Listening/reading log #22 (August 2021)

Another month spent watching the world fucking burn. I mostly spent it working, and the parts I didn’t I spent mostly watching anime and doing other degenerate kinds of things. What else is there to do? At least for now, while we’re still trapped indoors (not that I really mind, of course. Actually my state is completely open, but hell if I’m taking chances.) For the time being, let’s just get on to the usual thing: music and great writing from around the communities.

Animals (Pink Floyd, 1977)

Highlights: Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones)

Yet another set of guys who don’t need any introduction — I think even kids today know who they are thanks to YouTube (and TikTok? I don’t go there, so I have no idea.) But in case you don’t know them, Pink Floyd were another English art/prog-rock band that got their start in the 60s and went on to massive popularity with heavily concept-based albums in the 70s before breaking up soon into the 80s and suffering through legal battles over the rights to the band name. Look those up; they’re fun in a morbid way.

Animals gets a little overshadowed by two of Pink Floyd’s other big projects, Dark Side of the Moon before it and The Wall that came directly after, but I think this one deserves just as much if not more praise. Because for me, Animals is where both the music and the concept it’s based around come together to create a really cohesive and entertaining album.

Not that the concept is all that complicated. I think Roger Waters read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and just decided to adapt the idea of dogs, pigs, and sheep representing different classes of humans in an unfair, unjust societal structure (the dogs being the enforcers for the rich/ruling class pigs, and the sheep being the rest of us I think.) Maybe it works just because it’s pretty simple and straightforward, but then Waters’ lyrics thankfully aren’t so straightforward that they’re battering us over the head with the message.

And most importantly, the music totally fits the theme. Pink Floyd were great at creating atmosphere especially between Dave Gilmour’s guitar and Rick Wright’s keyboards, and Animals creates a pretty oppressive, dark one appropriate to its theme. “Dogs” is an excellent example of this, probably my favorite song on the album; doesn’t feel its 17-minute length at all. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is also catchy, and likely the one song from Animals you’ve heard if you’ve only heard one of them. Out of the three big pieces on the album, Sheep is a little less memorable, but it still works well in the concept and puts a nice cap on it with an ending that reminds me a lot of “The Knife” by Genesis with that “kill them all!” vibe.

So I’d recommend checking out Animals. Especially if you want to feel depressed about the horrible uncaring bullshit society we live in. Don’t look to Pink Floyd for happy positive funtime music, but you already know that if you’ve heard or seen The Wall. And best of all, Doug Walker will never get his hands on this album, since it never had a film adaptation.

Siren of the Formless (City Girl, 2020)

Highlights: “Serene Tears, Elysian Eyes” and “Devote Ember” are nice, but it’s all very even

Well, maybe you don’t want to meditate on how fucked society is and how we’ll probably destroy ourselves sometime this or next century because of faults inherent in human nature that have existed since the Stone Age. If that’s not your thing and you’d rather relax instead, here’s a better option. I’ve covered City Girl once before, but she (at least I guess she, though again I’m not sure; could be a group for all I know) has put together quite a few albums that are posted in full on YouTube and are also available on Bandcamp and other platforms for sale.

Siren of the Formless is another nice album for chilling out and sitting back in your chair on a rainy morning, full of smooth, slow lo-fi tracks. I especially like the combination of acoustic and electronic instruments; there’s plenty of synths together with what sound like piano and actual strings being played, and they blend together well.

As for the songs themselves, there are a few that I especially enjoy like the ones listed above, but the whole album itself sort of blends together when I listen to it. In some cases, that would be a bad thing, but here it works, and it feels intentional as well. The album cover fits the contents perfectly — it feels like I floated through the whole album, like that girl floating in that lake. Not sure how to describe it in a less artsy pretentious way, but that’s just the feeling I get from it.

If you’re not generally a fan of “easy listening”, I’d still give this a try, because it’s the tasteful and well-thought-out kind rather than the artificial-feeling plasticy kind. I’ll keep following City Girl myself, and I’ll be on the lookout for similar stuff coming out on YouTube and Bandcamp and elsewhere.

MSB (Masahiko Satoh & Medical Sugar Bank, 1980)

Highlights: Ridin’ Out, Fly, May Fly, Overhang Blues

And finally, Japanese jazz, yeah. Why not. YouTube keeps dropping these recommendations in my sidebar and I’ve started listening to them. It seems Japan was really big on fusion in the late 70s and 80s (see my very first one of these posts featuring Casiopea) which makes sense when you listen to say the OutRun or one of the early Sonic soundtracks. There has to be a web connecting this jazz/fusion stuff with city pop and new jack swing and leading to that music I heard so much of in my childhood.

This particular album was created by pianist Masahiko Satoh and the strangely named band Medical Sugar Bank. MSB is a fully instrumental jazz album, though it varies a whole lot in tone from piece to piece. I only like part of it, though thankfully the larger part that falls into the more fusion-sounding funky category like “Ridin’ Out” and “Fly, May Fly”, songs that remind me a lot of the really good stuff off of Casiopea. I’m also pretty all right with the ending free jazz freakout “Overhang Blues”, probably because it’s just short enough to make that controlled chaos really work for me.

The rest of the album roughly falls into two categories: more sections of dissonant avantgarde horn wailing that I can only take in small amounts, and “heavenly” sounding pieces like Saga Unknown that I don’t care for in any amount at all. The latter gets too close to standard smooth jazz for my taste, just the kind of easy listening I don’t like as opposed to the kind on the album just above this one. It also probably doesn’t help that some of these tracks sound like they feature a lot of soprano sax (see Nebulous Suspicion for example.) Not that the soprano sax did anything to deserve its reputation — it’s a fine instrument, but Kenny G has kind of defined its sound after all, and he didn’t do it any favors in my opinion. Though if you want to hear it really done well, check out John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things.

But before I sound like way too much of a snob (forget it, I’m years too late for that) I’ll mention that all the playing is extremely professional and I can see even those tracks I don’t care for much working as nice mood-setting music. Maybe especially if you’re trying to set a romantic mood. See, I’m no romantic, so I don’t have any sense for this stuff. I’d end up playing some crazy shit like Amon Düül II and scaring the woman off (or discovering she’s exactly as weird as I am — maybe this is actually a great idea?)

So take what I have to say with a grain or a handful of salt, or sugar, or whatever. I basically like the greater part of MSB, and if 70s/80s fusion is your thing and you don’t mind a little sap you’ll probably like the whole thing more than I did. And even those sappier pieces have some cool parts in them, albeit ones that I don’t feel like pulling out and hearing again myself.

Now for the featured posts:

Let’s Get this Roadshow on the Road: SHIROBAKO the Movie (OGIUE MANIAX) — I liked Shirobako a lot, but the fact that it had a sequel movie slipped my mind until I read this review. Another one to add to the list along with the Youjo Senki movie that I need to see anyway in preparation for season 2 of Tanya the Evil. There’s so damn much to watch… but this one looks like it’s well worth the time.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Whole-Series Review and Reflection (The Infinite Zenith) — I have to admit that the concept of Uma Musume came off as weird to me at first — a bunch of horse girl idols who race against each other in derbies and also sing in concerts and do typical idol stuff. However, this review got me interested. P.A. Works already has a pretty good track record with anime as far as I can tell, and honestly the idea behind Uma Musume isn’t any weirder than that in say Nekopara, or those shipgirl games like Kantai Collection or Azur Lane (which in a way are quite a bit stranger.)

Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter! (Extra Life) — Red Metal has done something I could never do myself and played through and reviewed the whole Commander Keen series in depth, ending with this sixth installment. Do yourself a favor and read them all if only to understand what kinds of platformers PC-only players had to choose from in the early/mid 90s, before emulators were a thing. Feel some of that pain. I was one of those kids back at the time who had to sponge off his friends and relatives to play their SNES and Genesis, so I can relate.

Yakuza 0 – Punching human pinatas for mad cash (Nepiki Gaming) — That title says it all, really. I’ll probably be writing a review myself whenever I manage to actually finish it (which could be anytime this or next year, lacking discipline as I do) but in the meantime, you should read Nepiki’s review of Yakuza 0. I will also agree that the game provides poor explanations of mahjong and shogi — I already knew how to play mahjong so I was all right there, but I gave up on that old man’s shogi challenge two minutes in. There’s a sidequest I’m guaranteed never to finish. Good thing I don’t care about 100% runs.

In Search of… Kaiji, the Ultimate Survivor (In Search of Number Nine – an anime blog) — Kaiji is easily in my top few (top three/five/whatever, I don’t really count them) anime of all time, so I’m always happy to see other bloggers writing about it. Iniksbane has some interesting points to make about the first season of the series here, with observations that I hadn’t really considered before. Be sure to read it (and also watch Kaiji if you haven’t!)

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (Nintendobound) — All I’ve played of Ace Attorney was some of the very first game on the DS so long go that I don’t remember much about it. Perhaps shameful to say for a hybrid lawyer/gamer like myself, but that’s the fact. However, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles sounds just like the thing for me to try to get into the series again if I ever take the shot. Matt gives the game a comprehensive review here.

A Guide to Soloing Alatreon in Monster Hunter World (Frostilyte Writes) — While I’m in the process of degrading my serious gamer status or however that works, I’ll also mention that I’m not into Monster Hunter. Frostilyte is, however, and he’s written an in-depth guide to soloing a boss fight in Monster Hunter World. I really like seeing these kinds of narrow-focus but extremely deep guides, though I haven’t written any myself — they remind me a lot of the old days on GameFAQs. Those were the days. No bills to pay or any of that shit. Before I start complaining about my life again, I’ll just recommend that you check out Frostilyte’s guide if you have an interest in this game.

The Summer of Love III: Final Thoughts on Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya (Shallow Dives in Anime) — Dewbond gives his concluding thoughts on the magical girl-themed Fate spinoff Prisma Illya following a series of posts on the anime. I was already thinking about picking it up myself — I’ve already covered one Fate spinoff series, so why not another? Dewbond makes it sound well worth the watch in his post.

Shangri-La – Let’s Watch a Random Anime (#6) (Side of Fiction) — Every month, Jacob spins a wheel full of anime hosted at randomanime.org and watches whatever comes up. This is a brave undertaking, and not one I’m equal to (when I went to randomanime.org, I got a painfully generic-looking harem comedy, and fuck if I’m watching that. Not my thing.) But Jacob here writes about his sixth randomly selected anime, Shangri-La. Sounds like a mixed bag but possibly an interesting one for some people; I might just check it out for the concept and because it’s another Range Murata-involved project like Cop Craft was. Murata being a character designer, that’s no guarantee of the story’s quality — I just like his designs (though maybe Last Exile is a better bet than this?) I also look forward to seeing what random anime comes up in this post series going forward.

Uniformity With God’s Will In Anime #1: Sakura Kinomoto (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — And speaking of magical girls, Traditional Catholic Weeb in this new post series features Sakura Kinomoto from Cardcaptor Sakura with a focus on the challenges she faces. The magical girl genre seems a lot heavier than I used to think it was, and that’s even setting aside the famously dark Madoka Magica.

Should Nintendo Fire Game Freak from Pokémon? (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — I’m not a particular fan of Pokémon, but I have noticed a lot of the discontent among fans over recent entries in the series. and the role of original development team Game Freak might have a lot to do with that. I’d argue the same about Sonic Team and the Sonic series myself, but that’s another matter. (Just give the keys to Christian Whitehead for God’s sake; he actually knows what he’s doing. But I’ll save those complaints for later.)

Olympic Gold (Shoot the Rookie) — Pix1001, in honor of the recently ended Tokyo Olympics, has put together a set of predictions for which game characters would dominate in a hypothetical video game version of the competition. No arguments from me about these picks; I’d put money on all of them. Watching Bayonetta try the pole vault would be entertaining as well.

Fry Force and How to Use Anime Influences For Marketing (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Commercials tend to be hated, and for good reason: they’re trying to sell us things we usually don’t need, and they’re often doing so in the most irritating, mind-numbing ways possible, with “wacky” characters who make me wish I lived on a desert island with no access to goods or services at all (see GrubHub, Liberty Mutual, those horrible McDonalds spots that play on Soundcloud for some of the worst offenders.) However, Taco Bell has somehow gotten it right with an ad that takes serious influence from anime as Scott sets out here. Credit to the Taco Bell ad people for putting actual effort into their advertising, even if I’m not much of a fan of their food (and points for the Gawr Gura cameo — of course I couldn’t go without mentioning that.)

Cooking with Testosterone: Ahi Tuna Steak (Lost to the Aether) — While I’m not about to start cooking myself anytime soon (too busy, or lazy, or dumb, make your choice) watching Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family did make me wish I could cook like Shirou if only to be surrounded by dozens of women constantly like he is. Fortunately we have Aether, who has brought back an old series of cooking posts with his method of preparing an ahi tuna steak. I had this once; it’s good as hell. Maybe I’ll even try my hand at this one day. Can I really afford not to under the circumstances?

And from the same blog: Disgaeadventures — I don’t usually feature two posts from the same blog, but Aether also recently gave his thoughts on Disgaea 1 for PC and brings an interesting angle both on the characters and gameplay and on some aspects of them that might not be obvious at first glance. I’m always happy to see more people picking up Disgaea of course, so I had to feature this as well. (I also still promise I’m not a Nippon Ichi shill.)

Blogging Banter: Blogger Boundaries (Ace Asunder) — And finally from Solarayo, a reminder that we can see online conflict even in our usually civil blogging communities along with suggestions for trying to avoid it. One of the nice things about online communities is that you don’t really have to deal with people you don’t get along with, a luxury that we generally don’t have when dealing with family or work colleagues. Setting personal boundaries is always important in any case.

And that’s it for the month once again. Work has been especially busy for me recently, but I still intend to keep making progress through the long-haul games I’m playing. More anime reviews are also on their way. And I haven’t forgotten about those indie games in the summer bundles I bought from itch.io. And I just bought Long Live the Queen… shit. Anyway, there’s more coming. Until then.

Currently playing (Yakuza 0 / Atelier Ryza / NieR Replicant)

This isn’t going to become a regular feature. It’s more of a situational thing. I just happen to be stuck in the middle of some very long games right now, and so I thought I’d cover where I currently am in them along with my thoughts so far. All on the PS4, because yes I’m a console peasant with a shit PC that can only run VNs and then just barely.

These also aren’t the only games I’m playing — I have two or three shorter ones lined up that I’ll very likely get through first, but I’ll save those for their own reviews. For now, let’s start with:

Yakuza 0

I really like this game so far. But I’m still only on chapter 5, and here I’m going to talk about why.

First: the bizarre and fun side stories you can find in it. At this point, I’ve helped get a kid his video game back, broken up a cult, and taught a dominatrix how to do her job properly. Serious credit to the writers — Yakuza 0 mixes these weird, ridiculous stories with the main dramatic plot, breaking it up in a way that lightens the mood without spoiling it.

And then there are the side characters you run into around town who don’t necessarily connect to that main plot at all. The lady-crazy Mr. Libido up there is just one of the more out-there characters you can meet around the streets of Tokyo and Osaka. The two main characters Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima have their own particular ways of approaching these people, and they’re both entertaining — there’s a lot of “why the hell am I going along with this…” sort of talk from them, especially from the serious Kiryu, but in the end they are actually helpful guys despite being dangerous (ex) Yakuza types.

Finally, the minigames. I spent a lot of time in the Tokyo and Osaka mahjong parlors losing my money to these assholes. Of course, it’s not such a big deal to lose when you can step outside, get called out by a group of thugs, and then beat a few hundred thousand yen out of them to immediately recoup your losses. It’s still frustrating to get beaten at the mahjong table in the last round when you’re in the lead, though. One day I’ll get a daisangen and then quit playing this shit.

For now, though, I need to make progress in the main plot. I’ve just shifted back to Kiryu’s perspective, and he has plenty of work to do in his new position as an agent for a shady real estate developer while he continues his hunt for clues about the murder he was framed for. I’m sure some beatings will be in order soon enough.

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout

Continuing my trek into the long ass Atelier series, I’m now in the middle of Atelier Ryza. And I’m really liking it so far. This is the newest iteration of the series, which has gone through a lot of changes over the last 12 years since it moved into its “modern era” (at least as far as I can tell, this is how fans talk about the series) with Atelier Rorona.

Hanging around the farmland near Ryza’s sleepy hometown of Rasenboden. Ryza wants to go out adventuring, but all I want to do is retire and feed the goats. I really am getting old.

Ryza features a completely new lineup of characters in a new universe distinct from all the previous ones and is quite a bit more slice-of-life and relaxed than the Atelier Dusk trilogy I reviewed earlier this year. It does have a plot about saving your hometown from a long-dormant evil lurking around, but it’s all more or less driven by the protagonist Reisalin Stout, or simply Ryza, wanting to get the hell away from her parents’ farm and her island hometown to explore new lands. She brings/drags along her friends, the warrior Lent and the nerdy mage Tao, and along the way she runs into more future friends including an alchemist who reveals the secrets of his craft to her, after which Ryza commits to learning alchemy herself.

But that’s not the only difference from the Dusk series. The old traditional turn-based combat system has also been replaced with one that combines elements of turn-based and real-time battle. As a consequence, battles in Ryza are a lot faster than in previous games, and with a stronger emphasis on identifying and exploiting enemy weaknesses. If you haven’t synthesized the right attack item for a particular boss, you’ll likely get wiped out in under a minute, but you can just as easily tip the scales in your direction by spending time in the atelier.

I don’t even know what this does.

Speaking of synthesis, Ryza would not be a proper Atelier game without a heavy emphasis on crafting items, weapons, and armor with alchemy using ingredients you can find in the field. The new alchemy system is again very different from the previous ones, but it’s pretty intuitive. I’ll go into far greater, and probably very boring, detail when I actually review this game.

And hopefully that review isn’t too far off, because I’m making good progress in Ryza. Not sure how far I am in the story, but my adventurer level is in the high 30s and my alchemist level is in the high 40s, so I’m at least pretty far along with the character development in that sense. That said, I’m currently having my ass beat by a dragon boss so I’ll have to go back to the drawing board until I can figure that fight out.

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…

From now on simply NieR Replicant, though that long version number does set this game apart from the original PS3 Replicant. Then again, we never got the original Replicant here in the States — instead we got NieR Gestalt, simply titled NieR (or Nier as it was written on the NA cover — still not sure about the deal with that capital R but I guess Yoko Taro has his reasons for it.)

Look, if Devola asks me this question, the answer is yes.

Anyway, I’m a bit into the second part of Replicant, and it lives up to its strong reputation so far. The soundtrack is amazing of course (I do prefer the original “Gods Bound by Rules”, but the new one is good as well) and the gameplay is fun, with plenty of special moves to learn and weapons to pick up. In terms of the mechanics, it’s not very different from its semi-sequel NieR:Automata, so at least the style didn’t take much getting used to.

One aspect of NieR Replicant I especially like is the character interaction. Automata had some great moments in this sense, especially in the friendly but tense relationship between 2B and 9S, but Replicant does even better. The setup of the story is pretty basic: you’re a young man (canonically named Nier, but you can pick any name for yourself) determined to save your deathly ill little sister Yonah. But Yonah isn’t just “sick little sister” — she has a lot more character to her and is determined to help out Nier despite his insistence that she simply rest and try to feel better.

Kainé giving Weiss a piece of her mind.

The banter between Nier and the powerful magical talking book Grimoire Weiss, who quickly becomes your ally, is also great. This ancient tome is tired of all the bullshit and just wants people to give him the respect he’s owed. He doesn’t get all that much, though, and especially not from Kainé, now one of my favorite supporting game characters.

Finally, that injury I got a while back has finally healed, so I can actually play these action games again without awkwardly not using my left thumb to manipulate the controller. Took long enough. Apparently I don’t heal nearly as quickly as I used to; probably yet another effect of getting older. What a fucking life this is.

I’ll finally kill this stupid thing.

But I’m not quite done with these preview posts yet. Next up in just a few days will be a similar one covering two currently airing anime series I’m watching. They’ll be running for quite a while, all the way through the fall season, so there’s still plenty of time to get on board and get current with them if they appeal to you. Until then.

Initial thoughts on the Activision Blizzard lawsuit, or why strict corporate culture isn’t always a bad thing

A few weeks ago, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed suit against Activision Blizzard. In its complaint (linked here in full) the state agency alleges that the corporation has instilled a culture of sexism affecting its female employees. Many examples of the alleged sexist behaviors are listed, including unequal pay for similar work and explicitly sexual comments and advances towards women in the workplace. The complaint includes specific examples, most of which are revolting on a gut level, even to the point that reader discretion might be advised.

Activision Blizzard’s Santa Monica headquarters, where many of the alleged facts of the case allegedly went down (Source: w:User:Coolcaesar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.)

None of this is news at the time of writing. When this story broke late last month, it was widely talked about. Sadly, there also wasn’t all that much surprise expressed over it. Activision Blizzard was already widely regarded as a shit company for its lousy business practices and general disregard for its customers, placing it in the same trash league as EA and Ubisoft. But it also seems that the allegations of internal sexism and “frat boy culture” as the California state agency puts it at Activision Blizzard weren’t such a shock either — Ubisoft and other AAA companies have had similar charges leveled against them.

I’m not going to approach this case from a legal perspective, or at least not yet, partly because I don’t know nearly enough about California employment law or the facts of the case to analyze the complaint on that level. California tends to be more protective of the rights of employees (and tenants and consumers for that matter) than other states are, and from that perspective DFEH may be able to come down harder on the company than another state’s counterpart agency would, but anything beyond that would be too much speculation at this point.*

But this time around I’m much more concerned with the allegations and their implications than with the legal aspect of the case. As far as the complaint and its alleged facts go, if even a fraction of them are true, they’re evidence of a degraded culture at Activision and at any other company that encourages or even turns a blind eye to such practices. I know there are some shitty things about the strict sort of generic “corporate culture”, but a decently professional one can discourage such disrespectful behaviors towards fellow employees and subordinates and can punish them when they occur. In theory at least, since these tools are only as effective as the people with the power to use them.

Of course, Activision has asserted that DFEH’s allegations are meritless and that it will prove so in court, and internally it’s showing some defiance towards the agency if this leaked email from the Chief Compliance Officer is any indication (also noting the different tone from the company’s now-former president.) I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of defense the company puts up assuming it actually backs these words up with actions and doesn’t just fold and settle — a common outcome even after this kind of legal smack talk. But a lot of that depends on what evidence the defendant can bring to counter the allegations made against it.

The California Supreme Court standing by to hear appeals, assuming the case gets that far.

While sexism is considered a divisive matter among the various gaming communities, said communities have perhaps never been more united as they now are against Activision. Again, this is partly due to Activision’s established reputation for putting out poor, shoddy games in recent years and for generally treating its customers like ATMs, but great anger has also been inspired by the facts alleged in DFEH’s complaint. This kind of unity among our communities is not all that common to see, either. Online debates and fights are constantly being waged over games and their contents, their depictions of different types of characters and the acts portrayed in them, and especially over those involving sex and sexual appeal.

There’s plenty of room for disagreement over the contents of the games themselves. If you’ve read this site for a while, you know where I stand on that, both in terms of games and other media. I hope there isn’t any real disagreement about this sort of criticism, though, outside of the usual suspects standing on the fringes. The right of the employee to be treated on an equal basis regardless of gender (or race, religion, orientation, etc. etc.) should not be in dispute. There may be certain gray areas where off-color jokes made in the office are concerned, but the best rule to follow is always to err on the side of caution — if you think someone in the group might be put off by what you consider a joke, don’t make it in that group.

This is not a matter of fun, lighthearted office talk being ruined by “snowflakes” but rather common sense. If someone is truly so uptight that they’d make the office a completely miserable, dull place to work, that person tends to be left out of the group anyway, at least as far as I’ve seen. (And it has to be said that the alleged “jokes” cited by DFEH’s complaint are not even really in a gray area. They’re the kinds of comments and actions that would rightfully get you fired from most other companies on the spot, or at least seriously reprimanded and subjected to rigorous “sensitivity training.”)

I haven’t even addressed the most serious allegations made in the complaint against Activision, which include a suicide following some extremely inappropriate sexual activities considering the context. I won’t dig deeper into these allegations for the reasons I’ve stated above, but I will be following the case to see where it goes from here.

For the time being, though, I will back up calls to boycott this company and its products, because there’s no other real way to make its executives and board of directors feel the pain necessary to encourage them to change. We’re their lifeblood, after all. I get that boycotts are notoriously difficult to put in place, especially for fans of established series, but it’s important to back these sentiments up with action. And if the facts in this case are still too unclear for you to act upon (since they are still alleged, though generally speaking a state agency shouldn’t bring a suit like this without some solid evidence — but the discovery process will uncover everything) I have another totally sufficient reason for everyone to shut out Activision Blizzard, one that’s completely, 100% without doubt: its avowed support for the CCP’s crushing of any semblance of Hong Kong independence, to the point that it retaliated against a Hong Kong Hearthstone player for speaking his mind on the subject in 2019.

Be like me and play a ton of Sega games instead. As far as I know, these guys haven’t (allegedly) done anything wrong. And I still need to get past Chapter 5 in Yakuza 0 too; all these damn minigames and sidequests have been distracting me.

Finally — and this is not legal advice or a specific comment on this case, but again simply common sense — if you run a company that has a legal and an HR department, it might be a good idea to make sure they’re effective and that their advice is actually heeded and put into practice. This might be biased coming from a lawyer, but you pay us for a reason, right? Not just to be window dressing?

 

* For the interested, the relevant parts of California’s anti-discrimination code can be found through following the instructions listed here, and this site provides a summary of the state’s Equal Pay Act. The full texts of both code sections are available on the state legislature’s site.

Listening/reading log #21 (July 2021)

Another month has passed. Two months in this case, since I skipped June. But I guess I picked a good time to return. Since many of us are once again confined to quarters thanks to this shitty mutation of the coronavirus that’s ravaging the Earth, you might have time to listen to all this music and read all these excellent posts from around our communities.

First to the music, as usual. Next month, I plan to cover some very modern music, but this time around I’ll be going way back and listening to two old classics that I remember hearing in my childhood and high school years — but they’re not from my childhood, rather from my parents’. I’d actually quit listening to all of these guys years ago because I’d heard their music so much, but lately I’ve been going back, and it’s been an interesting experience. On to it:

Rubber Soul (The Beatles, 1965)

Highlights: Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood, Nowhere Man, Girl, In My Life

Yeah, these guys really don’t need me talking them up, do they? Everyone knows about the Beatles already. But that doesn’t mean their music isn’t still worth talking about. These four dudes from Liverpool, England were massively influential and changed popular music with their work, which spread throughout the decade of the 60s, moving from somewhat sugary pop/rock in the early part of that decade to artsy and even experimental pop/rock by the end.

I like both of these well-known early and late periods of the Beatles’ music, but what happened between them? These guys started shifting their tone in 1965, most noticeably with Rubber Soul, widely known as their “transitional album” and sometimes as their first “serious” album. At first, it might be hard to spot the difference, since the album is still full of short catchy songs that are mostly about love and relationships and all that old stuff. However, the tone is very different and often darker here than you’ll find on something like A Hard Day’s Night. You still have peppy upbeat songs like the opener “Drive My Car”, which I’ll forever remember from my childhood as the song the local morning news played over the traffic report. And there are still fairly straightforward love songs like Paul McCartney’s Michelle, just the thing for playing under some girl’s window to win her affections (you know, as long as she’s named Michelle — if she’s not, you might just piss her off even more than you have already.)

But then there are songs about disappointment and wrecked and even toxic relationships, starting with John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood”, maybe the most famous song about blue balls ever recorded, and ending with a pretty big overreaction from the protagonist (at least according to the popular reading of the lyrics.) Lennon’s “Girl” is even darker in a way, describing a bad relationship that’s hard to escape, and Run For Your Life goes so far as to have the singer promising his girl won’t escape their relationship alive. What the fuck, guys. It’s hard to imagine all those girls screaming over the Beatles playing that song, isn’t it? And now there’s even a non-love song with “Nowhere Man”, which is just kind of depressing as shit, but still excellent of course.

Rubber Soul is an interesting look at how the Beatles changed their sound and approach, capturing that sound right in the middle of its shift — with Revolver in 1966 they’d be almost completely in that later “art” period. But aside from the historical interest it holds, it’s also just a really good album in its own right. Also yeah, George Harrison plays a sitar for the first time on “Norwegian Wood”; there’s your bar trivia fact for this post.

Live at Leeds (The Who, 1970)

Highlights: the whole thing really, but listen to Heaven and HellAmazing Journey/Sparks, Young Man Blues

Another band that doesn’t need a lot of talking up. But I listened to this thing so much in high school that I damn near wore the CD out (yeah, dating myself here once again.) The Who were another one of the British Invasion groups back in the 60s along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — like the Stones, they had a harder edge, playing their take on old American RnB and blues, but like the Beatles they also delved into some more artsy/ambitious work later on, writing the famous rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.

The Who were also by all accounts an amazing live band, one that I regret I was never around to actually see play. But at least we have great live albums like Live at Leeds. This album captures these guys at a high point, just coming off of the success of Tommy, and it gives us a listen to the wide range of their work — from short singles from their earlier days like Substitute to medleys of their then-recent work with “Amazing Journey/Sparks”. Most of these are originals, but they also cover a few old classics; see “Young Man Blues” and Summertime Blues, which most people probably know better in its original Eddie Cochran version.

It’s easy to tell from this album alone why this band was and still is so revered. All four of these guys were excellent performers: Roger Daltrey’s vocals, Pete Townshend’s guitar (and writing, since he did write most of their music/lyrics), John Entwistle’s bass, and Keith Moon’s drumming, all of it. Moon famously used to go nuts on his drumkit (and in his life generally speaking) but it fits well with the band’s style — it’s easier if you actually see them in action as you can here, playing “Heaven and Hell” live one year later.

But even without the visuals, there’s a lot of energy and talent on this album and it all comes through. The Who also recorded some great studio albums that I might get around to looking at later on.

And now on to the featured posts:

Catherine: Full Body Review (WCRobinson) — Catherine is a PS3 puzzle game classic that started a few debates back in the day over its frank depiction of relationships and both their emotional and sexual aspects. The PS4 remake Full Body adds a new character to the story along with some other interesting features. Be sure to read WCRobinson’s review for an in-depth look at the game.

The Awesome Combo Trainer of Them’s Fightin’ Herds (Frostilyte Writes) — I am absolute trash at fighting games, but I still like reading Frostilyte’s thoughts on them. The animal-themed fighting game Them’s Fightin’ Herds certainly seems like an interesting one to check out if you’re into the genre.

Visual Novel Theatre: Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru (Lost to the Aether) — Dipping back into June for this one, but it’s well worth the trip back for another of Aether’s visual novel reviews. Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru might sound like it’s not made for manly men, but Aether absolutely destroys that misguided idea in his review of the game. Also, the art on that title screen is familiar — I’m positive I know that artist, but I can’t place the name and it’s driving me a bit crazy.

Donkey Kong Country (Extra Life) — Red Metal gives his thoughts on the classic SNES platformer Donkey Kong Country in this extremely in-depth review. How does it hold up after all these years? Check his post out to find out.

AILBHTAY: Kino’s Journey (2003) (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott reviews the classic Kino’s Journey, one that I somehow haven’t watched yet. Now I have yet another old series to add to my backlog, because Kino seems to be well worth a look.

3 Episode Rule – The Aquatope on White Sand (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — I’m watching the currently airing anime The Aquatope on White Sand, and it’s promising so far, with very high production values and an interesting premise. See this post for more on why you might want to pick it up as well.

Full Dive: This Ultimate Next-Gen Full Dive RPG Is Even Shittier than Real Life! – Well this name is quite the mouth full. (Natural Degeneracy) — Normally I’m down for a good ecchi/fanservice-filled series; you know me. This one doesn’t sound like it quite lives up to its potential, but you might find something to like — see this review for more. Also, one of the characters looks a lot like Etna from Disgaea.

Hyouka – Review (KSBlogs) — Hyouka is an anime I’ve been thinking of picking up just because of how damn good it looks, and this detailed review of the series has gotten me even more interested in it.

Trying Out My New “Positivity” – Pomu’roll at the End (The Unlit Cigarette) — From Valsisms, an account of trying to be positive even in the face of absurdity. If you’ve ever had a bad or bizarre job interview, and who hasn’t, you will likely be able to relate. (I also want to second her plug of Nijisanji EN at the end — I’ve already admitted to falling down the VTuber hole long ago, and since writing that post back in December mostly about Hololive talents, rival agency Nijisanji has introduced two sets of new English-language VTubers. And they’re all entertaining, so be sure to check them out if you’re into that. (I 100% simp for Rosemi Lovelock and I’m not ashamed to say it. But God, what’s happened to my life.))

The VTuber Bachelorette: Mori Calliope (Pinkie’s Paradise) — Speaking of VTubers, Pinkie is putting a select few in the spotlight on her blog, including everyone’s favorite rapping grim reaper Mori Calliope. I like Mori’s down to Earth attitude, and while I’m not much for rap she’s obviously a talented singer/musician as well. But how would she make for a girlfriend? An interesting question, but there are some serious complications involved that Pinkie gets into (and it’s not just the fact that she’s a 2D anime girl — not that that stops some people!)

MY TAKE ON MOST FAMOUS ANIME WAIFUS – Thiccness Alert (FreakSenpai) — And speaking of waifus, FreakSenpai gives us some personal thoughts on a few popular anime characters that many fans pine for. All I have to say is: good taste!

How Square Enix Ripped Out My Heart & Then Stomped On It: Final Fantasy XV (Eating Soup with Trailing Sleeves) — I lost track of Final Fantasy many years ago, so I can’t comment personally on the subject, but Trailing Sleeves gives a personal account of the Final Fantasy XV experience here, along with some thoughts about how effectively (or ineffectively) it tells its story.

Summoning Salt: Ode to Speedrunning Docu Excellence (Professional Moron) — Summoning Salt runs an interesting YouTube channel, producing documentary-style pieces about the history of speedrunning. His videos usually focus on one game each, or even on an aspect of a particular game, and how their challenges are taken on by the most skilled speedrunners in the world. Mr. Wapojif highly recommends this channel, and so do I!

Having a Tea Party at the Umineko Manor (Kyu-Furukawa Gardens) (Resurface to Reality) — I love the visual novel series Umineko no Naku Koro ni. But what I didn’t know for a long time was that the Ushiromiya mansion featured in the game is based on a real place, and apparently you can have a tea party there, just like Beatrice the Golden Witch sometimes did while she was tormenting Battler in the meta-world or however that went (it’s complicated.) A good idea if you can make it when things open up a bit once again.

What’s (In My Opinion) the Worst Parts About Anime (Side of Fiction) — Our friendly overlord Jacob loves anime, but he also has a few problems with the medium as it stands today. I’m partly but not totally on board with him, though I do get his reasoning, and he raises some issues that are worth talking about.

I’m Having Trouble Adapting to the Anime Community off WordPress (I drink and watch anime) — Irina brings up a new trend among anime bloggers of shifting off of WordPress and onto other platforms, talking about what she sees as the pros and cons of this shift. I do use Twitter sometimes, but I’m more or less of the same mind — WordPress is where I’ll stay, even if/when Automattic forces us to use their new extra-shitty text editor. I’m just waiting for that axe to fall.

Anonymity on the Internet is Slowly Dying (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Anonymity on the internet is indeed dying, and Yomu gets into detail in this post about how that’s happening and how we might fight against this trend and protect our own privacy online.

Nestle and Cargill financing child slavery for their chocolate industries, yet SCOTUS rejects a lawsuit to stop them from getting sued by those formally enslaved. (Ospreyshire’s Realm) — Finally, apologies for getting heavy here at the very end, but this is an important subject that hasn’t gotten much talk. Nestle is well known for being one of the evilest companies on Earth, even worse than Activision-Blizzard (which yes, I am following that case, and possibly more on it later.) So it’s not a great surprise that major food-producing corporations Nestle and Cargill were sued in the US over allegations of using child labor and essentially promoting slavery in Cote D’Ivoire for the purpose of chocolate production. The lawsuit was thrown out by the US Supreme Court on jurisdictional grounds, which basically means that the case might have merit but still can’t be heard for technical reasons. Ospreyshire here writes about how this was a bad ruling and why these companies should be held to account for their actions.

And that’s all for this month. I hope I’ve acquitted myself for skipping the last one. As for what you can expect from me moving forward — more anime reviews are certainly on their way, and I have a couple of other features I’m planning, including the next deep read post (probably up next unless I decide to revise it a whole lot.) Until then, all the best.

Listening/reading log #20 (May 2021)

Damn, 20 of these posts. This feels like a landmark somehow, though that should really be marked at 24 instead, shouldn’t it? I don’t have anything special planned anyway — just the same old great writing from around the communities and a look at some of the music I’ve had on recently. On to it:

Sunshower (Taeko Ohnuki, 1977)

Highlights: Kusuri wo Takusan, Tokai, 振子の山羊

Hey, it’s more city pop. This smooth Japanese style has been winning me over a lot lately. Well, it already had me ever since hearing “Plastic Love” like everyone else, but I’ve been listening to more lately anyway, probably to help with de-stressing. And it does the job. Sunshower is the perfect title for this album, because it sounds like the sort of music that goes along perfectly with driving along a coastal road in the summer breeze with the top down, or maybe hanging out at a rooftop pool in the middle of a city thirty stories in the air. One day with nothing to do and nothing to worry about, that kind of feeling.

Taeko Ohnuki’s singing contributes a lot to that feel — she has a really nice voice, soft and smooth, that goes along with this style well. Most of the songs are catchy as hell too — “Tokai” is the one that pulled me in, and I can see why both this song and “Kusuri wo Takusan” were put out together on a single in 2015, nearly forty years after the album’s release. There’s also a very obvious strong fusion influence here I really like (and maybe even a bossa nova one as well, though that might just be me.) And apparently a lot of these upbeat-sounding songs deal with dark subjects, like “Kusuri wo Takusan”, about the overprescription of drugs — and this was in 1977! Not much has changed, apparently.

My only problem with Sunshower is that it indulges a bit in some stupid synth tones. For example, about 20/30 seconds in the middle of “Tokai” unfortunately has a dumb as hell sounding synth gooped onto it that wrecks that section for me. Maybe you don’t mind those wacky synth tones, in which case you’ll be fine. I mind them, but I still like Sunshower a lot.

Octopus (Gentle Giant, 1972)

Highlights: The Advent of Panurge, Raconteur Troubadour, Knots (yes, really)

Shit, have I really gone 19 of these posts going on about prog and not bringing up Gentle Giant at all? Today I fix that. This English prog band didn’t quite reach the commercial success of colleagues like Yes or Genesis (and they tried but failed to make that leap into 80s pop those bands managed) but they had their own unique style — as far as I know, no one else came close to even trying to sound like Gentle Giant. Understandable, because it wouldn’t have been easy. These guys were really talented, some of them playing a load of instruments each, combining rock sometimes with a kind of medieval or Renaissance European sound, sometimes with orchestral or dance hall music, and occasionally with… Gregorian chanting or something? I know that probably sounds weird, but I can’t think of a better way to describe Gentle Giant than that.

Octopus seems to be considered their peak by some fans, and I can see why; it’s pretty damn out there while remaining grounded enough to enjoy. The opener “Advent of Panurge” combines those rock and folk styles really nicely, and I’m a big fan even if I have no idea what they’re singing about (I think Panurge and Pantagruel are characters from some Renaissance-era novels or plays; shows you how far back these guys go for their influences.) “Raconteur Troubadour” is more old folk/medieval-sounding but still a great time, and I’m also partial to Dog’s Life. Just a nice song about a dog and his owner, and who can’t like that? Though I’ve never had a dog, so I can’t exactly relate. And come to think of it, this song has some out-of-place synth fart sounds in the middle too (or maybe it’s some obscure old instrument? Probably, knowing these guys.) Maybe that’s the hidden theme to this post, irritating sounds in sections of otherwise good songs.

And then there’s “Knots”. This seems to be a controversial one — some really hate this song, and I can’t blame them for feeling that way. But I like it. At first it sounds like a complete fucking mess, but it does come together at times in a satisfying way, and I get the feeling that even the messy-sounding parts are extremely precisely and purposely written. As for the lyrics, God knows what they mean or if they mean anything at all. The song could be an avantgarde retelling of Macbeth for all I know. But it could just as easily be nothing more than a weird joke on the listener. Either way, “Knots” does have a practical use as someone in the comments of the video mentions — it’s great for clearing out a party when you want those annoying stragglers to go home.

Now for the featured posts:

Itch.io Indies: Jam and the Mystery of the Mysteriously Spooky Mansion (nonplayergirl) — A review of a game that I haven’t yet played in that itch.io bundle I keep going on about. It sounds like a very quick one, so there’s no excuse for me not to check it out. Sounds like a nice time from what nonplayergirl says, especially if you like some irreverent humor, and I’m sometimes up for that.

What I Would Like to See in PlayStation’s Future (The Gamer with Glasses) — I still don’t plan to buy a PS5 (my future console money is still set aside for the Switch alone, which no I still don’t have one yet) but it’s still interesting to read the Gamer with Glasses’ hopes for the new console, including some much-needed improvements and fixes from the PS4 era.

MagiCat – If a Christmas Calendar was a game (Nepiki Reviews) — Nepiki takes a look at MagiCat, a nice-looking old-school-style platformer available on Steam. I’ve never played a game that includes a transcription into katakana of its title on the opening screen that I didn’t like, so MagiCat looks like a safe bet for me.

Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons – Episode One: Marooned on Mars (Extra Life) — PC games were a big part of my life as a kid in the 90s, but somehow I never played a Commander Keen game. This is without doubt a historically important series, but how does the first title in the series hold up? Read Red Metal’s review to find out.

East Meets West #5: Vatican Kiseki Chousakan .vs. Father Ted (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Traditional Catholic Weeb here continues the series in which he examines and compares works from both East and West, this time putting up the Catholic-themed mystery thriller anime Vatican Kiseki Chousakan against the Catholic-themed Irish comedy Father Ted. Incidentally, this is maybe the one time I can say that I’ve seen the live-action show but not the anime.

Fragile Packages Don’t Exist: Totally Reliable Delivery Service Review (The Below Average Blog) — None of these apply to me, but if you have an Xbox Game Pass subscription and a few friends who do as well, Totally Reliable Delivery Service sounds like a great game to pick up. Though the repetitive soundtrack might be a dealbreaker anyway in my case.

Anime Reviews: Demon Slayer: Mugen Train (Lex’s Blog) — People are now going out without fear after over a year of quarantine. I’m continuing my quarantine for as long as humanly possible because I hate the outside and everything associated with it. But if you’re actually a healthy and well-adjusted person who doesn’t feel that way, taking in a movie is a good way to pass time with friends or even alone if you prefer, and Demon Slayer: Mugen Train sounds like a good one to watch if Lex’s review is any indication. (Also, watching a movie in the theater alone is fine and to hell with anyone who says otherwise.)

It Takes Two to Break Me (Frostilyte Writes) — It’s not easy for an artistic work to elicit real emotion, but Frostilyte talks about his experience with the new co-op game It Takes Two and how it manages to achieve an emotional response using elements that are unique to the game medium. Interesting as always — check it out!

Visiting Ureshino, the Cheerful Hot Spring Town from Zombieland Saga (Resurface to Reality) — If you liked Zombieland Saga and you’re in Japan or are planning to visit, be sure to read here about the attractions in Ureshino. One day I will visit a hot spring inn, I swear to God. It’s on my lifetime to-do list.

Rhyme like a Rolling Stone! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(e); Characters-Koromaru, Ken, and Shinjiro  (Lost to the Aether) — Aether continues his excellent analysis of Persona 3, covering one of the worst and one of the best characters in the game in this post. Can you already guess which is which? Neither of them are Koromaru, though he is a good dog (in fact he could easily be the subject of “Dog’s Life” linked above.)

On Writing: Female Representation in Video Games (Meghan Plays Games) — Meghan here takes on the hotly debated issue of female representation in games. I agree with much of what she has to say in general, though not on some of the specifics — her piece might provide some counterargument to the one I wrote on fanservice a while back, but interested readers can judge for themselves. I don’t feel any differently now than when I wrote that post, but it’s still great to read different and well-reasoned points of view. More civil discussion, fewer bullshit kneejerk-reaction fights on Twitter, that’s what I say! Though we’re always civil here anyway from what I’ve seen.

Reflections: Am I too old for anime high school? (In Search of Number Nine) — And finally, Iniksbane reflects upon his feelings towards anime set in high school (i.e. a whole lot of them) at the age of 44, far removed from that stage in his own life. It’s an interesting question to consider and quite a personal one, whether you can (or should?) still relate to characters 20 or 30 years removed from you in life experience — I’ve had some similar thoughts before, but I think different people will come to their own conclusions on it. Either way, a very insightful and interesting post, so be sure to check it out.

And that’s it once again for the month. I’m in the middle of a lot of games at the moment, but a minor but annoyingly slow-healing injury to my hand has forced me to set aside some of the more action-oriented ones (most frustratingly NieR Replicant, which I was really enjoying up until then.) It is healing at any rate, but until it’s all right, I’ll probably be looking at a few of the visual novels I’ve had piled up. It was about time to get to those anyway. You can also expect the usual anime reviews — there’s at least one this month I hope to get to.

Before closing here however, I want to draw attention to yet another massive 1,000+ game bundle being sold on itch.io for $5 or more if the buyer wishes. This is the Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid, the proceeds set to go to the UN Relief and Works Agency. I admittedly have a personal bias as I owe a lot to UNRWA by extension since they’ve helped a lot of my family out in the past, but they continue to do great work for the sake of Palestinian refugees. I don’t get political here all that often, but this is a major human rights issue and one that I care about a lot, so I thought I’d do a bit more than a simple retweet. (And I certainly have gotten political here before on occasion, so not like it’s unprecedented anyway.)

And of course, you also get a metric fuckton of games if you donate, so there’s that too. If you’re interested, the deal is running until 6/11. As with last year’s bundle, most of the games in here don’t look interesting to me, but a few do, so I’ll be digging through this haul at some point to find those gems. Until next time!

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster (PS4): First impressions

In what may be the least surprising development in the history of this site, I decided to write a first impressions post about Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster (which I’ll be referring to as Nocturne HD from now on because that’s too damn long to type.) Nocturne has long been one of my favorite games, and I speculated not one year ago that it was a natural choice for a PC port following the success of Persona 4 Golden on Steam. And look: now we have it on Steam in remastered form, along with Switch and PS4 versions.

So far, I’ve played about ten hours of Nocturne HD, up to what I’d consider near the end of the early game (if you’ve played the original: beating you-know-who, getting into the Labyrinth of Amala, and reaching Ikebukuro) and I think I have a pretty good idea of the remaster at this point. I can only address the PS4 version, since that’s the one I’ve got, but hopefully this rundown should give you a feel for the game and whether you might want to consider getting it. And if this post doesn’t achieve that, at least it will have succeeded in entertaining me for a while.

First of all, what’s Nocturne about? If you haven’t played this game yet, you’re in for a good time. You play as a silent protagonist high school student who meets his asshole friends at a hospital to visit your teacher Yuko Takao. However, it turns out that Yuko is part of a scheme headed by a cult leader to remake the world according to his own ideals by carrying out an arcane ritual that quite literally turns Tokyo inside out, forming it into an inverted spherical world (now called the Vortex World) and killing everyone outside of the hospital.

I’m still not sure what happened to everything outside of Tokyo, but since we’re cut off from the rest of the world at this point, it hardly matters anyway. Just before it all ends, Yuko says that she’s on your side despite everything and asks you to survive and find her in this new world.

This ruined Tokyo is filled with demons, many of whom are ready to cut you to shreds. Luckily (?) just after the world goes through this rebirth, a mysterious boy and an old woman shove a parasitic worm into your body that turns you into a demon yourself, giving you the power both to fight and to talk with other demons. As the “Demi-fiend”, you still have your human intellect and your old personality, at least for now, but it’s up to you to figure out what the hell is going on and what part you’re going to play in the struggles for dominance you come across.

There’s a lot more to the story, but I’ll leave that for later. If you really want to get spoiled on more of that, I wrote a bit about Nocturne and its plot here, where I probably misunderstood a few aspects of the lore behind the game. But this post is meant to address what I’ve come across in the HD remaster so far, so that’s what I’ll do.

Yeah, thanks Pixie.

Maybe this is a predictable or underwhelming statement to make, but here it is anyway: playing Nocturne HD feels a lot like playing Nocturne. Which is exactly how it should feel, so that’s not an insult at all. The game certainly looks nicer, though I have heard people complain that the textures are still low-quality, which yeah, some of them are. I don’t care myself, and I’m not sure about the technical aspects of remasters like this, so I won’t comment on that. Nocturne still looks like Nocturne, anyway, and that’s enough for me. I’ve always liked that cel-shaded style.

Fusing a Jack Frost — each demon, including Demi-fiend, has eight slots available to equip with physical, magic, and supportive skills.

This is probably a standard thing when it comes to remasters, but your experience with Nocturne HD is certainly going to be different based on whether you’ve played the original. See above for one important example. Being able to choose the skills you inherit when fusing demons might not seem like a big deal, but in the original Nocturne, you didn’t have this option — the game chose your inherited skills for you. Fortunately, you weren’t stuck with what it gave you; leaving the demon fusion screen and re-selecting your second fused demon acted as a re-roll, giving you a new set of inherited skills.

The drawback to this setup was that you sometimes had to go through this re-rolling process dozens, potentially even hundreds, of times to get the exact arrangement of skills you wanted on a demon. This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that some skills were more likely to be selected by the game than others — a skill that didn’t fit with a demon’s general affinity was hard to get on said demon, like say Hama (a light-based instant death spell) on a Lilim, so if you wanted an especially weird setup of skills like I sometimes did, you might have to put yourself through this hell for 15 or 20 minutes. But no longer! This is a massive quality of life improvement as they say, though one you’ll only truly feel if you’ve already suffered through that old re-rolling ritual.

A Chakra Drop? Do you know how valuable those MP restoratives are? You’re not worth that and you know it.

Some aspects of Nocturne will always be frustrating, though, and just as they should be. The demon negotiation system is just as annoying and seemingly arbitrary as ever. I actually like that it’s made this way, since it fits with the theme of the new chaotic Tokyo and the demonic cultures that have taken it over. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t want to throw my fucking controller when Angel takes 800 macca and a Chakra Drop from me when I try to recruit her into my party, only to call me a “bore” and then leave.

Or when a demon asks me a question with a seemingly completely random “correct” answer. I don’t know if people far smarter or more obsessive than me have mapped all this out; I’m just going by my own gameplay experience — and the negotiation mechanic in Nocturne HD doesn’t seem to be any different so far from the original. Of course, I still enjoy it, despite or even because of this frustrating randomness. Maybe I just like being punished.

Also just as before, some demons won’t join you through negotiation, like the elements you can only find in this one extremely irritating dungeon. Even having Pixie talk to this Erthys instead makes no difference in this case. Some demons have specialized talk skills that give them bonuses in certain situations or with certain demons, but these skills all take up valuable space that can be used for better skills, while Demi-fiend’s talk ability is built in and doesn’t occupy one of his eight skill slots. Though you can get some pretty funny conversations between certain demons depending on their relationships in folklore and myth. Try it out if you have a slot free!

Battles are also just as nerve-wracking as ever. I haven’t yet seen that game over screen, but I’ve gotten extremely close, and I’m sure I will eventually (it is a really nice one, so I’m almost tempted to let Demi-fiend get killed on purpose right after a save just so I can see how it translated into HD.) If you’re new to the game, you might be surprised by how quickly a battle can turn against you if you’re not prepared for it with effective skills or if you’re weak to the enemies’ skills — even a normal random encounter can kill you, though this is thankfully pretty rare as long as you keep a healer and a good mix of demons in your party to swap out as needed.

Another difficult aspect of the gameplay in Nocturne that hasn’t changed with the HD release is the extremely high encounter rate. Or rather, it can feel extremely high because of how variable it is. The colored diamond at the lower right of the screen while you run around dungeon areas (and even most town areas, because yes, you get attacked there too) turns to orange and then red indicating the likelihood of the next encounter coming up. But there have been times when I’ve gone quite a long way without hitting another battle and times when I’ve literally gone a few steps before the next one. And those “I just walked a few steps and then what the hell???” moments are the ones you remember.

Paired with the long dungeons and the constant threat of being one-shot by a demon who hits Demi-fiend with a lucky insta-death spell, this can be annoying. Especially so since, if Demi-fiend dies, it’s a game over, even if the rest of your party is still alive. I guess his demon friends consider their contract broken once he’s dead, even if they happen to have revival skills. Thanks a lot, assholes. But even then, they’re still better friends to Demi-fiend than his old human ones.

Fortunately, there is a partial way to deal with the constant battles: if you talk to a demon of the same kind as one in your party (even in your inactive stock) in most cases they’ll acknowledge that and leave battle.

All this considered, it’s a good thing that the suspend save feature was added to Nocturne HD. It’s not quite a quick-save, but it does let you make a temporary save and quit the game in case you have to do something else (or in case a lightning storm has suddenly rolled in and might fry your PS4 because your fucking power strip is a worthless piece of trash.) This is something I’m grateful for. I only plan to use it for these kinds of emergencies, since I never found the spacing between save points in Nocturne too unreasonable, but then I do remember getting killed and losing an hour of progress before just like all of us have.

The overworld map in Vortex World Tokyo. Don’t cross this bridge early on if you value your life or unless you’re a big risk-taker.

There are a couple of major criticisms of Nocturne HD I’ve seen going around that I don’t want to dismiss. One is the fact that it’s capped at 30 fps. This pissed off a lot of people. I don’t care myself about the game being capped at 30 fps; it looks fine to me, but I’m not going to try to tell other players what aspects of their games they are and aren’t allowed to care about like some certain tiresome professional reviewers and journalists do. So if you really hate that 30 fps cap, you might not want to get Nocturne HD. Or maybe wait in hopes that the cap will be removed, like I’ve seen some speculation about. Again, I don’t know the mechanics behind any of this.

I can comment a bit more on the other criticism I’ve seen of the game, which has more to do with Atlus than with the game itself. Last year, I expressed the hope that we’d get the Chronicle Edition of Nocturne ported. This was the limited Japan-only release that had Raidou Kuzunoha, the Taisho-era demon summoner who starred in two of his own MegaTen games on the PS2. Amazingly, that’s exactly what we got. So I was very happy about that, but I wasn’t so happy to see that the original NA version of Nocturne featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series was locked behind a paid DLC. Maybe that was necessary to cover the expense of adding in this new mode. I have no idea.

But again, I can’t tell anyone that they’d be wrong for being upset about it, especially since that Dante version is the one American players grew up with. Atlus has also gotten into the habit of adding a lot of paid DLC to its games lately, though I guess if people buy it, they’ll just keep adding it.

Is he right? That’s up to you to decide.

None of that is nearly enough to sour me on Nocturne HD, however. I’ve been having a great time reliving this classic, and I fully intend to go all the way with the true ending this run through. In the meantime, I’ll see you again probably not before next weekend — work has been insane as usual, so the regular end-of-month post may be a few days late. More time to listen to some suitable music to talk about, anyway. Until then!

A review of Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea (PS4)

This is a road I didn’t plan on taking over the last few months, but sometimes things just happen without your planning for it. And so I’m here reviewing my third Atelier game in a row, the DX PS4 edition of Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, and the final game in the Atelier Dusk trilogy. While Shallie bears some resemblance to the first two entries Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy, it also represents a major shift in the series through its removal of a standard gameplay element established by those games and by the previous Arland trilogy. My feelings about this game are also a little mixed, though still favorable on balance — I haven’t played a bad or even middling Atelier game yet, but I think the situation with Shallie is a little more complicated than with any of the others I’ve played so far.

Starting a few years after the end of Escha & Logy, Shallie moves us to still another part of the world, this time one that’s pretty well and truly fucked. The vast Dusk Sea is a massive desert with a few settlements clinging to its edges around the few remaining sources of clean water. The people of Lugion, one of these villages, are anxious about their now dangerously low supply of water. And so Shallistera, also known as Shallie, an alchemist in training and the daughter and planned successor of the chief of Lugion, sets out with two trusted men of the village on a ship (yeah, the ships in this world can sail on sand; I don’t think it’s explained really but no big deal) to the one place that might have a solution to their problem: the oasis city of Stellard.

Shallie might technically be a princess, but much like Meruru she doesn’t have an ego about it.

And Stellard is where we meet our other protagonist: Shallotte Elminus, also coincidentally an alchemist in training nicknamed Shallie. Shallotte is a native of Stellard, doing her best to help her mother manage things by synthesizing goods and taking any jobs she can at the city’s Cooperative Union. These jobs mainly consist of picking trash up off of the streets so far, since she doesn’t yet have the recognition she wants from the Union or its president Raoul, but Shallotte is still ambitious and wants to make a name for herself as an adventuring alchemist. Or something like that.

Your endless optimism is killing me, Shallie, please stop.

Of course, fate brings these two girls together soon enough. On her way to Stellard, Shallistera’s ship is chased by a massive dragon, and while sailing full speed to escape it loses control and rams into Stellard’s harbor, causing serious damage. Thankfully, the local authorities and populace don’t really blame Shallistera and her party for this since they know about the dragons lurking around the sea, but it’s still an awkward introduction to Stellard considering they’ve come seeking aid.

So in order to gain the trust of the city, Shallistera agrees to help with their problems. It turns out that despite its reputation as a city of water, even Stellard is drying up, and threats like the dragon lurking around the Dusk Sea in their area aren’t helping matters. And in the course of her work using alchemy to help Stellard, Shallistera meets fellow young alchemist Shallotte. The pair quickly bond over the unlikely coincidence of their shared nickname and profession and agree to join forces to bring water back to the land and help everyone, both in Stellard and back in Lugion.

It’s here that the story really gets going. In this final game of the Dusk trilogy, your object is quite literally to try to save the world, since without any water sources everyone will obviously die sooner or later. All our characters are aware of the urgency of the situation, and while there still seems to be plenty of water flowing in Stellard at the moment (enough that there’s a “Water Festival” event with all the girls in swimsuits late in the game supposedly meant to honor the Lord of Water or something, which hell, you won’t hear me complaining about that even so) things are absolutely dire at this point, even more so than in Escha & Logy, which dealt directly with the world’s declining environment.

Despite that urgency, Atelier Shallie is the first game out of the modern set of Atelier titles, starting with the original Rorona in 2009, that eliminates the series’ time management element. It’s no longer necessary to keep track of any calendars or clocks while in the field or the atelier — you can now do whatever the hell you want without worrying about running out of time and getting a bad end. While I got more or less used to the time management in these games, especially in its more lenient form in Escha & Logy, it was nice to be free from the calendar for once.

As far as I’m aware, Shallie also marked the end of time management in Atelier as a whole, aside from one deadline in the later PS4 entry Atelier Firis that I hear is so easy to meet it’s barely worth mentioning. I don’t know how long-time series fans feel about all this, but though I can appreciate some things about it as I wrote in my Ayesha review, I ultimately don’t mind seeing this aspect of the games go. Even if Shallie has a plot that would have made a time limit very easy to justify.

I wonder if there are any parallels we can draw between this world and our own? No, probably not.

Unlike the other games in the trilogy, then, Shallie is broken not into months and years but chapters, ten in total. After choosing which Shallie you want to play as, the first chapter begins, starting with some plot advancement through character events and dialogue during which you’ll be given tasks to complete. Once the Shallie you’ve chosen as your protagonist (I’ll mostly refer to them as Stera and Lotte from now on, a convention that the game itself starts following around the story’s halfway mark) has completed the major story-related tasks she’s been given, the chapter moves into a sort of free mode in which she’s able to practice her alchemy and explore the world gathering ingredients and beating up monsters for money and experience. You have the option of moving on to the next chapter once you’ve fulfilled enough “life tasks”, which you can check on the menu screen, but you can also stick around in free time after meeting those requirements if you don’t feel like progressing right away.

And you might not want to move on immediately, because the Cooperative Union offers a lot of lucrative jobs in the form of combat and synthesis requests. This time you get real money instead of just candy for your troubles, which is useful since you’re not getting a government stipend this time around. Stera and Lotte also don’t have to submit reports to the bureaucrat Solle (who is still around; he’s moved to Stellard to help with the Dusk problem and has set up shop in the Union, but he’s a little more mellowed out now, which is nice. He even joins your active party this time.)

As usual, your party grows pretty quickly. In addition to the two Shallies, who can both use items in battle, you’re joined by new characters like the treasure hunter Jurie and her dour alchemist younger sister Miruca, Stera’s protector Kortes, and the katana-wielding homunculus Homura, along with returning characters like Escha and Wilbell. A few of these characters also offer their services in ingredient gathering and item creation. Solle delivers reports about the changing environment around Stellard that can affect enemy and ingredient density in certain field areas. And then there’s Miruca, who fills the role of the modern-style alchemist that Logy took last game — she’s the one you’ll be going to for your advanced weapons and armor. (Logy does show up eventually if you’re playing Plus or one of the DX versions to help Escha out a chapter or two after she arrives in Stellard, but he doesn’t have a workshop this time around. Thankfully, he’s a great asset in battle, so he does have more to do than filling out Solle’s endless paperwork. Lucky for him.)

That old-style alchemy Miruca made reference to above comes in yet another form in Atelier Shallie. This time, ingredients have from 0 to 4 slots that can be filled with attributes that hopefully improve the resulting item. While it’s still partly based on the Ayesha alchemy system, it’s much easier to use, easier even than the elemental point system in Escha & Logy, and I have no complaints at all about that. And since Stera and Lotte are both traditional alchemists, they use the same synthesis styles, so no complications there either.

A lot of things about Shallie seem streamlined for the player’s convenience: the removal of the time limit and calendar, the new alchemy mechanics, and even the combat system, which takes the Escha & Logy three member front line/three member back line and removes the positioning element, putting everyone in your party in a single line in front of the enemy. The only gameplay element that’s been complicated a bit is the search equipment setup, which now takes the form of a big grid that you have to fit your items into like a bunch of Tetris blocks. Why does the Globe attack item take the shape of a [ ? No idea, but you have to deal with that shit or else use an item attribute that reduces the space it takes up, which I did a lot.

On top of all that, Shallie looks pretty nice. This game was originally released on the PS3 in 2014, near the very end of that console’s life, and I imagine it gave that PS3 a real workout with some of the elaborate special attack animations in battle. I understand the original Shallie suffered from slowdown problems for that very reason. These issues are apparently even worse in Shallie Plus on the Vita — out of all the Plus versions, I’ve heard that Shallie is the closest to being unplayable only because the Vita couldn’t handle it, at least in the way it was ported over. I don’t know the first thing about the technical aspects of these issues, but I do know that the DX edition on the PS4 doesn’t have any such problems.

Making weapons at Miruca’s workshop.

As expected, the art and music are excellent as usual for the series. Hidari’s characters and CGs look great (I’m especially a fan of Miruca — I like those dour indoor types in general, and her “gothic lolita blacksmith” look is certainly unique, though how the hell she keeps that hair so curled all the time is a mystery.) And the settings this time are especially nice. Stellard really looks like it would be an appealing place to live, with a relaxed port city kind of vibe that makes me wish I were there hanging around in an outside bar in the warm breezy air.* Though maybe it would be more appealing if it were surrounded by an ocean of water than of sand, but then, even some of the wastes in and around the Dusk Sea you explore to fight enemies and gather ingredients look nice in their way.

Considering all the polish on it and the streamlining and quality of life improvements made to the gameplay, you might think Shallie DX would be a good place to start for an Atelier beginner, even despite the fact that it’s at the end of a trilogy. After all, the Atelier games I’ve played so far are usually pretty self-contained stories even when they’re parts of larger narratives, and in a very general sense, Shallie is the same way.

However, I’d advise strongly against playing Shallie if you haven’t at least played Escha & Logy first because of just how much it focuses on characters from the first two games in the trilogy and their stories in the course of its narrative. Stera and Lotte have their own stories, of course, and these largely involve new characters like Jurie, Miruca, and Kortes. However, the returning characters take up a lot of screen time, and while much of that time is spent talking with and working alongside Stera and Lotte, a lot of it also involves references to past events in Ayesha and especially in Escha & Logy that entirely new players would have no idea about.

Of course, the Shallies have no idea about any of this either, and very often in cutscenes they’re listening in on their seniors’ conversations, taking a more passive role in that sense. That’s not unusual, since around the middle of the game they’re surrounded by more accomplished alchemists who they look up to, most notably the protagonists of the first two games in the trilogy. However, it might put the player in a weird position if they have no idea about the importance of the seed Escha brought over from Colseit, for instance, or about the unusual relationship between Keithgriff and Ayesha — and they wouldn’t if they haven’t played through the rest of Dusk.

The reunion scenes between Escha and Logy also mean a lot more if you’ve played their game and know about the stuff they went through together, and especially if they were into each other in your own playthrough like they were in mine. There’s some of that energy here in Shallie too.

For that reason, I think that if you start with Atelier Shallie you might feel a bit lost in its story. This is even more the case because Shallie provides a true conclusion to the Dusk series and to its larger “dying world” narrative. Even Atelier Meruru, which relied heavily on returning characters in the Arland trilogy, didn’t feel like an ending to the story in the same way, since Arland was quite a bit lighter in tone and took a more slice-of-life approach than Dusk (which might be why it’s the one that got a fourth installment in Atelier Lulua much later on — it’s probably easier to add another sequel to a series like that.)

Of course, if you want to start near the end of that story, you’re free to do so, and you can probably get a lot out of Shallie on its own. I just think it’s more satisfying if you play through it understanding what the hell Escha, Logy, Solle, Wilbell, Ayesha, and the rest of the returning characters are talking about when they get into past events in conversation, which happens quite a lot. And unlike in Escha & Logy, some of these past events have immediate importance to the plot. I’d say you can even get away with playing Escha & Logy first, though Ayesha is a good game too, so why not just start at the beginning?

Katla, originally from Escha & Logy, trying to convince the Shallies to join her morally questionable water-hoarding scheme.

None of this is a fault against Atelier Shallie, really. It was clearly designed to be the finale to this story about a world on the brink of death, and I think it pulls that off well enough. However, the relationship between Stera and Lotte did seem weirdly loose and rushed in places. Shortly after they meet, for example, Stera is already thinking about her approach to the drought situation in terms of what Lotte would do, treating her more like a very old friend than someone she’d just met a few days or a week ago. The same is true for Lotte in a few parts of her story. The two clearly contrast in some ways — Stera being more methodical and careful and Lotte being freer and more impulsive — and while the dynamic between Escha and Logy in their own game worked really well partly for that reason, in Shallie that relationship feels a little flatter.

To be fair, the game never really depicts the two as joined at the hip, though they clearly see each other as friends. They do have a major argument partway through their stories that gets resolved fairly quickly, but other than that, their relationship doesn’t change all that much other than their dropping the use of “Shallie” to refer to each other and picking up the nicknames Stera and Lotte instead, seemingly in a mutual acknowledgement that they’re very different kinds of people. I liked that one subtle change in their relationship, but in general, where they end up doesn’t seem very different from where they started out.

I have to say this is a really cute CG and scene, though it feels unusually intimate for these two considering what comes before and after it.

The removal of the time limit also changes the pace of the story in some weird ways. Though I’m not exactly lamenting the passing of that old Atelier time management tradition here, the way Shallie deals with pacing is a little awkward. Once you’re done with your main story tasks and enter the second “free time” half of a chapter, you have to fulfill a certain number of tasks Stera or Lotte have on their list before proceeding. This is really easy to do; you can pretty much synthesize and fight monsters and fulfill requests for money freely and you’ll naturally hit that target after a while.

However, if you’re taking too long messing around, your protagonist’s “happiness meter” will fall. This didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but then I noticed Shallie (Stera in my case in the first playthrough) started literally slowing down — her walking and running speed slowed dramatically. This is how the game encourages you to stay on track without the old time limit. Once you’ve hit your life task goal and are ready to move on to the next chapter, the game prompts you to do so, but it doesn’t force you — you can stick around in your current chapter if you feel like it, but in some cases you’ll be stuck on this slow mode until you move on.

This is a novel way to try to keep players on track without the calendar and time limit mechanic, but it also feels kind of artificial and frustrating. It also happens sometimes even if you’re doing your best to stay on track, especially around the middle of the game when there’s a lot to get done, though by the end of the game at least your happiness meter stays at maximum so you can finish up whatever you were planning to do before moving on to the final fight.

Like killing this giant thing. It just showed up out of nowhere, actually scared me for a second. Powerful enemies like this will start spawning in previously cleared areas after a while.

But Shallie still has plenty of positive points about it. The choice of protagonist this time around matters a little more than last time, since unlike Escha and Logy who basically are joined at the hip (even in this version of Shallie) Stera and Lotte largely take their own paths, especially in the early chapters of the game. Even after their stories converge around chapters 4 and 5, the two practice alchemy in different settings, Stera on her ship and Lotte in her mother’s house. And generally speaking, they know they have their own paths to follow, though their friendship is always maintained as a central aspect of the game. For that reason, I’d say you get a bit more out of a second playthrough of Shallie in terms of variety than in Escha & Logy.

The game also does sum up some of the returning characters’ stories nicely, especially Ayesha, Odelia, and Keithgriff’s that started all the way back in Atelier Ayesha. The same is even true for a couple of non-returning characters, one of whom is even tied in to a major plot point that explains some of the side events in Escha & Logy. So if you have played the trilogy straight through, Shallie provides some satisfying wrap-ups in that sense.

And though there are some things I didn’t love about the game’s execution, I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like the game as a whole, because I did. Atelier Shallie is well-made and adds some more colorful and interesting characters to the Dusk story. The alchemy is still satisfying, especially if you’re an obsessive like me. And I really did like Stera and Lotte as the protagonists, setting aside the aspects of their relationship that felt weirdly out of place or rushed.

But to fully appreciate this game, I think again that you need to play Shallie after you’ve gotten through at least some and preferably all of the rest of the Dusk trilogy. This might seem like a stupidly obvious statement, since Shallie is the last game in the series, but since Atelier games are so often touted for working well as standalone games, I think this needs to be mentioned. It would be a shame to play a game like this without being able to fully appreciate it, anyway.

Lotte is still a bit much to take sometimes though. That doesn’t change.

And that’s it for Atelier Shallie and for the Dusk series as a whole. I bought the Dusk Trilogy DX package last year, and I’m happy that I’ve finally played through the whole thing. It’s a unique, interesting, and enjoyable trilogy of games, and as a whole it’s well worth playing through as long as you’re not allergic to turn-based JRPGs or bored shitless by gathering ingredients and crafting items. If you are, you’d better just avoid Atelier entirely, at least up to the Ryza games, which have adopted a kind of hybrid turn-based/action system of combat.

Speaking of that, the first Atelier Ryza is the next Atelier game I’m playing. Yes, I’m skipping over the Mysterious series for the moment, though I do intend to get the recently released DX package at some point. However, I think I need a break from Atelier for a while now. I have a few other games to get around to.

But rest assured: I’m not even close to done with this series yet, and at the rate Gust puts these games out (about one a year) I may never be done with it. And that’s fine with me. You can’t have too much of a good thing, at least not in this case. 𒀭

 

* Is it pretty obvious that I need a fucking vacation? I guess it is now.

500 follower special!/Sunshine Blogger Award Part 5

After several years of just sitting around, this site has somehow accumulated 500 followers. I want to thank everyone who’s following, even the fake bot accounts that run sites about cryptocurrency.

So I’m doing two things to mark this occasion. The first is the new set of randomized header images/banners I’ve set up. They’re all from screenshots I’ve already used on the site because as you know I’m lazy, along with the one I’ve used all this time because I felt bad about dropping it. If you can guess what series all five of these are from, you’ll get some credit from me that you can’t redeem for anything valuable at all. Sorry about that.

And the second is the rest of this post, because I was nominated by Honest Gamer for the Sunshine Blogger Award a while back, and he provided nine questions for every nominee to answer. Once again, sunshine is absolutely not a word anyone would ever use to describe me or my personality or outlook on life except sarcastically, but I am still grateful. Thanks! On to the questions:

1. If you could have a new entry from your favourite video game franchise, but in a new genre, what would it be?

A Shin Megami Tensei-themed eroge/dating sim. I know it will never happen, but a man can dream. If you could have a shot with Lilim or Titania (or Cu Chulainn depending on your preference/angle, sure) wouldn’t you take it? The games even already have a negotiation mechanic in place that bears some resemblance to dating in how extremely frustrating it is, so half the work is done. Look, I’d even accept an all-ages game. Though knowing how Atlus is now, they’d include 18+ sections as double-priced DLC.

Don’t put it past them these days.

2. What video game crossover would you love to see happen?

None of the series I like the best would fit together well enough for me to want them to have a crossover, so none, really. Honestly, seeing Sonic and Mario in the same games was a big enough deal for someone who still vaguely remembers the old Nintendo vs. Sega console wars of the early 90s. Everything after that massive crossover pales in comparison.

3. What platform did you start gaming on?

The very first video game I remember playing is Super Mario Bros., so I guess it would be the NES, though I didn’t own it and I think I was barely four or around that age so I don’t know if you can even count that. A more certain answer is the PC, since that’s most of what I played as a kid — a lot of my console playing was done at friends’ houses back then. Afterwards I bought a few old systems along with a Dreamcast that I got a lot of use out of, then a PS2, but PC games are still what I remember best from my early childhood.

4. There is often talk about difficulty vs accessibility in video games. Do you think that developers should have to include difficulty settings in their games?

I don’t think they should have to, but I do appreciate it when developers include difficulty settings. Having some consideration for your player is a good thing, and there’s no shame in playing a game on easy or even in casual/story mode if that’s how you choose to enjoy the experience. The only caveat there is that I think if you’re a reviewer, and especially a professional one, you should be able to at least beat a game on normal mode or the closest equivalent to give readers an account of the standard experience the game provides.

Picture not related at all, no. But that old reference aside, I should try Cuphead one day.

5. Which legendary video game franchise do you think has the better music, The Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy?

They’re both great, though neither is my favorite, so choosing one over the other isn’t as easy as it might be. I’d give the edge to Final Fantasy and Nobuo Uematsu, but that’s not putting down the music of Zelda at all; the guy is just that much of a damn genius. I’d put the music of FF just below that of Megami Tensei and the NieR games, but that’s still amazingly good.

6. What popular video game, movie or book series could you not get into?

There are a whole lot I couldn’t get into. Pokemon is something you’d think I’d love, and while I can appreciate the quality and body of work there I was just never into the series for whatever reason. Same for Harry Potter, though I did see some of the films later on and thought they were pretty good. Never was really “into it” in that sense, though.

7. Serious question now….dogs or cats?

I’ve never had either, but if I had to have one, probably a cat. As long as the cat is okay with me, because I’ve known from being around friends’ cats that they can be very particular about individual people. On the other hand, maybe a dog would be better for me, since I tend to stay inside 100% of the time when I don’t absolutely have to be outside, and I know that’s not the best way to live or whatever. Personal preference is still cats though, for their generally relaxed nature (though I know there are exceptions.)

8. What three indie games do you recommend and why?

There are many more than three I’d like to recommend, but I’ll narrow it down here to:

VA-11 Hall-A — The title is annoying to type, but otherwise everything about it is amazing. This is essentially a visual novel with a drink-mixing mini-game attached — you play as a sarcastic, dour bartender named Jill who has to serve all kinds of strange patrons in your boss’ bar in a futuristic cyberpunk dystopia. VA-11 Hall-A features an excellent soundtrack, great art, and interesting and fun characters.

Even now, I still want to have a drink with Dorothy, she is god damn crazy and I love her

It also mixes comedy and drama in a way that actually works, without the heavy and light parts weirdly clashing with each other, which isn’t an easy trick. I wholeheartedly recommend this game (and I fucking wish we’d hear something about the sequel N1RV Ann-A, which has been “coming soon” for well over a year now. But I’ll still wait patiently.)

OneShot — This is one of those games that really showed what independent game developers could do back when it was released. OneShot is an RPGMaker-style game in which you control a character who’s aware of the player’s existence. Yeah, it’s one of those weird meta types of games, but OneShot did it really well, using what otherwise might feel like a gimmick to tell a unique story. If you liked Undertale, you should really try OneShot as well if you haven’t already. (I also recommend Undertale, though most everyone’s played it already by this point, or else they’ve been sufficiently weirded out by the fanbase to be put off of it. The fanbase can admittedly be very weird, but it’s a great game with a fantastic soundtrack and you’re missing out if you don’t give it a look at least.)

The Touhou Project series — Sure, why not. The whole thing. Touhou is a very long-running shoot-em-up series with roots all the way back on the PC-98 in 1996, but most players go as far back as its first PC title Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil. Since that game, there have been many more official games in the series put out, along with about fifty million fan projects, including a ton of albums a few of which I’ve written about here. Magical shrine maidens and witches shoot lasers at youkai girls to excellent background music, all created by indie developer ZUN. It’s great stuff, check it out.

His art is a little janky, but you get used to it.

9. What do video games mean to you?

Video games are a unique form of art that I’ve always enjoyed. They’re also an escape from a reality I don’t enjoy all that much. I wish I could say otherwise, but that’s just how it is. I don’t get to live my life on my own terms (most of us don’t, really, so that’s nothing special) but at least I can escape into another world for a while through a game. The same is true of great novels and films and so on, but games provide that interactivity and sometimes that extra immersion that make them different and perhaps better for escapist purposes.

Of course, games can also have a lot of value as art aside from whether I think they can be used to escape reality for a while. But I think if a game is good enough, no matter how serious or light in tone it is, it can provide that sort of escape I’m talking about (and “light” games can still have a lot of value as art, but that’s getting into a completely different subject.)

I’m certainly not special in appreciating games this way either. It’s pretty obvious that a lot of people value games at least partly as an escape from the drudgery of everyday life. Whether that’s a healthy approach to life is a different matter, but it’s undoubtedly healthier than, say, escaping everyday life by drinking yourself senseless or doing similarly indulgent things and more productive than just banging your head against a wall, especially over things you can’t change. I don’t know if everyone reading will relate to this, but if you don’t, so much the better for you.

Anyway, sorry for getting dark here at the end, but I actually see all of the above as a positive. I think the last year in quarantine has changed my outlook on life somewhat, and weirdly enough for the better. If you can even believe that from reading what I just wrote, but this kind of fatalism is a better place than I was at a few years ago. If I think of it that way, I really do have a sunny outlook, at least relative to where I was before!

Of course, writing here is also a method of escape for me, so I want to thank everyone who reads this site again for following me here and for sometimes putting up with my personal nonsense when I get into it.

I don’t want to get that melancholic here again, at least not until the next depressing game or anime I write about.

As for nominations and questions, at first I wasn’t going to bother, but I actually did come up with some questions, so it would be a waste not to ask them. Here they are:

1) Are you buying or have you bought one of the new next-gen consoles, and if so, which? What factors played into your decision?

2) Related to that, how much importance do you place on the specs of a new console?

3) Are there any emerging technologies you’re especially excited to see develop? If so, what are they?

4) Is there an upcoming game, film, anime, or other work you’re especially looking forward to?

5) Is there a genre (of game, novel, film, whatever) you liked as a kid but now dislike? Alternatively, is there a genre you disliked as a kid that you now like or at least appreciate more?

6) We’ve probably all read, watched, or played through at least one story with a disappointing ending. Do you feel a poorly written ending hurts its entire work or series, and if so how much? Can you still enjoy or appreciate the work even if you feel the ending was lousy? (I think I’ve already written about this a bit, and I have a feeling I can guess what a couple of you will say to it, but still a question I’d like to throw out there because I think it’s an interesting one.)

7) Are there any good new blogs or sites you’ve found recently? I’m always looking for new reading material.

8) Are you planning to return to the theater/cinema soon, or once you feel safe going (assuming you liked going in the first place?) Is there anything about the typical moviegoing experience you’d change? (I’m only familiar with the typical American experience, but I’m always interested in hearing about how it is in other countries. Do you have that fake liquid popcorn butter, or is that just us over here being extremely unhealthy as usual?)

9) Finally, a vital question, and one that I think might have been asked before, but if it’s not, I’ll ask now: what’s your opinion of pineapple on pizza?

And the nominees. Sorry as usual if you’ve been tagged already:

Nepiki Gaming

Extra Life

Lost to the Aether

Frostilyte Writes (also pretty sure I need to answer one of yours from ages ago, sorry about that)

Later Levels

And also as before, anyone else who wants to join in is welcome. In the meantime, my best regards to everyone, and thanks once again.

Listening/reading log #19 (April 2021)

Another month gotten through somehow. And no matter how much else I have to do, I’ll keep going here on the site.

For now, let’s get to the business: more music and more great writing from around the communities here. This time I’m covering another set of two albums that are extremely different in tone and execution, so depending on your taste or just your mood right now hopefully you’ll like at least one of them.

Yeti (Amon Düül II, 1970)

Highlights: Hard to pick one out considering the nature of the music, but Eye Shaking King kind of sums the album up. Cerberus is also catchy

If an album cover ever gave me a first impression that the first minute of listening confirmed as true, the cover on Yeti sure as hell did. This album was recorded by Amon Düül II, a German band that came out of a late 60s Munich artistic and political commune called Amon Düül. The history of this commune and the projects that came out of it is interesting — there was apparently an Amon Düül I as well that operated alongside II as a separate group, but it seems like all the musicians with talent joined II, and they ended up being the ones remembered as more than a footnote.*

And these guys certainly deserve to be remembered. Yeti is a classic German rock album that I just got around to hearing. Quite a rough listen, especially the first time around — it’s a double album that runs for 70 minutes, and the entire second part of it consists of improvisations that wear me down a bit. A lot, even. From what I understand, at least some of the members of Amon Düül II had LSD habits, and you can kind of tell from the music here. But they also clearly had more than enough talent to make some really memorable music, mainly on the first record, which features some great tracks like “Cerberus” and “Eye Shaking King”. I also like the multipart Soap Shop Rock that opens the album.

A lot of the music on Yeti feels apocalyptic, which certainly fits some of the song titles and that Grim Reaper swinging his scythe on the cover. Great stuff if you’re in the mood for it (or if you’re consuming a certain substance maybe, but I don’t advocate that at all. The only psychoactive drug I use is caffeine anyway.)

Midnight Cruisin’ (Kingo Hamada, 1982)

Hightlights: Dakare ni Kita Onna, Midnight Cruisin’, Machi no Dorufin

And now for something on the opposite end of the spectrum, from rough to smooth. Kingo Hamada is one of the big names in city pop, a popular Japanese style from the late 70s/early 80s that I’ve covered here a bit before, and Midnight Cruisin’ seems to be one of his best known albums — or it is now after “Machi no Dorufin” (also listed as “Dolphin in Town”) blew up online recently for some reason.

It is a really catchy song, though, so much like the even bigger newly popular “reborn hit” “Plastic Love” I can see why this song got new life on the internet. But the same is true for the title track, as well as “Dakare ni Kita Onna”, a slower song that really makes me feel like I’m sitting in a Tokyo bar in the early 80s (even if the closest I’ve ever been to doing that is playing Yakuza 0. Close enough, right?)

I’m not such a fan of some of the other slower songs — there’s a little too much sap for me in places. But the good stuff here is really good, and if you have a higher tolerance for sap than I do, you might love all of Midnight Cruisin’. Much like Aja, it’s a good nighttime listening album, only it’s a lot less depressing than that one.

So those are two albums that I only like about half of each, but those combine to make one great album at least. I don’t see any need to ignore the good parts of these albums just because there are parts I don’t like so much, you know? Maybe one day I’ll feature a few albums that only have one song each I like. But for now, the featured articles:

Getting the Read: Fighting Game Literacy (Frostilyte Writes) — I was never able to get into fighting games, and I think this piece identifies exactly why I had such problems with the genre. Frostilyte clearly knows and cares a lot about fighting games — I highly recommend checking this out no matter how you feel about the genre to get some insight on it.

I Can’t Review Vivy Fluorite Eye’s Song (Crow’s World of Anime) — Vivy Fluorite Eye’s Song is a beautiful-looking anime currently airing. While acknowledging that, TCrow here also sets out reasons he can’t review it, and they are reasons I completely understand, having to do largely with its approach to future technology.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Extra Life) — Red Metal reviews Aaron Sorkin’s new historical courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 as part of his look at the Oscar Best Film nominees. I don’t watch a lot of live-action stuff in general, but this film is one I absolutely want to see. Both as a lawyer and as a citizen (edit: and just as a human for fuck’s sake) the treatment of the defendants in the proceeding pisses me off, but it sounds like Sorkin also brings some much-needed optimism into the story (no surprise considering his other work.) At the very least, we can say we’ve progressed somewhat from 1969.

Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! (Otaku Post) — Johnathan of Otaku Post does what I said I probably wouldn’t do myself and reviews the short fanservice comedy Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! Sounds like it’s just what I expected from what I saw of it — something very comfortable and fun if you’re into the game. Anything with more of that drunk bunny girl destroyer Laffey is worth it to me.

On the Necessity of Character Growth in Anime (I drink and watch anime) — As usual, Irina brings a lot of insight to an issue in anime and other media that gets argued about all the damn time — how much does a character need to grow in a story to be interesting? Her argument might go against the grain a bit, but I find it interesting (and I pretty much agree as well anyway.)

Anime Review #54: Angel’s Egg (Or, WTH IS THIS: The Movie) (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — From Traditional Catholic Weeb, a review of Mamoru Oshii and Yoshitaka Amano’s famously strange anime film Angel’s Egg, and he brings his own interpretation to it that’s well worth reading.

The Unique & Sad Dynamic Between VTubers & Translators (Anicourses) — VTubers don’t exactly have easy jobs, and for the vast majority outside the giant agencies like Hololive and Nijisanji, it also seems difficult to get a lot of attention. Translators on YouTube can help bring these streamers to an international audience, but Le Fenette here explores the relationships between VTubers and translators and how they can get complicated.

Top 7 Characters That Fans Are Reluctant to Call Blatant Ripoffs (Iridium Eye Reviews) — In the comments of my review of Perfect Blue, Ospreyshire brought up Darren Aronofsky’s borrowing without acknowledgement of elements from that movie in his own Black Swan, along with some other examples of such “borrowing”, which are all explored in this post on the subject. I knew about the Kimba the White Lion/Lion King connection, but some of these I had no idea about.

A Grinding Pain (Lost to the Aether) — Aether brings up a subject that many gamers know all too well, especially those of us into JRPGs: the grind. And hell, I agree with him, even if I like JRPGs in general too. I don’t have time for that shit. It’s also more interesting to feel like you’ve beaten an enemy through good strategy rather than raw strength through killing common enemies and that kind of busy work leveling. But if I keep going I’ll be writing my own post about it, so be sure to check Aether’s out.

Nepiki Gaming 2.0 is here! Update + Roadmap (Nepiki Gaming) — Nepiki has established a new self-hosted site, so be sure to update your bookmarks/browsers. And congratulations are in order! Self-hosting is something I don’t have the courage to even bother thinking about, because I’m sure I’d make a mess of it. Certainly worth it if you have any technical knowledge though (or maybe I’m just making excuses for myself yet again. I don’t know.)

And finally, I don’t know if I’ve done this yet, so just in case: a general plug for Pete Davison and his colleagues over on Rice Digital. If you want more posts about the new Nagatoro anime and VTubers, check it out. Also paying respect to Saya no Uta, which is always good (but also kind of NSFW unless your bosses are really cool, and most aren’t. Incidentally, happy May Day.)

That’s it for last month. What a shit, just like every other month. At least the weather isn’t so bad right now, though. And I’m now almost effectively vaccinated against the coronavirus, so soon I’ll be able to go outside and do all those things I love doing outside, like… uh.

Well, at least I’m vaccinated. And this month, I’ll be getting around to at least one more game (finishing out Atelier Shallie soon, just powering through it) and another anime series or two, as well as one of my standard “AK complains” pieces about a game-related controversy I discovered recently that I think has some interesting implications for all of us, even if it seems like it might not at first glance. And though they may not be coming this month, I’ve gotten ideas for a few more deep reads posts that I’ll be working on soon (those things take forever to write, but I think they’re worth the trouble, even if Google’s algorithm thinks they’re too long and rambling. Well fuck you, Google; I’ll ramble as much as I want.)

I also might be shitposting on Twitter about NieR Replicant, which is an entirely new experience for me. I’ve already died a few times in unexpected ways, but I’ve played Automata so I know at least a little of what to expect from Yoko Taro and his gang anyway. Until next post, all the best.

 

* As another footnote, the Amon Düül commune also produced future members of the insurrectionist West German communist organization Red Army Faction, but this group and the band otherwise had nothing to do with each other as far as I understand. It’s interesting how the same movement can influence a bunch of peaceful guys who just want to make music and a bunch of other not-so-peaceful guys who want to overthrow governments.

A review of Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky (PS4)

I’m really plowing through Atelier now. Only one month after writing about Atelier Ayesha, I didn’t think I’d be done with the next game in the series so soon. But Escha & Logy is just that kind of game — the kind that pulls you in and refuses to let you go. Or at least that’s what it was for me.

Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky is the middle game in the Dusk trilogy of the much larger Atelier series. While it continues along in the same world and features some returning characters, it’s a more or less self-contained story like almost every Atelier game seems to be, so you don’t have to start from Ayesha to understand what’s going on here. All you’ll miss out on are some references to Ayesha and her situation that aren’t critical to the central plot of Escha & Logy. So don’t worry about starting from the middle if that’s what you plan on doing, though if you’re buying the Dusk trilogy as a package as it’s commonly sold, I’d still recommend starting from the beginning with Ayesha (though of course it is possible to buy any of these games separately as well if you don’t want to take that plunge, and Escha & Logy stands well enough on its own in that regard.)

Also, just a note that as before, this is a review of the DX edition released on the PS4. I can’t comment very much on any of the other versions since I haven’t played them.

Note that there are two names in this game’s title and a plural Alchemists in there: this time around, we have two protagonists instead of one. Our story begins in a small government office in the frontier town of Colseit, where two young alchemists have just been hired to join the Research and Development department. Escha Malier is a girl native to the town who grew up practicing traditional alchemy (the “stir a bunch of stuff in a giant cauldron” type we’re familiar with from past games) and she’s joined by a new arrival from Central City, Logix Ficsario aka Logy, who uses more modern, specialized forms of alchemy and is totally unfamiliar with Escha’s practices.

But they’ll have to work together. Marion Quinn, their direct superior (and the first of several familiar faces if you’ve played Ayesha) has the duty of restoring both the reputation and the budget of Colseit’s branch R&D office by showing its value to Central City, and Escha and Logy’s alchemy and exploration skills will be vital to these efforts.

Bureaucracy, budgeting, and resource management: now this is a god damn game

Escha and Logy couldn’t be more different in some respects. Aside from their different methods of alchemy, from day one it’s obvious that they have divergent personalities and outlooks on life in general. Escha approaches her work with a lot of excitement and with a sense of wonder. By contrast, while Logy is certainly serious about his work, he also comes off as a lot more grounded, trying to pull Escha back when he thinks her ideas are a bit out there.

This gap between Escha and Logy becomes more obvious when talk comes up about the Unexplored Ruins, a massive ruin built by a lost past civilization that somehow floats in the air. Nobody knows how it’s floating or how or why it was built, but Escha’s cousin, the airship engineer Awin, dreams about exploring it and tells Escha and Logy that he’d like to build an airship capable of somehow making it through the dangerous debris surrounding the ruin. Escha encourages Awin and says she’d love to explore the ruins too, but Logy is skeptical about the whole thing. While he’s naturally interested in whatever mysteries the ruin has to offer, if it’s basically impossible to make it there, what’s the point of thinking about it in the first place?

This hot and cold sort of odd couple dynamic between Escha and Logy works really well. It’s not played up to a ridiculous point where their differences are exaggerated — as before, our protagonists and their friends feel like pretty believable and sometimes relatable sorts of characters — but their differences are still stark enough to make their relationship more interesting. And probably partly because of that, when the game gets around to a little bit of drama between the two later on, it feels believable as well.

Escha and Logy’s differences complement each other nicely in the story, but these are also worked into the gameplay, especially when you’re working in the atelier. When you start Escha & Logy, you have the choice of playing as either protagonist, but the choice doesn’t matter all that much aside from getting some story details particular to one or the other in each playthrough. You’ll be working together for the entire game anyway; there are certain things that only Escha knows how to do, and certain other things that only Logy can do, so they have to rely on each other. Since Escha is versed in traditional alchemy, she performs all the item synthesis, while Logy uses his modern techniques to create new weapons and disassemble relics found in the field and dungeon areas to break them down to their component ingredients. And since they’re both alchemists, they can both use items in battle, which is a massive benefit once your alchemy level starts rising.

Who would have thought making an apple tart could be so complicated? I can’t bake at all, so for all I know, this is what it’s like in real life too.

Escha and Logy don’t have the freedom to do whatever they like, because there’s still more time management in this game. However, unlike Ayesha, which sticks you with a single goal and a three-year time limit to achieve it, Escha & Logy is broken down into several four-month terms. At the beginning of each term, you have a staff meeting with Marion, who reviews your work in the previous term and gives you your new assignments. These are broken into a 5 by 5 bingo card-looking grid, with one mandatory assignment to complete in the center and optional secondary assignments surrounding it.

Failing to complete the mandatory assignment results in a game over, so that’s where your efforts should always be directed first, but it’s always worth trying to fill out the entire grid for the alchemy and combat bonuses they give you (and also to get praised by Marion, which is a plus in itself. Or maybe I just like hearing more of her ara ara onee-san style voice. Am I showing my hand too much here?)

Since they’re government employees, Escha and Logy also have to receive approval for their expenses from the government based in Central City, and to do that, they have to go through resident bureaucrat Solle Grumman. This guy might seem like a real jerk at first, but he’s actually on your side — more or less, anyway. In addition to Marion’s assignments, Solle offers item synthesis and monster-killing requests for you to fulfill that he’ll pay you for in sweets that you can give to the resident homunculus (the small furry animal-looking guys) who use their magic to replicate items. This is an incredibly useful function that you’ll want to use to save time and energy, especially later on in the game when you’ll be trying to create items and gear with special and rare properties.

The upside to being government employees is that you’ll get a monthly stipend, the size of which depends on how much productive activity you’ve engaged in that month fulfilling Solle’s requests, fighting monsters out in the field, or creating items in the atelier. This was a nice break from my playthrough of Ayesha, where Ayesha had a nearly empty purse most of the time. Despite all the griping about how arrogant and shitty the central government is to its branch offices, they don’t skimp on those stipends.

I know this screenshot makes Escha & Logy look like some kind of anime Bureaucracy Simulator game, but bureaucracy has its benefits too.

And as always, you’ll have outside help from friends both old and new while running around in the field and dungeon areas. Escha & Logy again features a map with a lot of areas to discover and explore, monsters to fight, and ingredients to gather, and the pair is joined in the field by returning characters like Linca, Wilbell, and Nio (the very same Nio you were tasked with rescuing in Atelier Ayesha) and new characters like Awin, badass fighter/historian Threia, and child merchant Katla, whose irresponsible as hell parents left her all alone to manage their store while they’re out traveling the world. But she does try to rip you off a whole lot, so it’s hard to feel too bad for her.

Katla is a damn brat, but despite how she looks and acts, she’s an asset in a fight.

Each game I’ve played in the Atelier series so far has managed to create its own special character and feel distinct from the others. Escha & Logy, despite having a similar look to Ayesha with the same character designer and artists and taking place in the same world, plays very differently. While Ayesha was focused more on exploration, Escha & Logy puts a big emphasis on item and gear synthesis and creation. Its base alchemy system is taken partly from Ayesha, but it feels a little more intuitive. Which is good, because you’ll probably be doing a hell of a lot of alchemy to fulfill requests and especially to maximize the value of your time out in the field.

Organizing Escha and Logy’s gear before going out to the field. Items this time around are automatically replenished when you return to base. However, you have limited space to carry them, and other party members aside from the protagonists can’t carry anything, so resource management is once again a must.

The old turn-based combat system has also been improved, with a new three-member front line and three-member reserve setup in which your back line characters can offer supporting attacks and swap into the front line if needed. This new system is a lot more engaging than the more basic combat featured in Ayesha, so people who get bored with more standard forms of turn-based combat might find something to like here. Having two alchemists in the party also comes with great benefits: Escha and Logy can learn new joint techniques later on in the game that really help when trying to take down massively powerful bosses. Working out how to use Double Draw effectively is necessary to deal with the most challenging fights.

This dragon looks difficult, but it’s nowhere near the most frustrating fight in the game. Also see Escha here, perfectly suited for combat in a wedding dress bonus costume. I don’t even remember why I put this on her, but it looks pretty funny seeing her and Logy fight in wedding gear.

Speaking of wedding gear, there’s the Escha-Logy relationship, which as far as I know is unique in the series. This isn’t the only game that features a choice of protagonist,1 but it is the only one I know of that seriously suggests a romance between them, or between any characters who aren’t already together for that matter. It’s still a very light element of the game and not central to the plot at all, so light in fact that it wasn’t even featured in the PS3 original. But from Escha & Logy Plus on the Vita on to the DX editions, the player has had the choice in some conversations between two dialogue options, one friendly and the other romantic, each choice helpfully indicated by a smile and a heart. So it’s up to the player: if you want to imagine Escha and Logy as just good friends, you can keep things strictly platonic, but if you want something more between them, you can go the romance route, and you’ll get some extra bits of dialogue that show they have feelings for each other and that other characters recognize they might be getting especially close.

Usually these games don’t touch on romance very much at all aside from some extremely coy “these two girls might be into each other” yuri stuff (probably more prominent in the Arland series — see Rorona and Cordelia, Totori and Mimi, and Meruru and Keina.) It’s more explicit here, though, and I don’t mind that.2 And really, Escha and Logy seem like they’d make a good couple anyway. Opposites attracting and all that stuff. I know that’s a bit of a cliché, but these two have great chemistry, and they’re the sorts of opposites who could actually complement each other well, so the option doesn’t feel forced at all.

All that said, I still wonder what drew me in specifically about Atelier Escha & Logy so quickly. I’ve basically enjoyed every game in the series I’ve played so far, but none of the others captured me in the way this one did. The entertaining dynamic between the two main characters is definitely part of it — it was pretty fun seeing how Escha and Logy reacted to new situations and played off of each other.

The CGs featured in a lot of these situations were also a draw; the art in Escha & Logy is just as good as ever. And yeah, Escha’s tail is explained in the game. I was wondering about it too.

I think it has to do with the structure of the game as well. I found that breaking the action into smaller four-month pieces rather than having one massive three-year task to complete made the game more approachable than Ayesha and Meruru. I don’t know if this was Gust’s intention, but it felt like a throwback to Atelier Rorona, which featured similar three-month goals to complete. The time pressure in Rorona still felt greater, too, at least from what I remember. Escha & Logy certainly wants to keep you on track, but it gives you all the resources you need to complete everything well within its time constraints. In just about every term, I was able to finish all my tasks so early that I had plenty of free time to develop my alchemy skills and explore as I wished.

I also like the way the story of the game is rooted in its setting. The World of Dusk we first explored in Atelier Ayesha was clearly in serious decline, with vegetation dying off and land drying up in parts, but things didn’t look quite so bad in Ayesha’s part of the world, and the game didn’t focus on that aspect so much anyway. Escha & Logy, by contrast, is directly concerned with the declining environment and its effects on human life — many of Escha and Logy’s tasks have to do with exploring the causes of these changes, examining drying water sources and using alchemy to try to improve harvest yields. Colseit is a kind of oasis in this part of the world with its apple orchards, but it’s not immune from the effects of these catastrophic changes either. And as in Ayesha, it’s implied that the misuse of alchemy by the fallen past civilization caused many of these problems.3

The team exploring a volcano/lava flow. Nio’s sister Ayesha is an important part of this “responsible use of alchemy” theme. Given how much she’s brought up on the side here, maybe we’ll meet her again in the next game. I’d like to see what’s happening with her too.

There’s also the usual praise I have to give to the art and music. As far as the character design goes, I think Hidari fully measures up to Mel Kishida at this point. And I really like the jazz and prog flavor in the soundtrack. The connection isn’t a big surprise, because I’m pretty sure someone at Gust is a big fan of Yes — there are battle tracks in this game titled “Close to the Edge Part 2” and “Don’t Kill the Dragon”, and I can absolutely see the prog influence in a few tracks (like The Tiger of Dorothea, sounds ELP-ish? Maybe with a mix of fusion with that guitar. I like it.) Also, the opening theme Milk-Colored Pass is excellent.

Since I’ve been nothing but positive about Atelier Escha & Logy up until now, I may as well drop a few potential negatives about the game, starting with its increased emphasis on learning and using alchemy to create better items. The space restrictions you have to deal with throughout aren’t too unreasonable, but they do require you to do some work to fit as much power as you can into Escha and Logy’s setups. And near the end of the game, you’re thrown into a very long one-year-plus final term with a special assignment in which you’re encouraged to do some extremely precise alchemy to get very particular high-level attributes on items and gear so you can take on difficult bosses (and to carry over to the second playthrough if you’re going for the true ending, which you can’t even get on the first since it requires you to complete both Escha and Logy’s stories anyway.)

Which means you have to run through all these field and dungeon areas twice if you want that true ending, but the second time around it will be a lot quicker as long as you have your new game plus overpowered weapons, armor, and accessories equipped.

None of this is actually a negative point for me, since I liked this aspect of it, but it may be for some players who prefer the exploration and combat aspects of JRPGs like these. And it might not even be true for you depending on how you play the game. This is just how I felt the game pushed me to play, given the challenges it threw at me and the tools I had to deal with them. Like the others, it doesn’t absolutely force you to play in any particular way, but if you don’t use those tools it provides effectively, you might have a harder time.

Another possible issue is the game’s tendency to throw you into boss fights without much warning. This happens a few times in Escha & Logy, and I can see it being a pain for some players who might prefer a hint as to what’s coming so they can be properly prepared. On the other hand, the game might be using this as a way to hammer home the old Boy Scouts’ motto “always be prepared.” I was never a Boy Scout, so I was caught off guard when this happened and just managed to scrape by. On the plus side, I appreciated the challenge the game provided in these fights — though I was thrown into them, I could also deal with them by using proper tactics in battle and by having a mix of powerful attack and healing items.

Protip: Make Knowledge Books

Finally, there’s the problem with certain item and effect names and descriptions in this game. I’d say the above two points aren’t flaws at all but rather purposeful design aspects of Escha & Logy that some players might not enjoy. However, this one is undoubtedly a flaw, and not an insignificant one. For one example, item effects in Atelier Ayesha followed the very familiar “S -> M -> L” small, medium and large naming convention also followed by t-shirt manufacturers and fast food places, but Escha & Logy inexplicably flips this order, with L denoting the weakest and S the strongest effect. So now instead of small to medium to large, the scale now presumably runs from light to moderate to strong or something like it.

If that had been the convention the trilogy and the series as a whole had been following until now, it would have been fine, but it wasn’t, and changing it like this is bizarre and confusing. And hell if it doesn’t go right back to the old small, medium, and large system in the following game Atelier Shallie, meaning you have to unlearn this dumb shit and mentally readjust anyway if you’re playing straight through the whole Dusk trilogy as I am.

One entry in the game’s large library. This one makes it sound like Escha and Logy can access the Midnight Hour, but unfortunately the Time Watch doesn’t actually work that way.

This issue extends to some of the expanded descriptions in the library. Take the attribute Fixed Healing+ for an example. I had to look up what the flying fuck the game meant by Healing item is fairly enhanced by a set amount. The weaker the base power, the higher the effect. It vaguely makes sense, but what does it mean in real terms? That this effect is proportionally less powerful the more powerful the item is? I guess, but I’m still not sure how that works out in comparison with other healing-related attributes I could be using in synthesis instead. And if it’s a “set amount”, why does the second sentence imply that the amount can change based on the power of the item? Then it’s not actually a set amount, is it?

This might all be a stupid nitpick. However, Atelier games contain reams of information about monsters, weapons, accessories, and items and their associated effects in battle, and while some of this info is clearly just there for flavor and background, a lot of it’s actually useful to know when you’re synthesizing items. And when there are so many items, ingredients, and attributes available to play with when doing alchemy, clarity and consistency of language are necessary. I’m not sure how much of the weirdness in the descriptions in Escha & Logy came from the original Japanese release and how much was a result of a poor localization job, either. The S/M/L thing might have been an issue with the original, but the item descriptions feel like more of a bad translation issue. But I can’t say any of this for sure since I haven’t played the JP version of the game.

Whoever was responsible for this maybe should have taken a cue from the game and held a staff meeting to hammer it out, because it seems like an extremely avoidable problem. (Also I love Linca’s expression on the right. She’d rather be out killing dragons than dealing with paperwork. Sorry, Linca.)

Despite that pretty large annoyance, I’d say Escha & Logy is the best Atelier game I’ve played so far. If nothing else, it’s a credit to just how much this game drew me in that despite these issues, I finished Escha & Logy within one month of finishing Ayesha, and also given how much work I’ve had to do at the same time that wasn’t playing JRPGs. (If I could make a career out of that… but I’m not a cute anime girl with a streaming setup on YouTube or Twitch, so I have no chance.)

And now it’s on to the final game in the Dusk trilogy, Atelier Shallie. I’m already a few chapters into Shallie at the time of writing, so it shouldn’t be too long until I’m through with that as well. But before moving on, I should note that Escha & Logy got a 12-episode anime adaptation that I haven’t seen, as far as I know the only Atelier game to have this distinction. From what I hear, it’s not that great and I’m not missing anything by skipping it. My anime backlog is already way too long to add a show telling a story I already know, and then probably not as well as the source material did. If you saw it, though, feel free to let me know your thoughts about it in the comments. 𒀭

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1 Atelier Shallie also has two protagonists, and I think Atelier Lydie & Suelle probably does as well based on the title alone. I went with Escha on my first run, but you have to play through the game as both Escha and Logy to get the true ending anyway, and thankfully the new game plus bonuses make that second run a lot easier.

2 I honestly wouldn’t mind slightly more explicit yuri stuff in these games either — not explicit in the 18+ sense of course, but more something like what Escha & Logy gives us. Then again, maybe all the hinting without actually coming out and saying it is what yuri fans really want. I can’t say for sure.

3 Even the names of the protagonists fit into this theme: Escha, with the ch pronounced as a hard “k” sound, Logy with a soft “g”, and the & pronounced to in Japanese, all jammed together, make the word eschatology, or the study of the end of the world. Wordplay based on an English word that only works if you use Japanese to get there, that’s pretty damn impressive.