My games of the year 2016 (GOTY 2016)

Best Action game

GOD EATER 2 RAGE BURST_20150308231448

God Eater 2 Rage Burst (PSVita/PS4)

Without a natural leader like Bloodborne last year, hard to choose between the three great ones today. But God Eater 2 Rage Burst somewhat stands out, because of its memorables momenta and heated battles. Full of adorable characters and playable in coop, it goes well beyond the hunting genre to become a great saga.

Runner-up : Fate Extella (PSVita) & The Division (PS4)

Best Shooter

Battlefield™ 1_20161110225149

Battlefield 1 (PS4)

In Spring, I would have bet anything on Overwatch for this title. But that was underestimating DICE’s efforts to make Battlefield not only innovating by its theme, World War I, but also a thrilling sniper experience thanks to the best TDM maps since I know the series. The remarkable atmosphere and the gorgeous graphics are just the cherry on the cake.

Runner-up : Overwatch (PS4)

Best Strategy game

kan-colle-kai-kuma

Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

Kan Colle kai is the new Advance Wars. The addictive management of units and the desperate defense of positions brought me tears of joy when the final trophy popped. Gifted with rich and unique design and having a game system as enjoyable as Pokemon plus outstanding challenge, Kadokawa’s game is one to remember.

Runner-up : Pokemon Sun&Moon (3DS)

Best RPG

p5-girls

Persona 5 (PS4)

Persona 5 being my first «true» Persona game (after Persona 4 Dancing All Night last year), I hadn’t how massive this series was. And here it is, the hype is 170% deserved, because Persona 5 is an RPG like you seldom see. Great narrative & characters, fantastic combat, dream-like design, deep game system, overflowing content… the new King of JRPG is here!

Runner-up : Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

Best puzzle game

roct

Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight (PSVita)

After a superb Yomawari, Nippon Ichi Software is at it again with Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight. Not adventure this time but pure a 2D platformer featuring lots of puzzles for hours of intense brainstorming, with far better controls than The Firefly Diary.

Runner-up : Ace Attorney 6 (3DS)

Best Sountrack

初音ミク Project DIVA Future Tone

Hatsune Miku Project DIVA Future Tone (PS4)

The tracklist in Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone speaks for itself : in the 228 tracks, you’ll surely find dozens of your liking. Every J-pop style is widely represented, with a lot of novelties compared to portable Project Diva games (Hôkai Utahime, Gothic and Loneliness). Yet this PS4 game also features classics like Remocon or Envy Cat Walk.

Runner-up : Hatsune Miku Project Diva X (PSVita/PS4)

Best graphics

Tom Clancy's The Division™_20160320231035

The Division (PS4)

Open world of impressive scale, The Division is visually the most striking game I’ve seen this year. Ubisoft re-created New York with great realism and the post apocalyptic touch makes it an immersive experience.

Runner-up : Battlefield 1 (PS4) & Hatsune Mike Project Diva X (PSVita)

Best innovation

dva-b

Overwatch (PS4)

When Blizzard does something, it rarely fails. Overwatch is a competitive FPS like you’ve never seen before. Close to an RPG by its characters and skill mechanics, it allows for a great variety of gameplay blowing everything else in the genre. You’ve got an innovative set of roles like defenders (D.Va) or support characters of which the recently added grandma Ana is a stunning example.

Runner-up : Mary Skelter Nightmares (PSVita)

Best narrative

futaba

Persona 5 (PS4)

Persona 5 is the master of suspense and intrigue. The passion in those personal destinies, the will of the characters, the bond uniting them, all this conjugated with the onimous plot set by wicked elites is a delicious cocktail that you keep pouring during dozens of hours.

Runner-up : Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

Best atmosphere

rose-flashback

Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight (PSVita)

Nippon Ichi Software is at its best when creating dark and crooked universes. Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight is no expection and delivers gloomy art that chills the bone : blood, death and despair are the key elements here. The developments, the very logic of the game and the touching conclusion make it emotionally beautiful.

Runner-up : Battlefield 1 (PS4)

Best design

kan-colle-kai-akagi-room

Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

While Persona 5 sure blows things out in terms of design, I might stick to Kan Colle kai for this one. Really unique concept with risqué fan service included, Kantai Collection does a great job drawing friends and foes, and decorating your HQ is a lot of fun too.

Runner up : Persona 5 (PS4), Mary Skelter Nightmares (PSVita) & Pokemon Sun/Moon (3DS)

Best game you might never play

nagato

Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

I’m actually pretty sure you won’t play Kan Colle kai, unfortunately. Kadokawa has already announced that the game would be pulled back from shelves, further evidence that relations with the IP owner DMM.com aren’t exactly easy. You still have a few weeks to order an import version and a fat kanji dictionary with it.

Runner-up : none

Most disappointing

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION_20161126160806

Sword Art Online Hollow Realization (PSVita/PS4)

You’d need to be really incompetent or seriously cynical to keep this unwanted «title». Mr. Futami Producer of Sword Art Online games, must be this kind of guy. Incapable of keeping the progresses made in Sword Art Online Lost Song, he’s badly rehashed Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment with Sword Art Online Hollow Realization : romoved playable characters, boring linearity, thin storyline, outdated engine… everything indicates he wanted to maximize profits by minimizing efforts. This logic seems actually be going on with Sword Art Online vs Accel World, the first screens of which are horrendous. This time, my money will go the more capable and ambitious developers.

Runner-up : Summon Night 6

mini Platinum-trophy Game of the Year

p5-ca1

Persona 5 (PS4)

mini gold trophy Kan Colle kai (PSVita)

mini Silver_Trophy Rose and the Old Castle of Twillight (PSVita)

mini-bronze_trophy Tokyo Xanadu (PSVita)

Review – Persona 5

ペルソナ5_20161231183440

N.B : Pictures for this review were taken from the trailers and by taking photos of my screen (see last paragraph). Sorry for the lesser quality.

You have been betrayed. Here’s how Persona 5 starts : roughly ¾ of the game is a flashback telling how the main character, whose code-name is Joker, falls in the dire situation he’s in immediately when the game starts. The tension hence rises from the very start, foreseeing the mastery in which this fifth tale will be told.

The main character in Persona 5 is originally a quiet young man, but gets himself involved in a criminal assault case and gets the blame pinned on him. Released on bail, he must pursue its studies at Shujin high school without crossing the red line again to clear his record. He lives in resentment until being magically warped at night in the Velvet Room, supernatural place where a fishy character called Igor gives him superpowers. Joker can now jump in the unconscious of the most dangerous villains and force them to confess their crimes. Driven by the hatred of the man who had him wrongly accused, Joker establishes with his classmates Ann and Ryûji the kokoro no kaitôdan, a group of thieves who steal the unconscious to bring justice.

persona-5-limited-time

In Persona 5, the time is limited : the story lasts for 1 year in the game or so, and every dungeon will have to be cleared within 2 or 3 weeks, one day passing each time your enter a dungeon. Your target’s unconscious takes the form of themed dungeons, such as a casino, a museum, a castle… the goal being to steal the treasure hidden at its center in order to make the criminal spill the beans. You’ll therefore have to progress in the dungeon little by little, one day after another, taking advantage of safe rooms which work as checkpoints where you can teleport once you’ve unlocked them. SP (skills points required to use magic or various capacities) are the limiting factor : when you run of it, you can’t attack efficiently nor can you heal yourself. That would be the time you go back to reality and aim for a fresh start another day. There are items to recover SP while in a dungeon, but they’re extremely rare and believe me, you’d prefer saving them for the last battles.

persona-5-casino

The level design of those dungeons is quite good, especially the museum where in one sector you need to find your way from painting to painting, or also the casino which makes a clever use of the theme of gambling. Moreover, you’ll come across various puzzles, switches, slots machines… lots of original ways to keep high interest and enjoyable brainstorming in exploring the places. A small word on stealth : the game system will ask you to take ennemies by surprise. If you don’t, the alert level of the dungeon will rise and shadows (name of the monsters in Persona) will become stronger. Persona 5 being no Metal Gear Solid, this aspect is fairly minor as shadows can’t see very far. There are plenty of hiding spots so taking your foes by surprise is never difficult. In my walkthrough, alert level has never been a problem.

persona-5-battle-makoto

Fights are turn-based in a classic way. The point is to make the best use of your skills and magic to strike the enemy’s weak point, and support magic is also key to victory. There are a dozen of different elements to choose from and when you strike with the right one, it’s stunned and your character can play again immediately : that’s called the one more”. With that system, you can end the fight more quickly and therefore save your precious SP. Better still, when all enemies are stunned, your enter the negotiationphase. One shadow will ask you a series of stupid questions (like my girlfriend is waiting, can I go now?”). If you find the series of answers that pleases it, it will either abandon the fight or join you as a new persona.

persona-5-seiryu

While Joker’s companions have a set persona of their own, himself actually has access to a set of personas. He can welcome the shadows obtained by negotiation, and those can be merged to give birth to even more powerful personas in to keep Joker strong. Personas have their own weaknesses so your characters can be victim of a one more from an opponent. Then you must carefully choose the personas you will equip Joker with, because any KO of him means game over. Joker must have a range of varied personas in order to strike every possible weakness or withstand difficult encounters. You can also strengthen an existing persona, which makes it possible to keep your favorite ones (I did the whole game with Genbu, a shadow showing up in the very first dungeon), or even merging via internet to get personas that you might miss. There are dozens of different personas in the game, and their management is a tactical choice that makes Persona 5 rich in terms of battle strategy. It’s almost like Persona 5 was including a whole Pokemon game in itself.

persona-5-leisure

As for secondary activities, Persona 5 here again is insanely rich. Base-ball, fishing, retro gaming, small jobs, fitness and even a series of crosswords (very hard in Japanese, trust me). That of course isn’t the full list, but every of those activities serves one purpose : increasing Joker’s human qualities : dexterousness, kindness, intelligence, charisma, guts. Those statistics will allow you to deepen the bonds with other characters, playable or not. Persona 5 indeed makes you meet numerous NPCs with their own substory. Elegantly represented by tarot cards, those partners will bestow you useful passive skills : pre-emptive gunfire, negotiation assist, cover, healing bad status, allowing a ally to play one more turn… Those cooperations are of critical importance to your adventure : I think the game would have been 3 times harder without Hifumi or Kawakami.

persona-5-school-karasu

Persona 5 regularly features school part, where Joker is unlucky enough to be tested by the teacher every single morning! Teachers who are absolutely remarkable characters with their exuberant design and their hilarious behavior. That’s where Persona 5 turns into a gold mine of general knowledge, because you’re asked cranky but yet very interesting questions. Which quantity of gold has been extracted since its discovery? Where in Japan can you see the sun first? Which is the density of stars in the universe? All those are of course trick questions but you’ll amazed at the number of astonishing truths they bring ! Geography, history, biology, technology, etymology… everything’s there and the game will test your memory in written test that deal with the same topics from a different angle. A game within the game, another one.

persona-5-futuba-b

Contrary to others JRPG far less polished (or not finished at all), Persona 5 takes geat care in managing its characters and the balance of the narrative. The formation of the party is very progressive, with one new character every 10-15 hours or so. Each of the 8 playable characters has thus ample time to be well introduced with a whole chapter to know their past and goals. You come to know them all, and reject none. The members of the kaitôdan show strong cohesion and draws the player’s sympathy like few RPGs do. All that is of course illustrated by numerous cut-scenes and dialogs that create a strong bond between the character, hence a growing emotion until the beautiful ending.

persona-5-shiho

NPCs also have a story of their own, with here again the same eagerness to know more and the tension when it unfolds. The only disappointment in terms of characters is Futaba being locked the traditional navigator” role, so not playable. I think this artificial role should be removed because it leads only to the misuse of a excellent character. By the way, her commentary is far less good than Morgana’s.

persona-5-makoto-b

But Persona 5’s true genius is its ability to handle humor and suspense at the same level of awesomeness. Atlus has cooked us a real treasure of humor with loads of hilarious exchanges between the characters, surprise effects like in Futaba’s chapter. Let’s also mention the negotiations with the shadows, because Joker’s scathing answers are truly delicious. Dubbing, while far from being extensive, is lively. Voice actors and actresses inspire an original personality to each character : Morgana’s tone is over-the-top, Futaba speaks real fast which gives away her otaku life bent on her computer, and Joker rarely speaks but his lines in combat mark his strength as leader. Atlus did a critically right choice in snatching those original voices.

persona-5-akechi

But Persona 5 is also the master of suspense thanks to an increasing tension in its main story. The kaitôdan‘s breakings happen as cases of dementia and suspect deaths become a major worry for the country. You come to understand fairly quickly that high-ranked individual are acting behind the scenes are plotting nasty stuff and the heroes will have to deal with increasingly formidable opponents. The game has a strong Death Note taste in itself with Akechi Gôrô, a young and brilliant detective that appears to have strong leads in its investigation against you. The story parts involving this character are almost as good as Takeshi Obata’s manga. Atlus won’t even hesitate to place bad endings, or scenes that are false endings the keep the pressure on the player, whose feelings become mixed between passion and fear of what can happen. Persona 5, it’s also equally tricky and epic fights, boss streaks that will drive either to madness or ecstasy, challenges as unexpected as exhilarating, and of final boss of a magnitude and complexity you’ve not seen since a while. Impossible to fully translate in words what came into my head while experiencing such memorable, such perfectly designed direction and challenge.

Persona 5’s main scenario has also a moral sense in the way it illustrates a generation gap : the one of the post-war economic boom and Japan’s Lost Generation, where greatly enriched adults, blinded by power and money, looks down and the young and refuse to pass the baton. The kaitôdan symbolizes the will of young people to break outdated rules and rebuild a fair society. There’s indeed between the lines a criticism on a disillusioned society, people unwilling to take a stand and hiding in the comfort of bestowing the power to unscrupulous elites. The heart of the problem raised by the story is about the capacity of mankind to fulfill its destiny… or not, and Persona 5 has some brilliant allegories.

persona-5-futaba-a

From a technical and artistic point of view, the game is still very good, but uneven. Let’s say it straight, Persona 5 on PS4 doesn’t seem to look any different from a PS3 game, the character modeling for example being mediocre at best. A close sight to the main characters clearly show 3D models far below what we could see in Tales of Berseria one month earlier. The dungeons fare better but aren’t ultimately impressive, despite some cool style, especially in the casino where cards are litterally raining around you. Animations on the other hand feel much richer and more detailed, like critical blows and other funny gestures.

persona-5-coop-hifumi

No objection still on the general design, which is the most groundbreaking in ages of JRPGs : high-end menus make it pleasure just to open them, personas are very cool too, character design almost always finds the right tone… Music is divided between somewhat bland melodies in the real world (the theme in Joker’s room is downright annoying), vigorous themes in dungeons and fantastic battle music. The tracks called Big Boss and Will Power are masterpiece and should be treasured for eternity. In the end, Persona 55 has only one true drawback : it’s hostile to freedom. No PS4share, no screenshot is allowed to come out of your adventure. Atlus denies the fundamental principle of the PS4, and the players’ freedom to share their experience. If the kaitôdan really existed, surely would they visit its totalitarian publisher.

Persona 5 lasted me 134 hours, it is the longest solo game in my carrier. Better still, those are 134 hours without any artificial filler, because many shortcuts prevents the waste of time. 134 hours of fully dense and intense JRPG, with always a whole range of possibilities. Persona 5 is a JRPG like you don’t see every year.

Review – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

GIFE

Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, like people still like to call it, has been the object of much anticipation in 3 years. Ending up quite different that most people thought when re-announced in April 2015, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE has the difficult task to seduce a reticent audience. Symbol of a sinking line-up as it sld only 30K units at launch in Japan, Atlus’s cross-over couldn’t find its way to success at home. Were the Japanese too hard on this game?

Tsubasa d

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE had the choice between Shin Megami Tensei’s darkness and Fire Emblem’s epicness. Atlus picked neither of them : the general atmosphere of this cross-over is light, extravagant and keeps away from anything serious. The theme of the game partially explains this, since the party members are all part of an idol agency. Tokyo is into trouble, attacked by Mirages, evil ghosts seeking to swallow people’s soul (here called performa). Of course, all your stars have special powers to defend the metropolis : they also act as Mirage Masters, warriors that borrow the power of benevolent Mirages to fight the bad ones. Add the race to stop an ancient demon from rising back, and you have in a nutshell the story of this game, which is rather straight and classic without much refinement.

TikiP

True, the game never insists on the story, as it prefers to go into the various aspects of Japan’s pop culture. Singing, concerts, TV shows, cinema, photography of young girls wearing swimsuits (but not in your version, sorry)… nothing has been spared to please the otakus. But in doing this, it is extremely since it successfully captures the life of the young, going as far as including several brilliant Hatsune Miku easter eggs. For example, your mage Kiria turns into some sort of adult Miku when wearing her combat outfit! Besides, there is an extensive side-story about a vocal synthesis soft much like vocaloid, with many clever details about the phenomenon. But because of all those these diversions, the storyline collapses quickly : the chain of events doesn’t make sense, or gets contradictory at times. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is this game that throws a joke about the first kiss just before a major boss fight. Yes, it did that. The game’s narrative is actually just as ridiculous as Xenobalde Chronicles X’s but as Atlus’s title never pretended to be serious to begin with, it doesn’t look as bad as Monolith’s awkward JRPG, which was convinced to tell something epic but failed miserably.

mamori b

Still, that feeble narrative doesn’t really impact the experience, because Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE focuses on its characters first. To fit with Japan’s crazy pop culture, Atlus has created offbeat protagonists, but with a rich background and a developed personality. In short, totally the contrary of its competitor on WiiU. Whichever character you consider, might it be Tsubabsa the naive rookie idol, Kiria the veteran singer who has a soft spot for kawaii stuff, Eli the half-American girl who says “Hollywood” in every sentence, Barry the gaijin dance teacher speaking with an atrocious accent, all have a wacky but deliciously hilarious behaviour.

Kiria e1

The game will go full force on that with a flurry of secondary quests/events that perfectly underline the eccentric charm of the characters, light-years from Xenoblade Chronicles X’s tedious kizuna quests. Not only are those sequences entertaining, but they are also lucrative because you’ll earn powerful skills, musics and cutscenes. The main protagonist Itsuki turns out to be the least charismatic, but it’s normal in a game like this where the secondary characters are the real stars. Poor Itsuki will be given a hard time by Eli and find it difficult to motivate Tsubasa who lacks self-confidence. Characters very opposed in style, but all side stories feel rich and have a nice ending.

Kiria s3

In the same aspect, let’s stress that the Mirages that lend their strength to the heroes are all Fire Emblem characters taken from various episodes. Clearly Intelligent Systems’s series was not forgotten by the developers. Their personalities have been faithfully transcribed, like the Tharja’s sadist tendency. She and Kiria make a fantastic and fun couple!

shibuya

But the real problem of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is its world. Far from being as immense as Xenoblade Chronicles X, the Tokyo of this cross-over is only composed of a couple of street, some areas being limited to one single room! Needless to say, there is little to explore with such a minimal surface. NPCs will never ask more than going to the adjacent street to pick something on the pavement. On the other hand, the decoration that changes depending on the various shows your characters are part of is nice.

studio

Therefore, you’ll spend most of your time in dungeons (Idraspheres as the game calls them). Far-fetched by their architecture, those ones will have think a little to solve some puzzle in order to advance : rooms to enter in a special order, buttons to change the stage layout or the good old platform floating in the sky. Mirages will regularly appear to trigger random fights, but it’s easy to stun them before that and avoid the encounter. In the same idea, you can save anytime even in a dungeon and are able to go back to the agency whenever you like. You can then play at your pace, without stress. In terms of sequence, it’s gonna be always the same thing which is rescuing an NPC whose wind has been highjacked by a Mirage, nothing more. All those dungeons plus the character events make Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE’s adventure fairly long, way more than the 30 hours announced.

Tiki c

Before entering the fray, you need to be well prepared. For this, the agency has set a space outside the real world where young Chiki (yes, that Chiki, but considerably younger) will offer you various services. You’ll be able to synthesize new weapons provided you looted the needed items, improve the existing ones and later in the game, have your Mirages change class like they would do in Fire Emblem. By acquiring experience with a weapon, characters will learn three types of skills : active skills (magic, physical attack, support spells), passives skills (stats up or tactical advantages) and session skills (see below). There are a lot of these capacities so you’ll end up giving up and some because the slots are limited. Still, the array of possibilities is extremely rich and allows you to build your characters to fit your playstyle and your strategy. That’s were improving the weapons is key, because a skill can be upgraded when you learn it multiple times. Last but not least, Chiki can also synthesize new performas, that often bear capacities crucial to turn the tides in combat.

battle1

Let’s go in the heart of the battle. But first of all, let’s point out the remarkable presentation of the fights : they place like a performance, under giant screens showing the mood of the characters. Once again, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE follows its own original logic with brilliant details. In terms of battle system, Atlus borrows Fire Emblem’s triangle of weapons, as many enemy Mirages are affiliated with a weapon category (or others like Dragon, Amor and Knight). Up to the player to find the right attack to deal maximum damage, this being true for natural elements (fire, lightning, etc) also.

Eli

But the monsters in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE are seriously tough and can’t be beaten in 1 or 2 blows. Here you use what are called “sessions”. It’s very simple : every time a character strikes in the enemy’s weak spot, allies will also strike just after him without consuming any turn! That mechanic implies that your characters have several session skills, which allow him to act after a certain type of weapon or magic. So, the more our characters progress, more can take part in session and more powerful and long those sessions become. Note that the session can fail if you hit the resistance of an enemy : you must therefore anticipate the effects by checking the session list (which is displayed).

Kiria Tsubasa

At higher level, you’ll have the possibility to extend the sessions. You need to acquire duo skills which are exclusive to character sidequests. As you can expect, those duo skills are all about singing and performing. They are still extremely powerful, dealing enormous damage and having support effects like healing. The music of the game is highlighted it those duo skills, and feature really good J-pop. The rhythm in Give Me or Black Rain as quite pleasant, and the associated clips beyond greatness (see below). Combat themes have a more dark tone, but are good too, like the fantastic boss battle theme n°2.

You will need to master all that, because this Atlus-made game is far from easy. Although it’s still possible to change the difficulty settings anytime, the normal mode is a formidable challenge : bosses have no mercy, battles necessitate to keep its cool but yet the progression curb is perfect. In other terms, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE brings the joy of a complex and challenging JRPG while keeping adequate balance. Something quite rare nowdays.

Tsubasa s

In pure graphics, nothing very impressive in Atlus’s work. The dialog phases look like early PS3 era at best. The city isn’t very pretty, dungeons have simplistic design and damn, NPCs are made of… cardboard! Fortunately, battles are a lot more beautiful, featuring modeling and animation a lot above the rest of the game. They’re full of little funny gestures that make them astonishingly lively. Let’s also point out the numerous additional costumes in-game, although I can’t tell if they survived Nintendo’s censoring frenzy…

Lovable characters, great sense of humor, enjoyable atmosphere, exciting fighting… but tiny world, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is the complete opposite of Xenoblade Chronicles X. While conservative Nintendo fans might be thunderstruck at the sight of its rosy and otaku universe, it’s definitely a solid JRPG with deep mechanics. Maybe not the Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem you were expecting, but what it does, it does it well.

JRPG, for a change of power

FFXV P5

Despite having a limited importance on the market, JRPGs still maintain themselves in the spotlight. It is still the king of Japanese gaming : every manufacturer, publisher or developer wants its own JRPG to express their talent and influence. It’s a genre that has been captivating players for 25 years, there’s a lot at stake for Japanese companies.

In this long-running struggle, Final Fantasy had long been a unquestioned leader : its extreme refinements at each episode, its overwhelming content, its emotional power had crushed the competition for a long time. But lately, its leadership has been contested by outsiders like Tales of or Xenoblade. Final Fantasy XV’s motto “reclaim your throne” echoes the necessity to take back the crown. But the returning king could very well be robbed of its throne by a malicious thief.

March 30th, May 5th 2016, two dates that might change the balance of power for JRPGs worldwide. Two events aiming at striking the heart of the people, but of opposed style. More than that, a clash of ideologies : Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5 don’t offer their JRPG experience in the same way. Absolutely not.

Final Fantasy XV went for a lavish show : fashionable soiree, large audience, funny MCs, CG movie, commercial partnerships… SquareEnix actually held that in Los Angeles, sign that they’re dropping the original spirit. Uncovered Final Fantasy XV feels terrible by its locked communication and flowery articles in the mainstream press. The publisher seeks to widen its marketing target, but distances itself from players in the same process.

King

The case of Kingslaive, animated movie that tells the events that occurred before FFXV, is interesting : the short film sure has a energetic pace, but it show a western way of making entertainment, we still aren’t in the JRPG sphere. It’s just like SquareEnix was going back to an approach similar to Final Fantasy The Spirits Within, and we know how that finished… And there is that Audi R8, which almost jumps out at your face, which ultimately suggests that pretty everything went awry in rotten business plan and a movie shot with a bugdet it doesn’t even have. And fuck, why is the gameplay trailer ending on Stand by Me!? This is truly the end, the RPG Final Fantasy XV is not Japanese anymore.

P5 tt

On the other side of the planet, Persona 5 (which tells the adventures of a Arsene Lupin-like master thieves) declares that it will “steal Tokyo Tower”. Original and clever way to make the buzz : the lights of the famous red structure indeed went off on 5/5 at 10pm. The commentary is given by some old Japanese lady no one knows where she comes from, and by the characters who run the prison in the game. An anime will air in September for the launch of the game, and it can only be better than Brotherhood, the tasteless attempt of Final Fantasy XV to go media mix. In short, Atlus shows a better symbiosis with its fans than SquareEnix, less business, more fun and passion. Cooler, closer to the people… Doesn’t that ring a bell? Yes, that is Sony’s strategy with the PS4, and it works.

PLATINUM DEMO – FINAL FANTASY XV_20160514170440

But that was just the appearance of things. On the content presented, the gap is even wider between the two. Final Fantasy XV hardly shows anything new, since the trailer is just a patchwork of super short sequences that refrain to show precise gameplay or any bit of consistent narrative. True, there was the Platinum demo. But this trial version in reality doesn’t represent the FFXV experience and in fact, dodges the question of gameplay by conjuring up spin-off content. And that’s fortunate, because gameplay in the Platinum demo is atrocious : there is one button for attack and one to maintain for both defense and counter. Confusing, rough, even Duscae was more exciting than this. Evasion has magically vanished and the poor QTEs don’t give much hope for deep gameplay. Surely that was some secret experiment from the publisher that was recently saying in a Famitsu interview that half of the Duscae poll respondents wanted it less complex… Unavoidable consequence : between Duscae and Platinum, gameplay got nothing but worse and the hype for the story deflated.

Persona 5 does show lots of gameplay, serious gameplay. Stealth, joint assaults, dungeons, magic, interface, time management… you have to watch the trailer several times to pick up everything. You know more about Persona 5 after 4 minutes in video than you know about Final Fantasy XV after 2 demos. It also communicate an excitement on the storyline that Final Fantasy XV has barely shown. The master thieves are up to some unbelievable stunts and have the entire world against them.

But Atlus will strike its competitor when it hurts, on characters. No need to remind you how unappealing Noctis’s group is : JRPG players in the world are split between anger ad hilarity, SquareEnox failing to notice. Final Fantasy betrays and 25-year long heritage by refusing the very idea of a permanent playable female character. The series constructed itself by respecting parity to deliver the best in terms of story, emotion, art and visuals : the sloppy setting of Final Fantasy XV cannot work, and Atlus is fully aware of that.

P5 girls

While Persona 5’s team was already flattening the other in charisma even before May 5th , the dev team doesn’t just add one, but THREE heroines. Parity is totally rebalanced in Persona 5, loud and clear message send to its opponents and to the players worldwide. The role of the girls is heavily underlined in the trailer, way of showing that no, Persona 5 doesn’t have double standards.

All those elements show that Persona 5 wants to restate its commitment to the JRPG genre, and to its audience. It can be considered part of “the Final Fantasy spirit” which Bravely Default failed to inherit. With Final Fantasy itself being so far from its roots, Atlus’s series has a historical chance to reign over JRPG.

Review – Persona 4 Dancing All Night

title

Going from an internationally famous RPG to a dancing game is a bold move. But that is no problem for fearless Atlus who suddenly throws itself in the select club of rhythm games, sending Persona 4’s party onto the dancefloor.

Persona 4 Dancing All Night won’t party its way to success by merely copying the competition. The disco-themed opening and menus make it very clear : we’re far from the Vocaloid universe here. The general design is a gigantic tribute to the 70s’. Among other curiosities, the accessory shop is old-fashioned teleshopping, the “collection” menu is a shelf full of LPs and listening to music is done by a good old jukebox. This one works extremely well, because it doesn’t when the Vita enters sleep mode.

Naoto

Other specificity : nearly all the songs are in English. Project Diva players will be thunderstruck but they will no less appreciate some very good compositions. Time to Make History is the best one while Snowflakes, Shadow World, Best Friends (+ another one I’ll be talking about later) are enjoyable in their own style thanks to their lively tempo. That said, there are no more than 20 songs original songs or so in-game, and there are a lot of remixes of some to make the Free Dance mode a bit longer. On a character point of view, Persona 4 Dancing All Night is rather unsatisfying since every song can only be played with the preset character : no way to experience your favorite music with your favorite character. That is a real pity, and even more so when you consider that Atlus’s game displays peerless graphics and animation. Still, the choreographies look a little too classic compared to the ideas behind Projet Diva’s clips or even the artistic side of IA/VT Colorful’s.

On a personal level, I am appalled by the fact that Naoto show up in her Persona 4 version only. I know this makes no sense but let me explain : as I do things the other way around, I got into the Persona series by reading the manga called Persona x Tantei Naoto. So from there in my mind, Shirogane Naoto looks like that. Therefore, if they show her dressed like a boy, speaking with a boy’s voice, in a rhythm game where visual and sound aspect are dramatically important, I say NO. Beyond that and that’s rare enough, the Japanese voice cast of Persona 4 Dancing All Night is not that convincing.

Marie

I’m not that good at Persona 4 Dancing All Night, but I would say that the game system is not completely so either. The buttons you have to push are displayed on the edge of the screen and the moving are neutral. It is very confusing and you also have to manage the scratch with the L/R buttons at the same time! Needless to say that you get lost in the first hours, but fear not, because as always in the genre the brain naturally adapts to the new interface with some training. Eventually, it is not difficult to master at least the normal mode. Huge mistake : the lack the colors on icon. If Sony implemented damn forms and different colors on the Playstation buttons, it’s not just for show! All this make Persona 4 Dancing All Night less intuitive than the competition.

story (4)

Undoubtedly an added value compared to its rivals, the story mode in Persona 4 Dancing All Night is long enough to keep you busy for more than a dozen of hours. Several people went missing as an eerie video mysteriously airs on the web at midnight. Come to help Rise for her comeback in the idol business, Persona 4’s team get thrown into a parallel world where they will intend to pin the culprit and rescue the victims. Even if it does seem really dull at times, especially by its stiff structure and uneven story-telling, the narrative contains enough humor and suspense to renew its interest, let alone the miscellaneous direction in cut-scenes and the surprising illustrations.

Miku1

I was telling you that Persona 4 Dancing All Night was cutting itself from the Vocaloid craze, but that’s actually not completely accurate. Because if you talk dancing and rhythm on PSVita, Hastune Miku is never too far. Atlus will market a dozen of DLCs priced from 0 to 800 yens (count up to 5-6€ in EU, 2 of them being free). The Heaven Remix that features the virtual singer is violent techno hardstyle served by explosive highs, but still very interesting to play and listen. The modeling and animation of Miku transcends everything you could see in Project Diva : it’s so bloody GORGEOUS! Marie’s DLC song Break Out Of… appears as classic pop music. Not especially a wonder in my honest opinion, it is nevertheless quite the challenge because icons go counterclockwise, despite the rest of the game keeping to clockwise rotation.

Even though Persona 4 Dancing All Night is definitely a enjoyable experience, it remains “weaker” than other rhythm games on Sony’s handheld. It does have a stye of its own, a interesting story and a decent tracklist, but kinda misses the cue in its game system and overall content.

Review – Lost Dimension

LS

Sad victim of the biggest flop of 2014 in Japan, Lost Dimension is given a second chance to shine thanks to Atlus and NIS America who took up the localisation for the West. A chance you shouldn’t miss…

In this turn-based tactical RPG, you play as Shô, a young man sent in an elite unit called the SEALED. This team has been formed in a hurry to counter a dangerous individual who calls himself The End, and seeking no less than to blow up the entire world.

Himeno b

The battle system is very much like Valkyria Chronicles : each unit of one team act one after another, having a limited movement area. You also do have the possibility of having one or several comrades assisting your current character with an extra shot when the enemy is within range. This aspect is crucial to your progression for a very simple reason : your opponents will do exactly the same! Consequently, you’ll have to be careful to keep your characters together so they can cover each other, all the more necessary that even the most common foes cannot be eliminated without the cooperation of several of your characters.

power xa

Adding to this, every member of the SEALED possesses a supernatural power : Himeno can cast fire spells, Nagi can levitate, Yoko can boost her teammates’ status, etc. something like the Fantastic Four, save that they are twelve. Each character can also allow a buddy whose turn is over to act again, which has a lot of practical uses.Every unit, friend of foe, has a stamina bar that gets depleted as damage is taken. If the enemy’s stamina reaches zero, its defense will drop dramatically, making it extremely vulnerable to attacks. When a character’s stamina gauge is empty, he goes berserk and attacks the nearest unit, even if it’s an ally. A quite perilous situation which clever strategists will know how to use to their advantage. The architecture of the maps is well thought and encourages you to make the best use of the field around you. Technically speaking, Lost Dimension stands out by a decent modeling on PSVita which kinda makes up for the bland environments.

Himeno f

The particularity in Lost Dimension is that you have in your party several traitors, and you have to find them. Shô is gitfed with psychic powers and will know if there are suspects in the team he has been leading durng one battle. Of course, the suspects are not precisely designated : you just know you had 0,1, 2 or 3 potential traitors in your group. Up to you to switch members regularly and operate by elimination process so as to pin the culprit by entering his mind. This very unusual setting gives Lost Dimension a tremendous appeal : the atmosphere is dark and oppressing. The SEALED members don’t know each other at all and no one can be trusted. The music, very efficient to make you dive further in suspense, features slow and equally oppressive.

frienship nagi

Shô, with his natural empathy, will be able to gain the trust of his comrades in arms. They will thus share their own story and show their hidden personality, and some of them are far from shallow. Kojirô’s true self for example gave me the shivers.

vote

Whatever your friendship might be, you have no room for hesitation : at each floor of The End’s giant tower, you will be asked to give a name. The problem is that… it is not your decision alone! Every character votes to get rid of another. From time to time, they will come to ask Shô’s opinion, and you will be able to influence them in voting for the traitor, provided you have found him/her already. If you still haven’t got a clue when the time comes, you will be at risk to lose an honest buddy, who will be disintegrated, leaving nothing but a small object you can equip to inherit his abilities. The search for the traitors has a big influence on how the story goes and has also a huge impact on the final battle. If you’re not rigorous and impartial in your choices, you might be completely unable to clear the game! That is actually Lost Dimension’s biggest flaw : the progression system isn’t flexible one bit and you can’t set the team you’d want. Not that long (between 10 and 20 hours to reach the summit), you can through it a second time quickly despite a new game+ that is far from generous.

Lost Dimension is an extremely innovative RPG, its atmosphere is unique and the gameplay is rock-solid. For all those reasons, it really deserves your attention and it would be a shame to see it bomb a second time. It’s very rich and complex tactically speaking and S-RPG fans should enjoy it despite a somewhat unsatisfying progression system.