Since completing Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 over two months ago, I haven’t been playing video games for twenty-four hours a week (they were just that addictive). I have, however, amassed a backlog to last me a nuclear winter (knock on wood, right!) and picked up a PSP. Here are some thoughts on games I’m playing or have recently completed.
Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga
In the same superseries as my new favorite game, Persona 3, Atlus’s two-part RPG opera was a bitch to obtain. But now that I’ve assembled a complete copy of both games, I’ve been very much enjoying them. It predates Persona 3, but features the press-turn battle system that the SMT series introduced with 2003’s Nocturne and was modified for P3, which places an emphasis on strategy uncommon in standard RPGs.
This battle system makes you learn how to use it, else it will punish you. In games such as Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger (both games I’ve played none too long ago), most random encounters could be mashed through, using only basic attack skills with the occasional lighting spell to make things a little interesting. I’m exaggerating a bit here, but the only time Chrono Trigger really ever asked me to step up my game was for its boss battles. In an SMT game, you need to stay on your toes, because most enemies are going to be able to hit you for 25% of your HP and will get an additional half-turn with which to kick your ass if they land a critical hit or target your character’s elemental weakness. The same rules and skill sets apply to both your party of demons and the demons you fight. What’s great is when you really begin to master this system, you feel like King Badass.
The first DDS game clocked in at a relatively short 33 hours, punctuated by sparse but intriguing story segments at the beginning and ending of each of its dozen or so dungeons. I finished it last Sunday and started up the second a few days ago. The second chapter somehow manages to look even prettier than its predecessor. The story segments so far occur more frequently. Like a good novel, I’m hooked and have to see what all the game’s allusions to Hinduism, its newfound obsession with God, and curious nature of the virus that turns the warring people of the Junkyard into powerful demons, starving for each other’s flesh.
Atlus USA has done a remarkable job localizing this series, both in terms of the quality of the dialogue translation and the voice acting. Their work on this and the Persona games is a cut above everything everyone else is doing, either in video games or in anime. They should localize everything.
Oh my god. In this game, you playing this yakuza just released from prison after ten years, returning to his corner of Tokyo. There is this scene.
In this scene, you have a little girl that you’ve rescued with you. A bunch of punk teenagers are throwing rocks at a puppy. The girl shrieks and says she doesn’t want to see the puppy die. So you snatch one of the rocks out of the air. The punks are all like, “What the fuck, old man? We’re gonna fuck you up!” and you’re like “No, I’m gonna fuck you up,” and then you do.
Playing this game is like playing a good yakuza film. This is a good game.
Mega Man Powered Up!
The first of my PSP games I’ve really taken on, this game has challenged my previous argument that the classic Mega Man series only really works while wearing 8-bit clothes. This is a remake of the very first Mega Man game, spiced up with two new robot masters, levels reformatted to accommodate the PSP’s wider/shorter screen, adjustable difficulty, eight other playable characters, and 3D renderings that are simply adorable. My friends, this is how to remake (not port) a classic game.
Still, the two new robot masters have the weakest level layouts and their skills and character designs feel out of place. Also, without large pixels obviating the exact boundaries of onscreen objects, the game just doesn’t feel as precise as it did in its original incarnation. Still, underneath all the fancy moving parts, the heart of Mega Man beats strongly, keeping this a solid game.
And with nearly a dozen playable characters and three difficulties for each of the game’s 13 levels, it’s going to take me a very, very long time to clear it all.
Tales of the Abyss
This is the third game I’ve played in Namco’s Tales series, the other two being the two Tales of Symphonia games. This is pretty quality stuff, with strong characterization, a solid core narrative, and worthwhile adjustments to the series’ Linear Motion Battle System.
Starting up Digital Devil Saga after this game brought to light some of its blemishes. The game is riddled with technical issues–horrendous slowdown on the world map and frequent load times in excess of ten seconds. Additionally, the 50-hour game has a good 10 to 15 hours of fat that could’ve been cut to tell a cleaner, more concise narrative, since they’re filled with busywork that sends you globe-trotting, but really accomplishing very little.
I’m kind of a sucker for games with social/dating simulation mechanics. This game is unabashedly girly, casting the player as a princess who needs to A) learn to dance in time for her debut, and B) find a prince to dance with. Half dating sim and half rhythm game (and just a little bit of a fashion game), the game simply oozes charm. I’ve completed one playthrough, but the game’s me to get both endings with each of the five princes. I think I’m going to do just that, though it’ll take me some time. It’s an ideal game for playing for ten to twenty minutes right before bed.