Sunday, January 21, 2018

Shin Megami Tensei: Pesona 3 FES (PS2)


Shin Megami Tensei:  Persona 3 FES is an updated rerelease of the original Persona 3, exclusive to the PlayStation 2.  Not only does FES added to the original's story with more story events, now known as The Journey, it presents an epilogue to the game's ending, called The Answer.

The Journey
Unlike previous entries in the Persona series, Persona 3 FES made a pretty significant revamp to the game.  While still set in high school, it incorporated sim elements into the gameplay.  The mostly silent protagonist, whom you can name, attends high school.  The game takes place over the course of a year, where you will be studying and taking exams, creating friendships and of course, fighting to save the world.  You play through each day and you will have free time on most of the days.  This is where you complete what the game calls "Social Links".  Social Links are where you create bonds with NPCs and learn their backstories, getting to know them better and trust them.  Their stories are actually quite interesting and are one of the highlights of the game.  By the end of it, you truly do feel that you have created a close bond and their circumstances will genuinely sadden or hearten you.  It gets to the point where you feel guilty that you brush them off after they asked you if you wanted to spend time with them, in order to focus on other Social Links... Social Links can be levelled up which ties into the Persona system as it gives them extra experience.

As Social Links take time, and you have limited time in the game, if you wish to max out all Social Links, you will definitely require a walkthrough or thorough planning through multiple playthroughs.  The other portion is of course the dungeon crawling.  The main dungeon is called Tartarus, where every floor is randomly generated every time you enter it.  It can be boring since it all looks the same.  Even though there are different "blocks" where the theme is different, the layout is too generic which gets boring fairly quickly.  There are 264 floors to conquer and since it generates a different layout each time, you can't even map out each floor for future reference.  The enemies, called Shadows, roam the battlefield but will chase you if you get within their field of vision.  Striking from behind gives you the advantage of having one turn first, while them striking you first has the opposite effect.  If you are at a significantly high level than them, they will ran away which is great if you just wanted to grab some treasures.

Persona 3 FES utilizes a turn-based battle system but has a few annoying "features".  You can only control the main character and AI will control the other three.  This means that there will often be times where they spam HP or SP intensive attacks on weak enemies or using an item when you would rather them cast a spell.  You have little influence via setting Tactics which boils down to either dedicating them to healing/support only, specifying one target or not do anything at all.  Furthermore, if the main character dies, it is game over which is frustrating when you're grinding for levels and you lose hours of progress (since you cannot save unless you return to the first floor, but you can only go back to specific floors and then have to climb up again).  It is worse when you encounter enemies that spam instant death attacks, it feels cheap if your character just got hit with one that connected and you see the game over screen.

If you attack an enemy (or are attacked) by something that they're weak against, you gain one extra turn and they are knocked over.  If you knock all enemies over you can initiate an All Out Attack which has all the characters rushing in to attack at once, and quite cool to watch.  There is a "rush" option where it sets all characters to automatically use their normal attack.  Fairly useless in most situations since even during grinding, you would want to pay attention to health and spells.  Characters and enemies can miss with their attacks, and you WILL miss often.  This has a chance of causing them to fall over, losing a turn, too bad it mainly happens to your characters and not the enemy.  While characters can attack with their weapons, they utilize a power called a Persona.  These are summoned beings who can attack using special moves and spells.  The protagonist is unique in that he can use any Persona and you gain Personas randomly during battles or more reliably, fusing two or more together.  You can buy back any Persona you used in fusion which is helpful.

Unfortunately, there is a fatigue system where characters will get Tired after fighting a certain number of battles.  When a character is Tired (or heaven forbid, "Sick"), they become weaker and more susceptible to status effects and attacks.  Characters who get these statuses will automatically become unplayable for the rest of that session when you return to the first floor of Tartarus (to save, for example).  This limits exploration and is easily one of the more annoying aspects of the game early on.  Thankfully, it becomes a no-issue when everyone is levelled up, as the higher the level a character is, the more battles they're able to participate before getting Tired.  Plus, when you get the full roster of playable characters, you can swap them at will and continue on your quest to reach the top of Tartarus easily.  The difficulty, even on Normal, if you are not expecting it, can be punishing and tough.  You cannot change the difficulty after you have selected it at the beginning of the game.  Experience points are capped so the game kind of forces you to be at a preferred level it thinks that is appropriate to challenge the boss.

Bosses get progressively harder.  Buffs and debuffs become a lot more important than most JRPGs.  Bosses will spam instant death attacks, high level multi-target magic, high resistances and immunities.  It requires high amount of preparation and a few bosses definitely feels cheap.  The camera can only be rotated in certain environments and dungeons, and is fixed for a lot of the time.  The game is generally really addictive with its mix of high school simulation events and dungeon crawling.  Once you're around 5 hours in, and can form a full part of four, that's where the fun starts.  In terms of the main plot, it is on the darker and more serious side.  It uses anime cutscenes and text dialogue using character portraits for its storytelling.  The unnamed protagonist is transferred to a new school and discovers that he has the power to summon Personas, in order to fight Shadows.  Shadows appear in the hidden 25th hour after midnight, called the Dark Hour.  The protagonist will join forces with other high school students who are also Persona users to destroy Shadows and explore Tartarus, which seems to be the source of the Shadows.  Of course, their aim is to eventuallyd destroy all Shadows, find the secret of Tartarus and remove the Dark Hours, thereby saving the world.  This is because people can get killed or become brain-dead during Dark Hour.

There is an interesting twist two-thirds into the game.  However, there are plenty of moments where characters become annoying and unlikeable.  The story ends up feeling underdeveloped though.  The social links portion was meaty but the main plot involving Tartarus, Personas, Shadows and the villains didn't really meaningfully move forward too much.  However, the relationships between the team members are great and there are some emotional scenes towards the end of the game, perfectly accompanied by the evolving soundtrack.  If you're following a walkthrough, The Journey takes around 50 hours to finish depending on how much you grind and the difficulty you are playing on.  Playing it blind and on Hard will definitely cause you to take much longer, upwards to more like 80 hours.  Overall, The Journey is fun and merges two distinct elements into one coherent package that hasn't been seen before in a JRPG.  While the story is solid, reflecting back on it, it doesn't cover that many events.  The dungeon crawling aspect is hit and miss since the repetitive layouts of the dungeon is disappointing, while the combat system can be frustrating due to the AI deciding to do stupid things.  It's still a fantastic game though and a lot of fun.

The Answer
The Answer is a new addition in FES and is an epilogue to the main game.  It takes place on month after the ending, starting off with a surprising revelation (which kind of ruined the ending, feeling contrived).  The team is in the dorms planning to move out when they end up encountering a time loop.  Metis appears and they discover the Abyss of Time, a dungeon similar to Tartarus which has appeared beneath the dorm.  Metis is an anti-Shadow weapon, similar to Aigis, and she is a new playable character.  The team must fight through the Abyss of Time in order to break the time loop and in the process, learn the truth about Nyx and the fight against the protagonist sich that they can put it all behind them and move forward.  You get to learn in more detail the characters' pasts which is probably the best part about this new addition (along with the fairly epic ending).  The Answer removes all the social interaction of the main game and instead is basically just dungeon crawling and combat.  There's no more attending school, no more Social Links and no more events to increase your character's charm etc.  This isn't inherently bad but considering you have just spend 50-80 hours on the game, doing another 30 hours of just solid grinding can be too much.

The general flow of the game is that you push through the dungeon, fight the boss, have a short story even and then rinse and repeat.  It is mind-numbingly boring, especially since the plot isn't that engaging in the first place.  You control Aigis as the main character this time around since the plot centres around her.  The combat system remains the same as the main game, with AI controlling the other three party members.  The Abyss of Time is just another word for Tartarus since it features the same randomly generated dungeons, the same drab backgrounds and boring layouts, and the same Shadows as enemies who are either reskinned or recolours of existing enemies.  Upon starting The Answer, you're treated with the message that is harder than the main game and to please enjoy the difficulty.  Basically, this means that you cannot pick the difficult and is forced to play on "Expert".  Have fun being forced to grind in order to level up to summon the appropriate Personas to face the bosses.

The other thing is that there is only a save point before bosses.  If you want to go fuse some more Personas or change your team members, you have to trek through all the previous floors again to get to that point, wasting heaps of time.  Bosses are cheap, doubly so now that a lot of them have skills to dodge their own weaknesses.  There's nothing more annoying than an even higher chance of characters' attacks missing.  Fusing Personas is really important but what is annoying here is that you don't get access to the Compendium anymore.  Once you fuse a Persona, the two that you used disappear and the only way to get them back is randomly by winning battles.  Impressive though is that all the new scenes are voiced, with some new character models and portraits.  Overall, due to the repetitive gameplay with no other events to break things up like the main game, and a story that doesn't provide that many answers, The Answer could have easily been compressed into a 5-10 hour epilogue.  If you were a fan of the story, and a fan of the dungeon crawling aspect, then The Answer is worthwhile, otherwise, you might be better off just watching the cutscenes on YouTube.

Overall
Shin Megami Tensei:  Persona 3 FES is no doubt the complete package for Persona 3 and is the definitive version of the game (barring the improvements to the mechanics and the female perspective from Persona 3 Portable).  It presents huge value since playing through both The Journey and The Answer will give you 80 to 100+ hours of content (although a lot of that is repetitive combat).  Persona 3 FES is recommended for any JRPG fan.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Ella Enchanted (2004)


Ella Enchanted plays on the cliches of fairy tales.  Itself a fairy tale, but it makes fun of itself.  There's a narrator, a charming prince, an evil stepmum, an evil king and the charming heroine.  Ella had a "gift" bestowed upon her on birth, and that she would be obedient.  This kind of backfires since in actuality, this meant that she had to do what everyone says she should, without a say in anything.  When she grows up, she sets out on a journey to find the fairy that gave her this gift to ask them to remove it.  Of course, as a fairy tale, she will meet various characters along her journey and fall in love with the prince.  Unfortunately, Ella Enchanted falls a bit flat in the plot because it is bland.  You don't care much for the characters, and as hard as the film tries to make fun, the humor isn't great.  Everything feels like it has been done before and this makes it stale.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: Clash of the Worlds


Review:  #716
Title:  Clash of the Worlds
Series:  House of Secrets - 3rd and final book
Author:  Chris Columbus; Ned Vizzini; Chris Rylander
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The final novel in the House of Secrets series where the siblings Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor return to the book world created by Kristoff and save the world once again.  The thing that is most surprising, and evident, is that the writing, pacing and content is much better than the previous two novels.  It’s exciting and interesting almost immediately.  While the plot itself isn’t too original, and the antagonists return in the form of the Wind Witch and the Storm King, it feels like a classic adventure, travelling through the different book worlds in search for three powerful artifacts.  It’s an improvement also in that the new characters that the siblings meet are likable and doesn’t feel like the authors are trying too hard to make them relevant or cool.  While the plot stumbles during the climax as it is not as intricate as they had teased, and the ending was too mellow, Clash of the Worlds is an engaging and worthwhile read.
Rating:  7/10

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Toy Review: Transformers The Last Knight Sideswipe (Tiny Turbo Changer)


Review:  #429
Name:  Sideswipe
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  The Last Knight
Year of Release:  2017
Size Class:  Tiny Turbo Changer (Wave 1)
Mold Status:  new

VEHICLE MODE:


As part of the Tiny Turbo Changer line, Sideswipe comes in a blind bag, but you can tell from printed letters on the packaging who is in what.  Sideswipe is the one with the letter "K".


Based upon his ROTF form, Sideswipe transforms into a grey sports car.  Quite deformed and various things changed that it only slightly resembles the Corvette Stingray vehicle.


The back is broken up since that's where the robot head lies.  All the paint in this mode was used for the wheels.


Above is a comparison against RiD (2015) Twinferno.  Sideswipe is significantly smaller than a Legion figure.


It is an okay vehicle mode.  The wheels do not roll since it uses the minimum number of separate plastic parts as it can.

TRANSFORMATION:

While simple, the transformation is surprising in how it works.  You flip the hood back as a backpack, and this is where it surprises you since the figure uses the actual front vehicle wheels as the robot feet, it's not fake kibble.  Otherwise, you then pull the arms out from the sides of the car and you're done.

ROBOT MODE:


For its size and simplistic transformation, Sideswipe's robot mode is pretty good.  As mentioned, his wheels are the actual vehicle front wheels which is impressive.


He has the front of the vehicle on his back, somewhat emulating the kibble wings of the character model.  Despite this huge piece of kibble, he stands very securely thanks to the molding of his feet, he doesn't keel over backwards easily.


The headsculpt is a bit deformed.  He has blue eyes, the only other piece of paint apart from the wheels on his feet.


It's much more evident in robot mode at how small he is.


Articulation is limited to only swinging his shoulders.  The sculpting is intricate, there's a lot packed in here.


A surprisingly good robot mode, with the sculpting having the doors extending beyond his hands to mimic his swords.

OVERALL:

Like the other Tiny Turbo Changers, Sideswipe is surprisingly well designed for his size and price point.  Being cast from soft rubbery plastic, he feels weird in hand but is otherwise a strong little figure.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Review: The World God Only Knows Vol. 12


Review:  #715
Title:  The World God Only Knows Vol. 12
Series:  The World God Only Knows - 12th volume
Author:  Tamiki Wakaki
Read Before:  no
Comments:  While the search for the Goddesses are continuing (and taking a painstakingly long time), Elsie’s detector goes off and Keima is dragged into another conquest yet again.  This time it is Akari, from the biology club, who is trying to convert a robot to the “perfect human”.  Of all the arcs out there, this might be one of the weirder ones and even then, it doesn’t fully resolve itself as it just reveals a bigger mystery.  The Goddess plot thread which had been hinted from a few volumes back is finally starting to gain traction with the return of a character that hasn’t had a big role in a while.  The humor still works in the volume and there are some funny pieces of art.  The somewhat faster pacing helps a lot.
Rating:  6.5/10

Friday, January 12, 2018

Space Jam (1996)


Space Jam has a unique blend of live action and traditional 2D animation, similar to Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  It is not as clever in that a significant portion of the film takes place in Looney Tunes land where only Michael Jordan himself is live action.  Despite this, it carries a whacky plot that somehow works.  Michael Jordan has retired from playing basketball and struggling at his professional baseball career.  A race of aliens wants to enslave the Looney Tunes and the deciding factor will be upon a basketball game, of which the Looney Tunes scout Michael.  It takes a short while to set up the theme, as you'd know the big game at the finale is coming up.  The game at the climax is exaggerated as you'd expect, and the amount of Michael Jordan "awesomeness" is a little bit overbearing.  Despite that, the humor and gags are good and the film is entertaining as a family film.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)


Phoenix Wright:  Ace Attorney - Justice for All is a visual novel, original a Game Boy Advance game, it was translated and ported to the Nintendo DS.  You play as the lawyer, Phoenix Wright, whose job is to defend his client and clear them of murder.  The gameplay is a mixture of part visual novel, part point-and-click adventure.  Phoenix will spend time investigating the crime scenes and questioning the witnesses.  Traversing the various settings via a menu, you cannot progress further into the story until you have obtained all the evidence, thus you know you will always have the evidence you need during the Court sections.  During the investigative segments, you have the options to talk to the characters, presenting items to trigger further conversations and examining the environments for evidence.  As you talk to the characters, more about the case in question will emerge.

A new mechanic called the Psyche-Lock is introduced, which is just a fancy way of asking the player to come back until you have enough evidence in order to tease more information from the character.  The court sections are definitely more exciting as this is where all the twists and turns are revealed.  During these sections, Phoenix is able to question the witnesses' testimony, finding contradictions, pressing them and presenting evidence to his advantage.  The "puzzles" are harder this time around, and picking the right evidence can be tough.  There are often leaps of logic in order to identify contradictions and what evidence to present.  Some sections, such as the Testimony, you have unlimited chances and can just keep pressing each statement to trigger the next section.  Other times, you have a Health Bar which depletes if you state the wrong thing or present the wrong evidence, and can result in a game over.

Luckily you can save the game and suspend it at any time.  You can play the game using either the touchscreen or buttons, although the touchscreen is a little bit more intuitive to use.  The writing is the game's drawcard and its strongest point.  Throughout each of the cases, heaps of red herrings and twists are revealed.  There are often times where it feels like it is getting sidetracked and it stretches it a bit when trying to wrap those points back into the plot.  In order to keep surprising the player, it takes a turn to the more fantastical and as a result, is harder to believe.  Returning characters come in the form of the Judge and prosecutors, as well as major side characters who somehow manage to keep getting involved in murder cases.  The case clients are all new characters though.

The cases are long, taking a few hours to get through each one, and even if you have a strong suspicion on who the murderer is, you don't know how or why.  Justice for All blends in the perfect mix of drama and humor.  There are heaps of running gags of the spineless Judge (who is easily swagged, much to many's annoyance), and the seemingly evil prosecutors whose only purpose is to get a guilty verdict on Phoenix's clients, even when it is obvious they are not guilty.  Each case has plenty of highs which are perfectly matched with the adrenaline-pumping music.  The thrills and satisfaction you get when Phoenix yells out an objection and expertly backs it up with logic is unparalleled.  There are a total of four cases.  Unlike the first game, there is no additional bonus case for the DS port, which is disappointing.

Each case takes longer than the previous.  As the first case is a tutorial, it is fairly short but the last will take several hours to complete.  The tutorial starts straight in the courtroom with a classic case of amnesia in order to form the excuse to guide the player through the gameplay flow and mechanics.  The first case is a random murder while the second case has Maya being framed for murder.  The third case is more about how the murder happened considering the situation and the fourth case is a murder that takes place in a hotel where Phoenix is encouraged to take on the client to prove them innocent.  The fourth and final case is definitely one of the best with the highlight being a returning character and the fact that it ends up not turning out to be like the other cases.

The fourth case touches on an element that's interesting, testing Phoenix's integrity and the tough choices that he has to make.  How the case closes was spectacular and neat, fitting perfectly with where it was going.  Towards the end, it did become somewhat of a mess with the trial being dragged on for so long that you start to forget what the initial purpose was.  Luckily, the time investment for the conclusion and ending of the game was worth it all.  The game takes around 15 hours to finish which was approximately the same length as the first game.  Overall, Phoenix Wright:  Ace Attorney - Justice fro All is a fantastic game with an addictive story.  While the majority of the game plays the same, the addition of Psyche-Locks gave it something new but most importantly, the stories of each case was addictive and captures your attention, hooking you until you've seen it through to the end.

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