually lost you?  If so, what do you think happened to cause that?

And the subjects this time are:

Nintendobound

I Drink and Watch Anime

Otaku Orbit

BiblioNyan

BlerdyOtaku

Video Game Grove

I’ll also tag back Red Metal, since he went through the trouble of coming up with four more questions than he had to.

And now that I’m done with that, it’s back to the usual.  Hopefully we actually get episode 10 of Cop Craft tomorrow.  Man, do I fucking hate recap shows.

A review of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

Yes, I caved in and bought the Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight package for the PS4.  Yes, I am ashamed of myself for buying this grossly overpriced cash-in.  Yes, I hate myself completely and utterly, and you can’t possibly put me down in any way I haven’t already done to myself.

Aigis is in it, so I had to buy it. That’s my flimsy excuse.

Now that the self-hatred part of the review is out of the way, how are these games? They’re… all right.  Fine.  Kind of disappointing, to be honest, and not for the reasons you might expect.  The Persona series has one of the best sets of soundtracks of any game series ever, thanks to composer Shoji Meguro and the many performers who play the music.  So I didn’t expect to be disappointed by the tracklists to these games.  Persona 4: Dancing All Night, released back in 2015 for the Vita, was no slouch in the tracklist department and featured a lot of good remixes.  The remixes in P3D and P5D, by contrast, are mostly pretty lackluster.  It’s not good when I end up greatly preferring the original track to the remix – if that’s the case, it would be better just to use the original track instead, and that’s what Atlus ends up doing with a lot of the featured dances.  Another problem is the length of each tracklist – only around 25 or so in each game, not counting DLC songs, and some of them don’t even feature the characters dancing but rather animated cutscenes from the games.  Considering the price tag of each game, this is really not acceptable.

Dancing was invented so Atlus could milk Persona games

Some fans have also been disappointed by the fact that, unlike P4:DAN, the P3 and P5 dancing games have no story mode option.  These games instead have very thin story sections that consist of Velvet Room attendants Elizabeth (in P3D) and Justine and Caroline (in P5D) transporting all of SEES/the Phantom Thieves to special dance studio Velvet Rooms in their dreams while they all sleep to have a dance-off against each other.  The two teams never actually meet, which is another disappointment – since they’re all dreaming, and the Velvet Room attendants assure them they won’t remember any of their dreams (isn’t that convenient) it wouldn’t have affected the games’ stories at all.  Hell, you guys already had the P3 and P4 teams meet in Persona Q, and they’ll all be thrown together again in Persona Q 2, so why weren’t these two games combined into one with separate modes for each team like Q was?

The closest thing we get to story mode is a social/confidant link system with eight conversations with each team member, including Elizabeth and Justine/Caroline.  These conversations are full of references to their respective games, so parts of them aren’t going to make a whole lot of sense to newcomers to the series, but at least we get something to do other than play the rhythm game section constantly.  Although the conversations do have to be unlocked by getting achievements, so you’ll have to work for them.

That’s very “meta”, Futaba, thank you

Well shit.  All I’ve done is complain about these games so far, and I don’t want to give the impression that I hate them.  So what about the positives?  The music is pretty damn good on balance – the original soundtracks to both games are great, after all, and even some mediocre remixes can’t ruin good tracks.  The new Persona 3 character models look great.  And the dancing itself is really well done.  Like in P4:DAN, each character dances in a way that’s very much an expression of their personality – Mitsuru’s dancing is elegant, Yusuke has a weird, artsy style, Akihiko and Makoto use a lot of fighting moves, Aigis is extremely precise, and Fuuka is kind of awkward but clearly trying her best.  The character pairings during dances are also pretty fun; it’s especially cute how Futaba tries to imitate the style of the main dancer when she joins in.  My favorite is Haru, though – I don’t remember if she ever dropped the fact that she’d formerly been a ballerina anywhere in Persona 5, but here she busts out some great-looking ballet moves.  Pirouettes.  Swan Lake?  I don’t know ballet that well, sorry.  I’m not cultured enough; I only specialize in stupid weeb games like these.

Ballet combined with aikido moves makes for a good combination.

I guess the biggest question is whether these games are worth buying at their unforgivably high sticker prices for people who haven’t played or aren’t especially fond of Persona 3 or Persona 5.  The answer is absolutely not.  I don’t usually mess around with bold text, and this is both bold and italicized, so you know I’m serious.  Not that P3D or P5D are really bad games.  To the average consumer, they’ll probably come off as serviceable rhythm games.  And if you see them on sale somewhere, I’d say at least one of them is worth buying for the non-initiate (probably not both, because they’re effectively the same game with different casts of characters and different tracks to dance to, which is partly why I’m reviewing them jointly.)  At a sticker price of 60 dollars each, however, they are stupidly overpriced.  The PS4 bundle, which includes both games and a digital copy of Persona 4: Dancing All Night for 100 dollars, is a better deal, and I might even say it’s worth getting if just to have P4:DAN on the PS4, which isn’t available separately, at least at the moment.  But that deal is hardly worth it for the non-hardcore fan.

If you’re a massive fan of the core games, you’ll obviously get more value out of these.  A lot of the content in P3D and P5D is basically dessert for people who finished P3 and P5.  We also get the expected fanservice with a lot of unlockable costumes, including the usual bathing suits and butler suits for the guys and maid outfits, swimsuits and fantasy bikini armor for the girls.  So if you’re into that kind of stuff, have fun.  There’s also plenty of paid costume DLC too, so have your fucking credit card or Paypal account ready if you really want it that badly.

Just pile on the fanservice boys, the more the better

Anyway, ratings.  I can only give each of these games a 4 on my scale – just passing.  The dancing is fun and all, and it’s nice to see our beloved P3 and P5 casts together again, but there were too many disappointments here with their respective tracklists to give these games anything higher, and I’m pissed off at Atlus for effectively using these games as a DLC delivery service.  As far as rhythm games go, the Vocaloid title Project DIVA Future Tone is far better, both in terms of value and variety of music, and it’s the one to buy if you don’t care about injecting Persona fanservice directly into your bloodstream. Bump that score up a point if you can get either or both of these games for a bargain, because they are basically good, but I’m still pissed off about the whole thing.

Maybe dessert truly is the best way to describe these games: buying and playing them are like gorging on cake.  Nice at first, and incredibly sweet, but in the end you feel sick and regret what you’ve done.

On the other hand, maybe it’s worth it to hear Akihiko’s underwear tips.

With that, I’m done spending money on games for a while.  I’m trying to keep my head above water and save some money to put a down payment on a house after the next housing bubble pops, so until Shin Megami Tensei V or Disgaea 6 forces me to finally buy a Switch, you can look forward to a bunch of reviews from my massive backlog, along with my planned soundtrack reviews, “games for broke people” reviews, the occasional post about law, and the constant depression and bitching and moaning I deliver.  In other words, nothing’s really going to change.

Everything is bad for you

It’s mid-August, which means it’s time for my quarterly post. I was originally going to write about the new artbook I bought – Shigenori Soejima & P-Studio Art Unit: Art Works 2010-2017, featuring the art of Persona character designer Shigenori Soejima. I was going to tell you about how it’s filled with beautiful pieces of art and sketches of characters from Persona 3Persona 4Persona 5, from their various spinoffs, and from other Atlus titles like Catherine. About how it features interviews with Soejima and other members of the P-Studio art team that I can barely read because they’re all in Japanese, and about how I’ll probably buy the English version if this book is ever translated and have a redundant copy on my shelf.  And about how even though I love the book’s cover, I thought the decision to print its title in silver was pretty stupid, because the color blends in with Futaba’s white and silver shirt.  (Fortunately, the text is printed not on the cover itself but rather on the dust jacket, which is transparent.  Still looks weird.)

Somewhere along the way, I ran off course. I started thinking about the purpose of this site. I started Everything is bad for you (a name I probably came up with while I was either drunk or sleep-deprived, because I can’t explain the reasoning behind it at all now) five years ago, just before entering law school. I had no real direction in my life – I was attending law school because I managed to get into a pretty good school, and to attend it fairly cheaply, and because it seemed like a thing to do. Two years into the profession at this point, I’m just about where I began. I still have no direction. There’s nothing I really want that I can realistically get from either my personal or professional lives, and when you’re working hard in a life that you don’t care about it becomes difficult to even get out of bed in the morning. I don’t have a family to support yet, but soon enough, I’ll have my relatives trying to fix me up with someone, since my relatives are undoubtedly already wondering about me (imagine whatever you’d like about what they’re wondering, but it’s not hard to guess.) Of course, I could tell them all to fuck off, but then I’d become completely isolated from almost all of my family. Something in me won’t allow that. So I get to go on living a life that I don’t enjoy – and not only do I have to keep living it, but I have to look like I’m enjoying it. It’s not easy to put on that act every day.

Those of you who are still reading this mess of complaints might have no idea what I’m talking about. Or you might think I’m just whining about “first-world problems” and feel that I’m simply ungrateful for what I have. So much the better for you if you don’t understand what I’m saying. To be very honest, I’m not writing for you and I never will. I’m writing for the other kind of person – the kind who feels like an outsider, the way I always have. I’m writing for the kind of person who looks at the prospects of living a conventional life and feels sick, but who has no other choice.

So why this site? It’s an escape. Just like playing video games, or reading novels, or buying artbooks, or drinking whiskey or gin after dinner, probably to excess. Each of these are ways for me to escape not only from the present but also from the future, and I probably don’t need to tell you how futile that is.  Since I’m already being honest, I will admit that I’ve had suicidal thoughts throughout my adult life – thoughts I’ve thankfully never acted on, and at this point that I most likely never will act on.  These thoughts are usually not at the front of my mind, but every so often they emerge.

Tonight is the beginning of Eid Al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice.  The closest western parallel I can think of to this holiday is Thanksgiving with a religious dimension – this Eid mainly involves having a feast with family and giving charity.  It’s a day to be grateful for what you have.  So why can’t I feel that way?

Two pages from Soejima Art Works 2010-2017. Miku is technically a Persona character because she was featured in DLC for Persona 4: Dancing All Night, which is a pretty good game for a fanservice-filled spinoff.

I never wanted to make a personal post on this site, but it seems that in the end I couldn’t avoid it.  I don’t know how I’ll face a future that I don’t really want.  The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll keep writing.  I thought about quitting this site entirely, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  As long as my writing connects with someone, it will be worth the effort, and it will keep me going through this vale of tears that we call life.  I might even try some fiction soon, though it will probably turn out to be lousy hackwork.

Sorry for being so dramatic.  Shigenori Soejima & P-Studio Art Unit: Art Works 2010-2017 is a good artbook, and you should buy it.  Still pretty cheap on Amazon and weeb-centric marketplaces like Tokyo Otaku Mode.  Feel free to leave your thoughts below if you decide to go for it.  God willing, I’ll stick around and keep writing here and on my other site that I’ve been neglecting.  I’ll try not to make it another two-month break.  In the meantime, no matter what your religious beliefs are or whether you have any, I wish you a happy Eid and hope the rest of the year goes your way.

Edit (8/26/18): Thought about taking this post down, but I decided I won’t.  Even if it is self-indulgent or looks like it’s fishing for sympathy.  I know there are other people out there, espcially people in our hobby/subculture/whatever, who carry around a lot of bitterness or just plain apathy about the world and their place in it and who have a hard time finding meaning in living a life that feels predetermined.  Sorry for bringing the mood down with this one, but I was in an especially bad place mentally when I wrote it.  I’ll be my usual cheery self next post.

 

Strange search terms pt. 3 (robot girl x male human edition)

Life is empty and meaningless, and the world is an isolated rock flying through cold dark space.  This is the 100th post on this site!  Let’s celebrate by looking at a sample of strange search terms from the past year.

1) if mario ate toad

Toad is famously a sentient mushroom and an attendant to Princess Peach, Mario’s perpetually kidnapped girlfriend (?).  Toad is often one of Mario’s allies in his quest to rescue Peach.  But what if Mario ate Toad? this reader wonders.  I know you expect me to say something like “he would get high!!!  lol”.  But I’m not a hack Buzzfeed writer and I don’t take the easy way out.  The effect of eating Toad upon Mario would depend upon Toad’s species.  If Toad has psychoactive properties, Mario would get high.  But Toad might be poisonious, in which case Mario would get ill or even die.  And the effect of eating Toad upon Toad would be that he would definitely die.  Anyway, why should Mario eat Toad?  That wouldn’t be in character for him.

2) numbers to rivens domes

Riven is a difficult game.  Its puzzles are pretty god damn demanding, requiring the player to learn a base-25 number system.  So it’s understandable that folks would want an easy solution to the game’s notorious golden dome puzzle.  Unfortunately, the number code to open the golden domes (which is necessary to beat the game) is randomly generated each game.  Have fun learning that fucked up number system!

3) smt iv u didnt want the lawful ending

YHVH

U sure didn’t want the Shin Megami Tensei IV Law ending.  It sucked.  The Law ending in an SMT game always sucks.  For the uninitiated the standard SMT Law route involves cooperating with the Abrahamic God to wipe out humanity or at best to turn humanity into mindless worshippers of the LORD.  Said God in SMT is typically in the form of YHVH, aka Yod Hey Vav Hey, aka Tetragrammaton, the God of the Old Testament.  You may feel that OT God was a bit of a jerk and a tyrant, and Atlus agrees with you if you do.  So Law route generally sucks, even more than Chaos, which at least allows for some fun shaking up of things with Lucifer’s angelic blessing.  All my Neutral bros know the best route though.

4) lewd 3ds games

So many people find this site searching for lewd 3ds games.  What they don’t realize is the Vita has a much better lewd game collection.  Out of those games, Monster Monpiece and Akiba’s Trip are at least halfway good, though the latter requires a high tolerance for and understanding of otaku-style perverted weirdness to really enjoy.  Casuals shouldn’t bother, in other words.

5) why didn’t the people put a girl in persona 3 ps2

Maybe because they knew

p3p girls getting fucked videos

would be a thing people would start searching for if they did.  I don’t actually much like what the female protagonist of Portable does to the story of P3 – anyway, I don’t think you can even consider her story or character canon as far as Persona canon goes (and there is such a thing, since all the Persona games inarguably take place in the same universe, one that FeMC doesn’t fit into.)  She does have a cute design, though.

6) va-11 yuri

Tons of people are also out hunting for porn, especially yuri (or lesbian) porn, featuring chatacters from cyberpunk bartending visual novel VA-11 HALL-A.  Not a huge surprise considering how much the sexual theme is tied into the story.  Protagonist Jill is herself bisexual, and various other characters swing one or the other way (and then there’s sexbot Dorothy, who swings every way.)

7) robot girl x male human rule 34

God damn it why are all my readers perverts.

Where are my hot android girls, scientists? What good are you even

I guess I have to blame myself.  I do think Aigis is best girl in Persona 3.  I’m sure there’s plenty of such material out there for those who want to seek it out, despite Aigis’ robotic build and lack of relevant anatomy.  2B from NieR: Automata is a somewhat more humanoid android and is featured in about 100,000 metric tons of porn, but she also weighs 148.8 kg (328 lb) according to the game’s creators despite being exceedingly fit-looking, so a hypothetical human contemplating a situation with such an android might take that into consideration.  (Crushed pelvises are not covered by all insurance plans.)

8) dynasty warriors cross stitch

Not even sure what to do with this one, or how such a search brought this reader here.  Perhaps he was searching for this charming Lu Bu themed Valentine’s Day card.

Seven more interesting/weird search terms

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

1) true demon run matador battle nocturne

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

Time to get the buffs

Matador’s here, time to get the buffs

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

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

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

2) nasa space diapers photo

p2

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

Here’s a pair of real astronaut diapers:

IMGP2699 space diapers

3) do you have sex in persona 3 portable

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

p39

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

4) is nescafe bad for you

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

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

5) freedom planet lilac hentai manga

freedom planet hentai

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

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

SashLilac

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

6) public domain best & rare world famous wallpaper download

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

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

469606

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

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

Oh Horo why can’t you be real ;_;

7) welcome to the nhk too real

… yeah.  Yeah.

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

vlcsnap-1486924

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

Also, this:

;_;

;_;

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

A review of Persona 4: Dancing All Night

Shut up and dance

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

p4dancing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But did you expect any less?

But did you expect any less?

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

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