Saturday, July 22, 2017

Back Seat Gamer: Persona 5


I'm just going to buy the game, she says, but we won't play it until after conventions settle down.
I'm just going to watch the opening, she says, but we're not starting it yet.
Maybe just one battle, to see how the mechanics work, honest.

I know it's a lie, of course.  This is how Persona games get you.  3 had a great opening, 4 had nearly 2 hours of cut scenes before the first save point.  And Persona 5?  Well, it drops you in the middle of the story as a thief in a flashing casino escaping the police.  That's how Persona gets you, so it's just best to give in and go.  You'll enjoy the ride.


As the main character, you're on parole from a recent court hearing and are sent to a large city to attend school and hopefully not get into any trouble.  You are supposed to keep your head down and be good, and especially not form a group of Phantom Thieves who spend nights in another world battling to change the hearts of the rotten adults of the world.  Something like that is way over the head of a normal teenager, such as yourself.

The Persona series are JRPG games where teenagers deal with deep issues and summon a part of themselves (their persona) as a physical way to fight and survive in the world around them.  Powers are leveled up by making friends and connections in the normal world and at night you battle the supernatural forces lurking in the world to your heart's content. Honestly, it's hard to explain if you haven't played one, but they are some of the best RPG games I have ever seen.


Since seeing that first Gamestop video - was that a teenager shooting himself in the head to summon a monster?? - the curiosity hooked us.  Persona is one of the most unique JRPG series I've ever heard of and each installment catches you in it's clutches with masterful story telling, engaging characters and heart-wrenching reveals.  You can jump in anywhere, but the games don't forget about the previous installment, so there's still enough call backs to make your little fangirl heart swell up with nostalgia as you meet the new main characters and explore their world.

Persona 4, without getting into too many spoilers, was phenomenal and easily held it's place as one of the best stories I've seen in a video game.  Not to mention one of the best treatments I've seen of teenagers dealing with queer identity. Persona 5 takes that amazing storytelling to another level with several plot points that left us yelling at the screen or just staring dumbfounded as the truth revealed itself.  While this new set of characters doesn't have the same queer-centric story lines that made me love Persona 4, I wasn't left with a shortage of things to love in it's place.

For one, the main character.  While most JRPGs are full of faceless and nondescript leads so that the player can easily insert themselves, this main character had the most personality I've ever seen. He doesn't talk much and you choose most of his dialog, but this is combined with subtle things like smirks and flair that give you a very clear idea who he is.  As Ryugi so finely puts it in the game "I'm already pegged as a trouble maker, so why not live up to the part?" The main character seems to have taken this quote to heart and is keeping his head low like he's supposed to, but he can't resist the urge to do what he can.  He's mischievous and the game communicates this very well with the limits it has on a character you play and great dialog choices.  I am generally not a fan of main characters in franchises, usually it's the side characters that get me.  But, believe me, this game is written so well that I love the main character the most and that is impressive!

The story line of Persona 5 deals with some very adult issues - ones that many teenagers will relate to.  Rotten adults are everywhere in this world and some are so rotten they've crossed the line.  However where movies and TV series will water down these issues or over-sexualize them, Persona 5 does a good job of walking the line.  The villains are not exaggerated cardboard cut outs and have just as much care in their crafting as the main characters.  A teacher who abuses his students - for example - isn't just shown as a rapist, but as a failed hero figure that took his Olympic status too far.  You can easily see how a simple desire of his went too far, got corrupted and now must be stopped.  Most stories out there would just make him a rapist and be done with it, but here the sexual aspect is toned down because he's abusing multiple students in multiple ways and not all of them are so obvious.  But all of it needs to be stopped so that is where the focus is placed.

Your teammates step outside of the mold as well.  Ryugi, the clown thug, is allowed to remain this and still be lovable in his dumb moments rather then being forced to grow more intelligent by the end.  Similarly Ann is allowed to be unapologetic about herself and isn't squished into the form of the 'sexy girl' trope.  All of the characters step outside their standard mold with well written story lines and reveals.  Most of the things I love about them are spoilers, so I won't go into them here, but let me just say that if you max out all of their social links, you'll find that these characters are much more complex then the marketing material might suggest.

A moment of attention must also be paid to the adults in this story.  While the majority of the story lines deal with shitty corrupted adults, the game doesn't let that be the only option.  You will meet responsible adults in the game who haven't become corrupted and who are actually still attempting to deal with the world as a whole.  And when things get rough, you will find adults who actually listen to the teenagers, again providing an under used story option to explore that most ignore.

There is also the fact that this story, aside from the masterful writing, gets seriously political and feels far too close to the current reality in the US.  It's scary how well it's written and I don't want to give it away.  But this is the game I really needed to play this year and I have all sorts of complicated feelings with it.

What I'm trying to say is that the story telling in this game is some of the best out there and it's hard for me to convey without a lot of arm flapping and pointing, but just trust me.  If you love good stories, you will love this game.

The game mechanics of Persona are familiar with the rest of the series.  Once again you, as the main character, have the ability to collect several powerful creatures like Pokemon and evolve and arrange them to give yourself more powers.  A newly added mechanic from other Shin Megami Tensei games is that you can now negotiate with the creatures you fight and ultimately collect.  Should you negotiate correctly they can give you money, give you items or join you without much of a fight. The mechanic makes sure that level grinding doesn't become tedious and repetitive, because there's always something new.

I also highly recommend the soundtrack for this game as it does a masterful job of sweeping you up into the moment so you feel even more accomplished when you beat that boss.  Level grinding has never been this catchy!

How Much I Played

I did not play this game.  The Persona series has me firmly in the passenger seat due to the mechanics for collecting and combining the persona you collect.  I love the variety of creatures, but there's no way I could keep track of all of that, plus all the other characters.  That and the fact that my wifey loves playing these games, I wouldn't take it away from her.  So I watched the whole game and helped her pick dialog and yes... I'm already planning cosplay.

Final thoughts?

I am not kidding, I can not think of a thing I didn't like about this game. We're on New Game plus, playing it a second time to unlock all we missed and I'm still invested.  We even went and hunted down the anime prequel episode The DayBreakers to get more content and it's still not enough.  I need more of this game, more of these characters and more everything.  Not because the story is unfinished, but because it's that good.  I'm even praying for an anime adaptation just to see a couple more scenes, because I can't wait to relive it all again.  This is what fandom looks like. 

Where'd I get it?

We bought Persona 5 for the PS4 at Gamestop and watched Persona 5: The DayBreakers on Crunchyroll.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: Black Butler Book of the Atlantic (OVA)

What's it about?

Against his better wishes, Ciel Phantomhive has been asked by the Queen to investigate the Aurora society and their dealings behind closed doors.  Their next meeting happens to be at sea, so it's time to board the ship - which is certainly not the Titanic - and deal with the cargo below - which certainly isn't zombies. 


Black Butler is one of my absolute favorite anime series and I've been chomping at the bit for this arc to be animated.  I was quite happy when they did Book of Circus and now with Book of Murder out and this one, I really hope they continue to animate each of the arcs in this way.  I know I'm not the only one looking forward to the "Not Hogwarts" arc that comes next!

The format of an OVA works well for this arc, as it is quite short.  I'll admit when I started watching it I was quite worried because there are some moments of horrible CGI that sticks out like a sore thumb and a couple shots of the boat which are very disorienting to look at.  However when it came to the very important scenes of the anime, that was where the animation took it's time and looked incredibly fluid - so it was worth it.  They obviously wanted to stretch the budget and focus on the scenes that deserved it, which was perfect. 

We got to see this movie dubbed in the theater thanks to a lucky local showing and the dub does not disappoint.  Just like all the other seasons the voice work is amazing and the chemistry between Ciel and Sebastian is perfect.  Brina Palencia and J Michael Tatum are always a joy to listen to!

This arc does not deviate from the manga in any ways I can tell, so you're going to get a very accurate retelling.  In fact, there's a couple shots that I recognized right out of the manga, which happened to be a nice touch.  That said most of the parts I absolutely loved are semi spoilers so I'll leave them out and be a bit vague.  I loved all the returning characters and the plot points that were revealed in this arc and seeing them animated was icing on the cake!

That said, this is not a stand alone movie.  There are several references to previous arcs (very notably Book of Murder) that will be lost if you haven't seen them.  The dub does try to make up for this by adding in small comments about the Shinigami/Reapers and other plot points, but I can see someone who is behind getting quite lost.  Still it doesn't affect the main plot too much, so I think any confusion may just urge them to catch up, rather then ruin the whole movie.  

Final thoughts?

Yep, totally NOT the Titanic (but it is) and totally doesn't reference that movie at all (but it does).  And I love it. I already have a list of friends I plan to share this blu-ray with as soon as it's out. 

Where'd I get it?

We saw this movie in the theater due to a limited showing by Funimation Films.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Where To Find Us This Weekend: Convergence in Minnesota!

It's that time for Convergence in Minnesota and we have quite the busy schedule!

At Convergence we don't have a regular selling table.  Instead we have specific signing and reading times, and that's when we can sell stuff, so make sure you stop by to pick up any books and prints you don't have yet.  Plus we have one of the Pixel Quilts up in the Art Show!

See you there!