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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Persona 3

Oops. I completely forgot yesterday was Friday. I would like to say "give me a break, it's winter vacation," but I can't. Since this is a new blog, I would have to be punctual.

My topic for today is Persona 3.
It's an Atlus game that's supposed to be a spinoff the Shin Megami Tensei series. I guess they're most famous for peculiar monsters/summons and cutscene lengths that would make Xenosaga cry.

I actually haven't played the other persona games (no reason as to why, I just didn't) but I picked up this one after people have been loving it. Why didn't I pick it up right when it was released like the good Atlus cult fan I'm supposed to be? Because I was too busy with Growlanser: Heritage of War and Wild Arms 5, that's why. The basic premise of the game is actually very typical.

You're (Insert first and Last name here), a recent transfer student to Gekkoukan High. You moved into a dorm with three others who attend the same high school as you do. One is the student body president, Mitsuru Kirijou, another is a girl in the same class as you, Yukari Takeba, and the last is a senior who leads the boxing club, Akihiko Sanada. You're all part of a group known as the SEES (Sorry, i forgot what the acronym stood for) who fight Shadows during the Dark Hour. What is the Dark Hour and what are these shadows? Every night, there's an extra hour between 12:00 and 12:01 that most people don't notice except for a select few. Within this hour monsters known as Shadows appear to prey on those they can find during the Dark Hour. SEES's objective is to find the cause of the Dark Hour and stop the Shadows from dealing too much damage to the world. Sounds simple right?

From the people I've met who've played this, they liked to call it a "Dungeon Crawling Dating Sim." Sure... I guess that works, except that "Dating Sim" seems to imply other things. Such as having the story revolve around the target person that you're trying to find the "ending" for. What. Were you expecting me to say something else? Dirty mind you have. While it can be generalized as such, I'd like to remind you that the story is based around the calendar and set events that happen throughout the year.

This is the trailer that's the 2nd opening to the game. So with that in mind, let me get started on gameplay.

I'll decide to address the topic that's on everyone's mind. Yes, in order to cast, you shoot yourself in the head with a gun-like object. I say gun like, since it does smoke after pulling the trigger, but no "bullet" has ever been seen coming out. X-Play decided to do a review basing all their jokes around this single concept.

The gameplay itself is very basic. It is a basic dungeon crawler save the certain events that force you to act in the "real world." The battle is pretty basic. Some nice features would be how you have someone monitoring your progress through the dungeon and can give you battle information whenever you ask. Another nice feature would be that you can tell party members outside of battle to split up, and depending on what their priority is, they'll either look for the stairs the next floor, or lay waste to the enemies. Honestly, I've rarely used this command since this would force me to fight alone if I ever get into battle and it would also be a luck of the draw as to who gets more exp than the other. The main character can switch personas, or summon type that is currently with the character, and this gives some nice room for quick and easy victories. There's a lack of controlling your teammates, but at least it's possible to set tactics for each member.

The voice acting has its ups and downs. While I would've preferred the Japanese voice actors, the english team did a great job as well. The main character has the same voice actor as Haseo from .hack//G.U. (Yuri Lowenthal)and he's not too shabby. A lot of the male voice actors are decent, some of which sound forced. I have issues with Fuuka and a couple tertiary characters but generally, the voices seem to match the characters. Aside from all the characters seeming having issues saying Mitsuru Kirijou (MITsuru KIrijou. There's no emPHAsis on the second sylLAble...), the voice acting was really well done. I especially like Iori's voice actor who seems to have had fun making sound like the laid-back typical school delinquent. Visually, everything's nice. I particularly like the extra detail that the developers put into this. For instance, everyone's wearing the winter uniforms until it hits june where everyone wears summer uniforms, and people change their clothes on Sunday, since its the day to relax and wear casual. Or the weapons change depending on which one you use.
A minor detail that bothered me was that these changes didn't affect the characters in the dungeon. They just wore the same thing every day. Then there was this one time where I made Yukari wear "High-cut Armor" with a description similar to "shaped like a bikini." So right before she equipped it she made some comment about how she had to wear something like that and asked you not to mention it at school, but her character didn't change. While it was amusing that they added that little tidbit, I was kind of wondering to myself, ok... what's the big deal? Nothing's changed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to whack off to game characters, it's just that I feel kind of cheated that they decide to put so much detail into the game only to come short.

Now for the bad parts. I personally don't mind, but I noticed how people weren't fond of the repetition of the fighting. Yes, it's really one of those "tower" games where you just keep climbing till you hit a dead end, but in terms of the game it makes perfect sense really. You're training to get stronger so that you can prepare better for the event. Yes, it's "boring and tedious" but I feel that this is another one of those games where the story is great. Even better is how the detail is placed into all the tertiary characters that you make social links with. Each person has their own personality and qualms that make the school setting that much more realistic. Agreed that they don't seem to interact with one another and only you, but still it gives a nice setting that there's people. What I noticed after one or two "months" was that there were too many people and too few days of the week and I found it amusing that I had to balance my time between clubs, my stats (courage, intelligence charm), my "friends, and training so that I'm not overpowered by the bosses.

Gameplay wise it has a very generic feel to it, but story wise, I think it's a great game. I'd definitely suggest it to those who don't mind a bit of mindless grinding to acquire nuggets of great story writing.

On a completely different side note:
Atlus is coming out with another new game known as Baroque. Art wise it looks like a combination of Shin Megami Tensei for the game graphics with some unique cel-shading that I saw in either .hack//GU or Stella Deus.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I tend to have a soft spot towards shoujo (girl oriented) anime. Don't ask why, but I feel that those kinds of anime tend to have a better writer since the production team can't really rely on gratuitous violence and action oriented scenes. Yes, shoujo anime tend to be slower and sappy, but drop that glock for a while and indulge yourself in a little "slice of life" story.

Clannad is an anime based on a bishoujo game. (edit: I seem to have written hentai simply out of habit. I didn't notice that I wrote that till someone pointed that out....) This is really not a big issue as animation teams seem to be doing that now left and right. Fun fact #1: Clannad, Kanon, and Air were all visual novel games made by the same company: Key Visual Arts. Coincidentally, the animation team who also took all these games and turned them into anime was Kyoto Animation. (A note about Kanon should be that Kyoto Animation made the second adaptation of the anime) Once you've seen all three anime, you get the feeling of nostalgia as you get used to Kyoto's/Key's character design. But I digress.

Clannad is about Tomoya Okazaki, your typical delinquent, whose generally bored of school until he meets Nagisa Furukawa, a girl who was held back a year. Nagisa wants to resurrect the Drama Club and Tomoya, with free time on his hands, decides to pitch in.

It's a pretty basic story, but the execution is what I find to be well done. It isn't that the episodes progress at a slow pace. They do bits of character development in each one and pace the story pretty well. If you've seen any of Kyoto Animation's other productions, such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, you'll know what I'm talking about. The anime has bits of comedy placed in between everyday school life and if you remove the "unnatural" parts, it looks almost like real life.
Clannad happens to also have a story that's running in the background as the main story progresses. And bits of those are also shown as the episodes run on. It's confusing as they reference that other story, but it gives the sense that there's something afoot besides your normal school day.

What I like the best is how Tomoya is really just the "typical" delinquent. He's not some badass who gets into ridiculous fights, and cuts class everyday and speaks in a rough tongue. He's a normal kind of guy who just doesn't like school. And that makes the story much better in my opinion. I'm personally sick of bikers turned effeminate guys or Yakuza who have crushes on the most innocent girl in school and can't bring the courage to say so. I don't think those kinds of cookie cutter characters are really that good and that's why I feel Clannad has a better sense of school than other kinds of anime.

The entire premise of Clannad has a supernatural feel to it. While everything seems normal, there's always something lurking between the background and foreground pulling the strings. Now, having watched Air and Kanon, I'm kind of used to this and it feels a bit cliche to me. I'm not really surprised considering the basis of these anime have been derived from different projects of the same company. It's really no doubt that there would be elements of the story that one can say can be a certain company's "signature." It's still airing in Japan and I haven't heard of any US licenses, but I suggest you watch this and perhaps buy the DVDs later once they're localized.

My other favorite in this type of setting would be Kanon, and while I would recommend Kanon over Clannad, I feel that Kanon has many cultural references that wouldn't appeal to "first-timers." That isn't to say Kanon isn't recommended. It's just that if you were to see Kanon, I would like to place an advisory sticker that certain scenes would make no sense at all unless one has learned a bit of the Japanese culture.

P.S. If you haven't heard already. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni season 3, The second season of Suzumiya Haruhi, and Zero no Tsukaima 3 have been given the go for production.
Apparently, the second season may be an adaptation of the fourth book "The disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya," but not enough details have been given.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ragnarok Online

Oddly enough, I met all my friends (including Teh Gunrun) over this one game.

Ragnarok Online is a pretty old MMORPG that uses 2d sprites on a 3d environment. In this one, there are (as usual) a variety of classes that you can choose once your in-game character has reached a certain job level. You can choose from 7 classes that can change once more into new classes, or you can choose Gunslinger or Ninja or Super Novice and stick with that class for the rest of that character's "life."
In total there are 39 job classes. This includes the "high" classes that you can obtain after hitting the max level and being reborn.

Needless to say, in terms of jobs only, there's a lot to do. RO isn't any different from other MMORPGS. As always RO is also a grindfest that you'd expect from an MMORPG, but then again the fun in the game is the community and not really the game itself. Yes, the gameplay is important, but when it comes down to it, RO isn't that spectacular on any level. Besides the clean sprite animations and the very peculiar perks of each class (there really is no "this skill for this class is really that skill from that class in disguise bit") There's also the nice "guild wars" feature that RO has which is pretty unique to the game. The major towns have castles that can be taken over and it benefits the guild as they invest more and more into the castle. Character building wise, the stats are almost fully customizable. As you gain a level, you earn points that you can invest into a stat. The same goes for skills and it's possible to completely neglect a part of the skill tree if you don't feel like going for those skills. Graphically, the only thing you can really change about your look is whatever you put on your head. Your head itself has three slots (top, middle, lower) and so it's possible to have something like a halo, sunglasses and a flu mask. RO when it comes down to the foundations is an MMO that simply developed a bit more than other MMOS. Ok. So gameplay is just like any other, the entire soundtrack is about one gig, the graphics aren't top-notch. What's so good about it?

It's probably the mass amount of private servers out there along with the ability to modify the code VERY VERY easily. You see, besides the original (Korean RO, simplified to KRO) the official Ragnarok Online servers aren't that popular. However, due to a really bad leak in server code, RO servers began popping up like crazy? Why? Like I said before, it's very easily modifiable. There are generally two ways you can handle the server. All text or MySQL, both of which don't take much time to learn how to edit. The language used is pretty basic and if you can do code injections, then you already know too much. Since they're sprites, graphics are much, much easier. The only problem I could see is making the sheets for 4 different angles. Since the code was leaked early on, there's also already a general foundation for making a private server.

Now usually, private servers are actually inferior to official ones. While hacking, maintenance, and costs tend to create problems for private servers, due to how easy to manage RO is along with it's lack of requiring godly amounts of system resources, private servers for once, are superior to official ones (besides KRO). Not only can rates be changed, but which castles can be taken can be controlled, monster spawning is easy to manage, NPC editting is very simple, and skills can also be modified with a simple switching of numbers in a text file. The options for custom servers has gotten to the point where it's actually very hard finding two of the same server. While you do have your general categories of low, medium, and high rate servers, how they decide to handle the actual game itself isn't that hard. Also, a lot of the data is client side, which leads to nice graphics mods (such as new hairs, and animaitions) and mixing of all the official RO data.

So, I feel that RO has become more community based than any other MMO because of this leak. And it takes a very long time to finish everything. (I believe it took me two whole years to complete everything there is to do in the game, and that's excluding the special Storyline events made by the Korean RO staff) I will have to admit though, depending on how you play, it can be decent grinding or a hellhole as you play one hour to obtain 3% of a level. This will probably be the only time I say this. The private servers are better than the official ones. When it comes to Ragnarok Online, playing on a private server definitely boosts your gaming experience.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tokyo Majin

A friend of mine decided to clue me in on a show called "Tokyo Majin Gakuen Kenpucho: Tou." Now, I've only seen the pilot but from that only, I can say that I may take a liking to this anime.
So, I did a bit of research on it finding out that not only is it a recent show (premiered mid january ended mid april this year) the second season already finished and ended Mid october.

The animation quality is good and the action is nice. The humor is well scripted. You have your very typical cookie cutter archetypes, which makes the plot (and their lines) somewhat to very predictable, but it's a cool variation.
Since I only saw the pilot, I'm going to have to rely on quoting for this.
"In the night of Tokyo, mysterious deaths involving the 'Reborn Dead' occur. Mysterious transfer student, Tatsuma Hiyuu, and delinquent student, Kyouichi Houraiji, fight these undead every night. They, along with the rest of their group, soon realize that a greater threat, that involves even more powerful demons, is near."

From the pilot I could see a story unfolding where you have an undead phenomenon with the supernatural fighters of justice spiel but I think there's a slight trend going on. Don't get me wrong, but in a way, it gave off the same feeling that Persona 3 gave off. Odd transfer student team up with other students to fight something at the dead of night. Maybe it's the school setting that threw me off, but considering the persona -trinity soul- anime is close to release, there maybe more like this in the future.

What I'm trying to figure out is how I missed this show when those months were more or less the time I was searching for new anime....

Monday, December 3, 2007

I'm not entirely sure how much more I can take this....

Recently, I've been playing Disgaea PSP. Being one of the original Atlus cult members since Rhapsody, I've not only played through Atlus and NIS games like a second job (sadly enough)but I've seen them grow into a great (as if they weren't great before) company. There's still that one thing that bugs me though. Amanda Winn-Lee (The original voice actor for Etna) couldn't do any future voices for Etna in the years to come when another cult would follow the first Disgaea (proof of that would be the fact that after 6 years, gamestop is still selling the first game at $40.00 US USED And this is only a drop from last year $45 USED). This would probably be due to the fact her son was battling leukemia (my sympathies) but what bugged me the most was the replacement voice actor for Winn-Lee, Michelle Ruff.

Generally, Michelle Ruff is a good voice actor. She's played Yukari from Persona 3 and Velvet from Odin sphere or Miranda from Grandia III (*shudder*) for example. But she's seem to had a large handful of mediocre work as well, and Etna happens to be one of those parts. Now, I'm taking the standpoint that she's supposed to replace Amanda Winn-Lee for Etna and compare her work to Ruff's. Now I KNOW those are big shoes to fill, but that's the problem really. Michelle Ruff seems to be very good at a certain type of voice, and for that I congratulate her. She's done well in getting a persona for Etna down.
HOWEVER, her work seems to just end there. Etna resulted in having a very flat tone of voice for all her emotions along with episode previews. What made Etna such a hit character with Winn-Lee was that she goofed around with the part. Changing her tones to dramatic proportions along with seemingly not being afraid to try a new voice that would help express just how easy going and bubbly Etna was. Then she'd pull a 180 on serious parts and give Etna a sharp edge in her voice that you could hear being pulled off so well. THIS is what truly separates voice actors from amazing voice actors.

Michelle Ruff gave Etna a really boring tone. It seemed as if she was being very safe about it and avoiding such dramatic tones which resulted in a horrible character. Perhaps it was the pre-bias that I had when listening to Amanda but Michelle never gave any "out there" voices for Etna. She stayed with the tone she had from Disgaea 2 and while it DID work for Disgaea 2, I can't really settle for that in the first game. Disgaea was about the completely random quirks and outrageous humor that gave it that edge over other Strategy RPGS (that and the fact the LVL cap was 10k, but that's a minor detail). What was needed was a strong voice actor who could be willing to sound stupid or ridiculous for the gig to work. The least Michelle Ruff could've done was given Etna a harsh tone when refusing to retract her proposal to find Aramis's zombies, but even that sounded very rushed and light-hearted making me wonder if she took Etna's part into consideration at all. In this case, I can't really tell whose fault it was (or rather, who takes the brunt of the blame). Was it the voice director's problem for not pushing Michelle hard enough or was it the licensing team (or is it dev? I can't remember who handles the voices) for accepting what seemed to be half-assed work. In all honesty, I'm kind of irritated that work like this is allowed to be professional, granted there are a lot of bad Japanese voice actors (Makino Yui would happen to be one. Despite how amazing her singing talents were, her first role as Sakura needed a lot of work, which she did improve a lot by the second season) the quality between the Japanese voice actors and American voice actors is tremendous which could only lead me to believe the standards that both countries have for VAs.

What also bothers me is that Michelle Ruff has been casted in about twice as many shows and video games than Amanda Winn-Lee has which WOULD typically make you believe that Michelle Ruff would have this in the bag... but she didn't. It sounds atrocious and I truly am disgusted at the poor work..