The Choices We Make

A thought occurred to me while I was working on my third playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins: how player choice can present itself differently across different games. Now I know this has been a long discussed topic, particularly when people feel that in so many games that their choices don’t matter, but I wanted to discuss how I most enjoy player decisions when they’re available.

This particular DA:O playthrough was my first time trying a new character (new origin, new look, new personality, new love interest, the whole bit), and as I progressed through the game, I realized that a lot of my significant plot point choices were very similar to my “canon” playthrough’s choices. I didn’t intend it to be that way, since I usually like to play around with new choices, but I also realized that several of the choices in DA:O have very clear indicators for what are the “right” and “wrong” choices. Not for everything (some decisions have more ambiguous consequences), but when it comes to recruiting allies for the final fight against the Archdemon, certain decisions could wind up costing you companions as well as certain allies. Alternatively, Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition had a number of quests that relied on the player’s perception of the situation (sometimes with the intent of questioning morality) and it felt more catered to whatever personality you gave your protagonist. (Side note: personally, I don’t think DAII is as morally grey as it likes to think it is, but there were more opportunities to incorporate your decisions into defining your protagonist’s characterization.) The Dragon Age series’ choices are not perfect, but there is more room in the later games for varying personalities and characterizations than just “I’m being a horrible person just because I can.”

The point is: I feel that player choices work better when there’s an ambiguity to their result. I want to be sitting there wondering “did I make the best choice?” rather than just working down a “good” or an “evil” path. And when I make that choice, I don’t want only immediate results, I want that choice to affect me 10, 20, 30 hours later too… or even in the next game. I could not tell you how glad I was to have dodged a bullet in DA:I when I realized that making Alistair king two games ago might have just saved his life (and kept my Warden from a broken heart). I want more games to give me that sort of stress: make me feel the consequences of my actions even long after my decision has been made.

Games have the very unique ability to travel down different plot pathways, a reminder of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and when done well, I think it’s a very fun mechanic for the player to mess around with. It drives replayability by having the player wonder “what if I had done this instead?”, it encourages communication between players (for better or worse) on how they handled different decisions, and it has the ability to characterize the audience/player. One of the things I love knowing about my friends who have played the same game as me is how they decided to play the game. Did we make similar choices? Were different choices made based on what kind of personality they gave their character? What choices do they gravitate to naturally and what are they breaking away from to play their protagonist “in character?” I’m certain developers love hearing these sorts of responses as well. It’s a feature I love about finishing episodes in Telltale Games: polls will indicate how many made certain decisions and if you were in the majority or minority.

Telltale Games, in fact, is a company that has built an entire brand identity on the concept of branching storylines, with the mechanics and episodic set-up laying the groundwork for a lot of possibilities. I am particularly enjoying some of the new features added in the latest Batman: The Enemy Within, which include shifting attitudes towards Batman based on how you treat each of these characters in dialogue options. This expounds upon Telltales’ previous MO of “_____ will remember this” and creates the sensation of more tangible consequences and repercussions, whereas before it sometimes felt as if that statement didn’t have an explicit consequence. I understand that sometimes Telltales’ games have to override decisions for the sake of keeping a somewhat linear storyline, but one day, I would like to see them create completely separate scenarios and situations based on the decisions made by the player. It doesn’t have to be the whole game (that’s definitely a lot of work), but it would be interesting that for an episode, there could be two different versions with completely different scenarios and decisions. Then make it tie back into the story later, once the storylines have converged again: how will the protagonist react to a later situation based on what they experienced in one episode vs a protagonist who witnessed the other version?

The Dragon Age series and Telltale Games’ series are obviously not the only games that have a strong focus on player choice. Pyre is another game that focuses on decision-making, albeit a bit in a more subtle way. I mentioned in its original review post that there is no “True Ending” for Pyre, and you are forced into uncomfortable decisions in the realization that you won’t get absolutely everything “right.” Since there isn’t a right or wrong answer to the choices, players are given full responsibility for their actions in a way that adds pressure to the decision. Life is Strange starts off strong with their choices affecting characters and the player in later episodes. For example, being nice to one of the characters in the first episode will make them more receptive your cautions as opposed to suspicious in the later episodes. There are also many things to interact with that will show up in small ways later, such as under-watering or over-watering your plant. However, in the ending of the game, the ending itself is only based on a final choice, which just about ignores every decision you’ve made up until that point. It was possibly one of the most frustrating things to find that at the end of a very detailed game, none of your decisions had an effect on the ending.

Personally, I love decision-based games that give me a certain freedom to play how I want, and you can tell when the writers of these games took the time to consider the different options a player might want to take. Given that decision-based games continue to be a popular trend, I think writers should continue to examine how they go about writing these forks in the road. My personal favorite approach is the “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it” approach, making the player wonder if they’ve made the “best” choice and making them feel the effects even long after those scenes have passed. I’m curious to hear your thoughts: how do you think player choices should be handled? What games do you think use this concept well? How do you think some of these mechanics could be improved?

Happy gaming!

~ M

Freedom in the Pyre

Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Tobacco Reference, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol

Available for: Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux

This post will contain some minor spoilers for Pyre.

I didn’t expect to play another game by Supergiant Games so soon after Transistor, but with hearing all the buzz about the recently released Pyre (2017), I knew I had to try it out for myself. Once again, I found myself enthralled by the beautiful art style and music that Supergiant Games continues to deliver and was ready for the story that was about to unfold.

Pyre is the story of exiles banished to the Downside after being marked guilty of crimes committed in the Commonwealth. You, the player, are a character in the game, newly exiled and deemed Reader as one of the few with literacy skills (something banned in the Commonwealth) and are given the responsibility of guiding your fellow exiles in a tradition called the Rites. These Rites are the key to freedom from the Downside and returning to the Commonwealth, where this feat is rewarded with a high ranking position in the Commonwealth. Your companions are called the Nightwings and have been instructed by a mysterious contact to find more companions to “fit each of the masks” used in the Rites. On your journey, you encounter different triumvirates who are also seeking Liberation as the Rites seem to be quickly coming to a permanent end.

Ultimately, Pyre’s story centers around the question: what does freedom mean to each character? And in a story that focuses heavily on different definitions of freedom, there is a surprising amount of emphasis placed on the player’s decision or rather, judgement. Being an integrated character, you are to be the deciding factor of who should be set free first, and as you progress through the game, your companions will reveal more about themselves to help you make your decision. More or less of certain character arcs were revealed based on what order you decided to set people free, provided that you managed to win that particular Liberation Rite. That mechanic, the fact that the story could and would move on even if you failed a match, made Pyre especially interesting. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to gaming, so the fact that the game would move on even in failure felt like getting a bad grade on a test and realizing it would affect your final score. However, unlike test grades, failing a match didn’t necessarily mean you would get a “bad ending,” it would just affect particular characters’ final endings.

Choosing who would be granted Liberation ended up being a tricky business, much more so than expected. Pyre takes the time to examine each character in the game, even your opponents, and in doing so, it highlights how each character has different desires for what they want their life to look like. The problem is: you find out fairly early on that there are a limited amount of Liberation Rites before they would be finally over for good, meaning that not all of your companions were going to make it out. Moreover, Liberation meant you could not use that companion ever again to play out a Rite, even if you do favor their Abilities over another’s. So, do you make the decisions based on emotion, especially when some of your companions ask you to be set free? Or do you make the selfish decision based on who is more useful in a Rite? To make matters more difficult, finding out more information on your opponents and their respective reasons for exile meant you could intentionally throw the match in order for you opponent to be set free, a decision I contended with a couple of times. All of these considerations put you in the uncomfortable situation of evaluating everyone’s reasons for freedom and making that final call. There is a third, story-specific reason for deciding who should be Liberated, because you also participate in a Plan to overthrow the Commonwealth and their oppressive regime. So who will be more beneficial to the revolution once back on the Commonwealth side?

With a Plan set to fight for everyone’s freedom in the Commonwealth, the player was reminded that the Nightwings were not just looking out for themselves. Yes, they each had their own goals, but they were not so blinded by their desires that they would fall easily back into the system that exiled them in the first place. They realized that something had to change, not just for them but for everyone else in the Commonwealth and the future generations that would come. It was a good way for the story to come together and also unite the Nightwings more solidly. Each character was very different, but they found companionship in each other, making each Liberation Rite more difficult than the last. Another interesting point was the fact that at the Gates before the Liberation Rites, each companion had to state their purpose, something that could also potentially influence the player’s ultimate choices. Realizing that not all of the Nightwings would be leaving the Downside, considerations for what staying in the Downside meant for the characters also took effect. At this point, the player also had to decide who could potentially be happy staying in this exile. Fortunately for the player, not everyone wanted to return to the Commonwealth, preferring their freedoms in the Downside.

Pyre is a story that illustrates what it means to be free by describing a course for unified freedom and while also defining it differently within each main character. The characters have a common goal of overturning the Commonwealth, showing that when the Nightwings fight for freedom, they fight for freedom for all. These same characters also have their own personal goals, what they would like to do once obtaining freedom. Making the player a central character serves to make this responsibility more personal and more emotional, but at times still reminding the player that game mechanics such as Abilities might also be in contention with their emotional decisions. There is no “True Ending” for Pyre, meaning that this is no true “right answer” for characters’ fates (though some might be better than others). This game is not meant to be so black and white, something that is reinforced by each of the varied, personal endings characters have: freedom can be found in many different ways. I enjoyed Pyre immensely, particularly for its ability to force the player into making uncomfortable decisions while still emphasizing the themes of their story, and I definitely recommend it!

Pyre Official Website

Pyre Launch Trailer

Happy gaming!

~ M

E3 Impressions

I’ve been watching the E3 press conferences for the past couple of years, but I think this is the first time I actually sat through all of them (minus Bethesda’s because it was at a really late hour for me, sorry, Bethesda!). And compared to last year, I found many of the conferences to be…lacking. There were plenty of games to be discussed, that’s for certain, but I felt like there weren’t as many new game announcements like in years past. Many of the games brought up last week were games that had already been announced, and maybe it’s just me, who prefers to see new game announcements, but I just couldn’t seem to get that excited about the whole thing. This isn’t to take away from people who did enjoy this year’s E3, because I know there are a number of people who walked away hearing of new titles they had been waiting years for. This all being said, I did want to bring up some of the titles that I thought were interesting and I’m looking forward to hearing more about.

Without further ado, my highlights!

1. A Way Out (EA)

Every once in a while I see a game where I go “yes, this is exactly the type of game that is perfect for the point of my blog!” From the creators of Brothers- A Tale of Two Sons, A Way Out is the story of two prison inmates trying to escape from prison. The player, or rather, two players each control one of the inmates in split-screen, cooperatively working to navigate through the narrative simultaneously. I don’t know how much the plot itself interests me, but I am definitely intrigued by the unique game mechanic used to tell this story.

A Way Out E3 Trailer

2. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (Bethesda)

I’ll tell you one thing: I was not expecting to hear anything Dishonored related this year, so this was a very pleasant surprise to wake up to. I still haven’t figured out if Death of the Outsider is DLC or if it’s a stand-alone game, but I already love the idea of playing from Billie Lurk’s perspective. This now means that I need to go through all the Dishonored and Dishonored 2 DLC before it comes out!

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider E3 Trailer

3. Hidden Agenda (Sony)

This is another game where I said “Oooooooh, I really like this mechanic.” By the same group as Until Dawn, Hidden Agenda is a game where you are trying to find the serial killer and you and a group of friends collectively make decisions to affect outcomes in the story. It sounds like there were will be more subtle mechanics also in play and it looks like it could be a lot of fun for a game night with friends.

Hidden Agenda E3 Reveal

4. Unnamed Pokemon Game for the Nintendo Switch (Nintendo)

I cannot tell you how long I’ve waited for a main Pokemon game to be on a console. Okay, technically it can still be on a handheld, but I’ve always wondered how Pokemon would look if brought to a console. It’ll be interesting to see if the set-up changes at all or if they plan on keeping the same format. The only thing said during Nintendo’s presentation was that the game is in development, but that’s all it took for me to be intrigued.

Pokemon Switch Announcement

5. Tunic (PC)

I know literally nothing about this game other than it follows an adorable little fox on an RPG adventure and it looks precious. I’m curious to know what the story is and how the world works in the game, so I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.

Tunic E3 Trailer

Other Thoughts:

There were two other games discussed at E3 with titles and developers I’m familiar with, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on those titles here.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm (announced during Microsoft’s conference)

I watched my sister play the first Life is Strange and I really enjoyed a lot of the game, except for the ending. That being said, I thought that story was pretty complete, so when I heard that the developers were making a sequel, I did not expect for us to go back to the same characters. I don’t know how I feel about there being a prequel coming out, since I was pretty sure we had a full picture of what happened with Chloe and Rachel before Max arrived. I was honestly hoping for a different story and maybe the same rewind mechanic, so I have mixed feelings about this announcement.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm Announcement Trailer

Anthem (EA)

BioWare’s new IP had gotten some buzz before E3, so I already knew about some of the details of the game before going into this conference. While I really like some of BioWare’s titles and this game does look very nice, I’m still getting used to the MMO style of gaming. I’ll be curious to see more details about this game and see how it stands out from the other games doing similar things.

Anthem Reveal Trailer

Overall, these were the titles that stood out to me the most. Some sequels for very popular games were announced as well and while they’re not on this list, I want to do some research on them to get a better idea of what the hype is about.

Did you see any of the conferences, and if so, which ones? Which titles are you most excited for? What were you hoping to see at E3 this year but didn’t? And is there anything not on this list that you recommend I take a second look at?

Happy gaming!

~ M

Voices: Unlocked

Rating: T for Mild Language and Violence

Available for: Playstation 4, PC, iOS (including iPhone and iPad), Linux

Sometimes we don’t need 60+ hours of an RPG to get a good story, sometimes we only need a few hours. Supergiant Games’ Transistor (2014) took me all of 7 hours to complete, and I’m just as emotional about it as the day I finished it.

Now to those who don’t usually play video games, 7 hours sounds like a lot, but I cannot assure you it’s not. It’s the equivalent of finishing a book in an afternoon or two. And like a short story you would finish in an afternoon, Transistor shines in its simplicity, unencumbered by complicated storylines and overwhelming narrative.

Transistor starts when Red, a famous singer, loses her voice in an assassination attempt by a group called the Camerata. In the attempt, a man she was close to was killed trying to save her and his essence was absorbed into a sword known as Transistor. The game tosses you right into the story, as Red and her Transistor seek revenge on the four members of the Camerata and fight against a force called the Process that is taking over the city of Cloudbank. Much of the story and lore is revealed through the Red’s close friend’s commentary and OVC Terminals located throughout the city: polls and observations give hints as to the daily lives of Cloudbank inhabitants while news reports tell the player how much the Process has already destroyed the city.

However, the most interesting feature about Transistor’s gameplay style is the how narrative is revealed through actual combat. Red’s Transistor gains abilities as she levels up, and her abilities come from the voices of other influential figures who have previously been absorbed by the Transistor. Depending on how you choose to use the abilities (either Active, Upgrade, or Passive), the player can learn more about the person in question. You are frequently encouraged to change up the combinations of abilities in order gain greater insight to the world. This feature definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, as I’m someone who likes to rely on certain combat combinations once I’ve found favorites, but the mechanic intrigued me so much that I couldn’t help but start to switch things up to learn more about these characters. The game also pushes you to do so, temporarily removing your most frequently used ability if you run out of Hit Points (you can regain these abilities after finding another access point).

In a game that doesn’t take very much time at all, it was important for Transistor to set the tone through the environment in addition to the Transistor’s commentary and OVC Terminals. The game does this by completely isolating Red and the Transistor as they make their way through the city. Cloudbank has been entirely evacuated and the city structures are awaiting their impending ruin; even Red’s companion will lament over what is no longer there. As Red returns to the scene of the crime and meets up with individual members of the Camerata, she finds the aftermath of destruction, the results of what the Process left behind when it broke from the Camerata’s control. The world is desolate here, but the character profiles will also inform you that the city was already on its way to ruin long before Red obtained the Transistor.

There is not much I can discuss in this post without going into spoiler territory, but I did want to highlight a couple of the interesting ways Transistor chooses to reveal its story. The narrative relies heavily on gameplay mechanics and environment in a way that is not centered around solely speaking with NPCs and interacting with a ton of different objects. It also requires some extra work on the player’s part, having them make an active effort to uncover more of the story and understanding of the world. However, even without filling each of the character profiles, you are still able to understand the story as a whole and become emotionally attached to its characters. All of this done in a such a short span of time is a wonderful example of how a video game can both be short and still tell an excellent story. Transistor is a game I definitely recommend.

Transistor Official Website

Transistor Launch Trailer

Happy gaming!

~ M

An Unmasking

Rating: Not Available

Available for: PC, Mac

Witching Hour Studios’ Masquerada: Songs and Shadows (2016) introduces a world heavily inspired by the Venetian masks and their aesthetics and interweaves it with a intriguing story involving magic and politics. Masks, here referred to as Mascherines, play a prominent role in the game, allowing their user magical abilities based on natural elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and consequently causing all sorts of political strife due to their limited nature. Throughout the game, they provide a multifaceted symbolism that is placed front and center in both imagery and message.

Masquerada’s story focuses on Cicero Gavar, as he returns to the Citte after five years of absence, five years since his brother died as part of a revolution between two factions of mask-owners. These two factions consist of the Registry, a government entity that possess the Citte’s collection of Mascherines, and the Maskrunners, people of the Citte who have obtained Mascherines through other means. Much of the tension between these factions are a result of the Mascherines going to members of each of the various guilds. Cicero, as a former member of the Registry, has been tasked with finding Razitof, an old friend who had been sent by the Registry to find how Mascherines are made. Cicero is soon joined by members of each of the guilds, including Razitof’s brother and an old acquaintance of Cicero’s brother, and before the long, the group find themselves uncovering truths behind their masks and their world.

Masks are popular for symbolizing hidden selves, representative of secret agendas not immediately ready to be narratively explained. Masquerada displays a duality between expressed self vs hidden self, and it becomes apparent in different forms. The most obvious form would be that of the politics between the guilds, with the guilds holding a monopoly over Mascherines. Possession of a Mascherine serves as a sort of permission slip to participate in political games between the factions. Cicero himself easily jumps right back into the dance upon his return to the Citte, while Tizania, a companion from the Luca Guild, indicates her reluctance that such games are necessary for communication in these circles. The emphasis on the divide between guilds becomes most apparent in the climax of the game and the metaphorical masks must finally come off in order to resolve the conflict affecting them all. I would have liked to have seen more of the relationship between the guilds throughout the game and what they each represent, something I think that would have given greater impact to the clashing powers dominating the Citte.

The second form of the masks’ symbolic purpose are amongst Cicero’s own companions. At first it would seem that the characters would be a little more forthright about their intentions for accompanying Cicero, but you soon find that they are each keeping their personal secrets, well, secret. This is noted among Cicero’s entries about his companions, indicating that while he doesn’t want anything to take away from his investigation, he can’t help but be curious as to everyone else’s motivations on this journey. As the story progresses and the stakes get higher, the characters begin to reveal their hidden lives, each with significant impact on the story itself. It was interesting to watch how each companion reflected on their past and how significant it was in motivating their actions. The moments felt very personal too, with a slow build up to each of the reveals and it only being revealed to Cicero in a private conversation.

While the first two forms of symbolism are more apparent, Masquerada also goes beyond using masks as merely something to hide behind, giving them this sort of physical representation of power and particularly power at the cost of another. As mentioned before, the Mascherines are mostly limited to the guilds, which gave way to a rising tension and then war between the Maskrunners and the Registry. The guilds, which are meant to represent different pillars of society, started focusing more on themselves than on the people they were meant to represent, something that ultimately led to the corruption of power seen throughout the game. Cicero serves as an intermediary in the narrative, reluctantly working for the Registry again but also understanding the plight of the Maskrunners and their daily struggles. Some of the other companions are or become sympathetic to the Maskrunners as well, understanding that the Crown is no longer what it was supposed to be.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows present a world rich with magic and purposeful aesthetics, reflecting the very symbolism they hope to convey in their narrative. The masks were not just meant to be used as a form of combat but rather, they represented a deeper message about Masquerada’s world, and the fact that they made the image so central to their game indicated just how important it was for the story as a whole. As I mentioned earlier, I would have liked to have seen more concerning the politics between the guilds and versus the Maskrunners just to strengthen how high the conflict was by the climax of the game. That aside, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has a wonderful story with very compelling characters, and I would recommend you to check it out!

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows Official Website

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows Release Date Trailer

Happy gaming!

~ M

No Surprises Here!

Rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Violence

Available for: Playstation 3, Playstation 4

This post doesn’t have any spoilers for once!

It is way too cliche at this point to say that Atlus’ Persona 5 stole my heart, but I’m going to say it anyway. I had high, high expectations for this game, particularly after years of waiting and with each trailer being more thrilling than the last. I’m happy to report that with all the elements put together, this might end up being my favorite Persona game yet.

When the Persona 5 protagonist, Akira Kurusu is falsely accused of physical assault, arrested, sued, convicted, expelled, and put on probation, he is sent to live with a guardian in Tokyo for the year. It is during his first day of classes at his new school that he discovers the Metaverse, a cognitive plane of reality that causes the distorted desires of people to manifest in the forms of Palaces. Together with his friends and a talking cat named Morgana, Akira forms the Phantom Thieves, a group with the goal of “stealing the hearts” of people with distorted desires in order to force them into a change of heart in reality. As the group grows in size and popularity, the Phantom Thieves soon find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy bent on causing their downfall.

There is a lot to dissect in this game and a number of serious topics are made very prevalent throughout the game, particularly the discussion of different forms of abuse. I won’t be discussing these themes in my post, but instead, I wanted to focus on reviewing the game as a whole and a lot of the elements that worked well in the narrative. What I found to be most interesting about Persona 5 is that it combines many of the features of previous games in the series while changing up the formula in way that creates a more fluid narrative progression than before.

a-new-friend

For people who have played Persona games before, you know that you start your year in the spring and play (mostly) day-to-day until the end of December, before the story ends a year after it started. Persona 5 immediately changes this format by starting the story six months after Akira has started his transfer year. You find that he has been arrested again and is being interrogated by Prosecutor Sae Niijima, who asks for the full story of how he got to this point. In various parts throughout the game, it will flash back and forth to the interrogation, giving small hints for things to come. It makes the story all the more intriguing by using this set-up (especially for the turning point), foregoing some of the day-to-day monotony the previous games tended to have when waiting for a new boss/dungeon.

That being said, time efficiency became more important than ever. Most days were filled with narrative and set-up for the coming dungeon missions, giving what felt like less time to actually work on the dungeon and make connections with people through Social Links than in games past. In this way, the story moved much faster with a sort of streamlined focus, but this change also ended up having both pros and cons. On the one hand, I never felt like I had nothing to do (because there was plenty to work on), but on the other hand, I definitely felt the time constraints. More characters needed maxed out Social Stats before I could interact with them, meaning I had to choose very specifically whose Social Link I wanted to work through for this first playthrough. Comparatively, in my first Persona 4 playthrough, I was able to max out a number of the companions and several main characters. (It could also be that I was terrible at managing my time this go around.)

the-phantom-thieves-hold-a-meeting

The Persona games like to put a lot of emphasis on making connections with various characters, particularly those in your own party. Persona 3 had limited Social Links among your companions (P3P aside), but Persona 4 allowed you to Social Link with all of your teammates, creating character story arcs that continued past their initial Persona awakening. Persona 5 takes up Persona 4’s example. I found myself loving the main cast, finding each of the characters dynamic, interesting, and a lot of fun to interact with. They felt less “trope-y,” with nuances that helped to make each of the characters more than a single character trait. Yes, they do play up some of their more obvious character traits, but there were elements that showed other sides to their character (Ann can’t act to save her life, Yusuke is terrible with money, etc). Akira also had a more prevalent personality, which did get shown more during the cutscenes and was referenced later on in the game as well. It was obvious throughout the game that the entire group really liked each other too (with some bickering in between), and this was particularly evident during their group get-togethers that didn’t involve fighting Shadows. (The group’s interactions through texts were particularly fun to watch.)

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Persona game without a whole lotta dungeon crawling. The usual format got turned on its head here too, and it was very welcomed. Puzzles, interacting with the world, and of course, setting up a specific day for you to fight the dungeon’s boss, it certainly made the experience more than just level grinding with Shadows. The new boss-fighting days do take two days from your schedule, but the excellent music and the intensity upgrade for the dungeon made the experience all the more exciting. The dungeons also stayed true to the entire “thieving” motif, making Palaces in the form of popular settings to steal from (i.e. museums, casinos, etc.) and having you sneak around to get to the desired Treasure.

I don’t want this to go on too long so I’ll finish with a few more thoughts:

1. The Metaverse Navigation App was a nice touch in acknowledgment to modern day use of technology, not to mention all the other references to how the world uses social media to view the world.

2. The art style of this game was so cool and well suited to the feel of the game, and as always, the music was excellent (it will be on repeat for me for the next month, I can assure you).

3. I didn’t address it earlier, but I thought there were a few characters that could have been treated better by the game itself and several “jokes” that Atlus needs to do away with.

Overall, Persona 5 really exceeded my expectations and I had a really great time playing it. There was an intensity and heaviness to the story that felt very reminiscent of Persona 3, but it still had a lot of lighthearted and really hilarious moments. In fact, there were a lot of homages to the previous Persona games, in a way that brought in the best elements while still introducing new features to the series that really enhanced the whole game. The narrative felt more focused too, less time spent on shenanigans that didn’t really contribute to the story and more time actually developing a dynamic between all the characters. You don’t need to have played a previous Persona game to enjoy Persona 5, so if you have a chance to, I would definitely recommend checking it out!

Persona 5 Official Website

Persona 5 Launch Trailer

Happy gaming!

~ M

A Dilemma with DLC

The following post contains spoilers for Dragon Age: Inquisition’s Trespasser DLC and Fire Emblem: FatesHidden Truths DLC.

Let me make something clear right off of the bat: I am not here to hate on DLC, my qualm is the format in which story-vital information is being sold separately to the audience.

I’ve got two case studies for this post: Dragon Age and Fire Emblem: Fates. Oh, boy, two of my favorite game series, we’re going in.

If you’ve played some of BioWare’s biggest games, you probably already know there is a lot of outside content. Books, comic books, DLC, and animes? For the most part, these are just ways to enhance the story. It’s something I love about playing BioWare games: the world they’ve created is so rich that they have this ability to expand the story in areas that aren’t directly connected to the main games. There might be the odd Easter Egg here and there as a playful mention to those who have consumed this other media, and for a long time that’s what outside media was: story enrichment. However, recently there has been an increasing trend of putting story vital information in these outside sources.

Just take a look at the Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts quest in Dragon Age: Inquisition. The whole mission was one big reference to The Masked Empire book, and if you didn’t read it, then you were only able to get part of the full story. (My elven Inquisitor certainly would have wanted to know more about the burning of the Halamshiral elven alienage….) Dragon Age: Inquisition had a lot of these outside sources tie into main story missions within the game. So much so, in fact, that the main villain in the game first appears in a Dragon Age II DLC. (I had about 20 question marks over my head when Hawke talked about fighting Corypheus before, that was before I found out there was a DLC for DA2.) It’s a trend that’s growing increasingly popular: pay for DLC or wind up moderately confused for the overarching story.

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Fire Emblem: Fates does something similar. Now, Fates is a special case because of its three-path story. I see the three-path storyline as an experiment, but probably one Intelligent Systems shouldn’t try again unless they really want to annoy their fanbase by forcing them to buy three games again. (That being said, the total price for these three paths was $80, $80 for what can be considered three full games. Not totally a bad deal.) Here’s where my annoyance comes in. Some of the biggest plot questions revolving around the protagonist, Corrin, are answered with the Hidden Truths DLC. You find out about their father, why they can turn into a dragon, why characters from Fire Emblem: Awakening are in Fates, and why Lilith is significant to Corrin. All things, I think, should have been answered at least in the Revelation path, where you are supposed to discover truths not revealed in the other two game paths. There was no reason the Awakening trio couldn’t tell Corrin about their relationship to everything once they were in Valla. Plot time much better spent than inexplicably killing a dear ally again with the temporary betrayal of another ally, which only served as unnecessary drama. The information from Hidden Truths would have made the final battle more significant, too: Corrin discovering that Anankos was their father and having to defeat their father in the final battle. Everything would have been tied together. Instead, those significant plot features were tucked away in a DLC with basically a “Oh, yeah, btw, here are all the things that we didn’t have time to explain in three full games.”

And I’m not done with you, Dragon Age. I get the rationale behind putting Trespasser as a DLC. It gave time and space for the interim DLC to be released and some time to have pass for the Inquisition. It serves more as an extended epilogue than a final chapter for Dragon Age: Inquisition. That being said, it cannot be denied that Trespasser is vitally important to the Dragon Age story and for the events to come in Dragon Age 4. With Solas revealing his entire significance and plans for the future, we, as the Inquisitor, are left with one of those “significant decision” choices. This is indicating to us that the decision to stop or redeem Solas will be important in the future game, and it will certainly be influential when meeting Solas again. I don’t know if there was a good way to handle a DLC that significant. Do you attach it to the base game with a warning and hope people don’t accidentally play it before playing the other DLC, should they choose to buy them? Do you make it a free DLC and still release it as the last DLC? And what of the people who can’t play Trespasser because they own the previous generation of consoles, such as the PS3 or XBox360? (A situation I was in until a few months ago.)

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Charging for DLC at a reasonable price is fine, but this format does raise questions for how to handle additional, story-significant content. It’s like buying a book but then having to purchase the epilogue or additional chapters separately. Or how Marvel is handling their movies and shows nowadays: consume all the connected content or risk missing out on important details. You probably annoy your audience more by forcing them to purchase/consume additional content than if you leave it to “well, if you want to consume it, you can but it’s not necessary.” I’m not saying don’t make additional content (I know I love seeing it), but maybe there’s a way to deal with significant plot details in a way that doesn’t force consumption. There will be people who want to read/play/watch as much of the universe as possible, but there should also be consideration for the casual audience who may not want to spend the time/money on something that should have been part of the main story already.

What are your thoughts? How do you think DLC/other materials should be handled? Should there be warnings for what DLC/other materials will be needed before a game comes out? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Happy gaming!

~ M