I was actually kind of excited to play Shin Megami Tensei V. I’d never played any of the mainline SMT games but heard that they are darker, deal with the sort of philosophical choices, much harder and more intense than, say, Persona games. What’s not to like?! After pouring more than 60 hours into SMT V I have to say that this particular game was quite a disappointment.

There are various reasons why I like this or that JRPG. They can have great characters and dialogues (Trails games), amazing polished gameplay (Valkyrie Profile) or can be just ridiculously charming (Ni No Kuni). SMT V somehow doesn’t have any of that. Its plot and pacing are nonsensical — you have a brief introduction, meet a few characters who you think will be important later on, only to be thrown into a desert where you spend the next 10-12 hours without any particular goal. “Run from point A to point B and defeat a big demon. Run from point B to point C and defeat another demon”. Rinse, repeat. And it’s not just a problem with the first chapter, the entire game is like that! You simply have to go from one boss to another because… reasons. Once every 10 or so hours you get tiny bits of information about the world, information I, personally, couldn’t care less about, provided by the characters I couldn’t care less about either. Even better, there are characters who disappear without any trace and are never mentioned again. Why the fuck were they introduced in the first place? Because you so rarely have to interact with anyone and the conversations usually are absolutely pointless, it’s just ridiculous sometimes when you’re asked here and there “Oh, do you agree with his views?” How the hell can I know if I agree with his views? Those views were briefly mentioned 25 hours ago, I have neither ability nor desire to remember what they were. Whereas the main plot is bad the side-quests are even worse. 95% of them are nothing more but to give an item or to kill some demon, for poorly explained reasons. There are some quests which imply a choice and when I got my first one like that I actually thought I’d have to think carefully, because I hoped that these choices would affect the ending. “Your choices matter”. Ha. It was pretty naive thinking. No matter what you’ve been choosing, in the end you can side with any faction you want. A fair warning, it’ll be difficult to decide, because, again, you barely spend any time with any of the characters, have very vague understanding of their motivation and have no particular reason to help any of them.

Whereas the characters are so-so, some of the demons designs look pretty nice (though to be fair, I think Ame-No-Uzume looks great in all Atlus games)

The next thing I want to write about is exploration. A lot of people praise the more open locations of SMT V but I found them to be, frankly, more annoying than anything. Not only a herd of the Nekomatas or 50 Narcissus hanging out together look super weird, the locations themselves are painfully boring and all look and feel the same. The first location is a yellow desert, the second is an orange desert, the third is a grey desert and so on. There’s absolutely nothing to remember landmarks-wise after my playthrough, I just got sick and tired of the desert, abandoned highways and ruined buildings. I frankly was thinking about giving up on the game somewhere during the 3rd chapter, when you need to disable 7 or so devices before fighting Ishtar, it was just such a pain to find all of them in that bleak world where nothing catches your eye — even though the devices were marked on the map! SMT V also features whooping two dungeons, and for a series that was pretty much a dungeon-crawler before, these levels were also underwhelming.

If the plot and exploration are so-so, maybe the gameplay is great? Unfortunately, it’s also hit and miss. The combat system itself is good, the demon fusion is decent but there’s an elephant in the room. Well, two elephants. The first one is that the game has an odd level-scaling system. What I mean is that not only your stats are taken into account when calculating damage and so on, the difference in levels affects that as well. Meaning — you’ll have to grind. Especially in the last location. You arrive there when Hahobino is around level 55 and all the bosses there are level 72. Good luck fighting them even if you have great stats. Also SMT V nudges you to fuse new demons whether you want it or not, because the amount of experience they have to obtain to level up raises as a very sharp exponent. After the first 5-7 levels-ups Grimoires is probably your only hope to keep a demon useful. The second elephant I mentioned is that the game is not especially difficult. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never see the Game Over screen, you will and quite a few times. I just mean that you don’t have to come up with elaborate strategies to defeat enemies, most of the time simple buffing/debuffing will be enough. The bosses always use the same Magatsuhi attacks, probably the only ones you’ll need to keep an eye on, so every big fight boils down to you trying to guess what critical attack the boss is going to smash you with and if you guessed poorly — well, now you know the dampener you’ll need to use the next time. Closer to the end of the game everything becomes even easier considering how many elements you can block or even repel via essences. I think I enjoyed only two boss fights, one with the “true” version of Lahmu — his first phase was quite annoying and did require some planning; the other one was against Shohei Yakumo or whatever his name was, he had a lot of strong physical attacks and it was probably the only time I had to use a tank. Overall the combat was fine but I definitely would enjoy it much more if other components of the game were better.

Tao is apparently a super important character, but it’s never explained why exactly

So yeah, I know it was hard to notice but Shin Megami Tensei V didn’t exactly live up to my expectations =) It’s a long, boring, plotless, faceless JRPG with good but having some issues combat system. While I was playing it I discovered videos on SMTIII: Nocturne though. These videos simultaneously attract me and scare me to death =) So maybe I will give SMT another try soon, this time with the game from the PS2 era heh, what can possibly go wrong.

I already wrote how much I like Valkyrie Profile 2 and how, ostensibly, well this game holds up. What I didn’t add though is that after that post I actually bought a playstation 2 and a disc with the game, and now I finally finished it! Only for the first time, shamefully enough, but c’mon, it’s a pretty hard game if you don’t know what you’re doing.

I only sang praises to VP: Silmeria before, so this time I’m going to pretend to be objective and start with the negative things, fortunately there are not so many of them. First things first — the plot, however hard you’d squeeze at it, is average. Until the fourth chapter it’s a simple linear “we’re looking for an artifact” quest. That chapter though… well, Sergei, hold on, we’re still looking for minuses! The game can be grindy at times. Partially because a lot of good weapons and armor have to be crafted, and materials’ gathering is not very straightforward. Partially because it’s a good idea to teach your characters new skills, which may involve some backtracking — there are cases when you do want to be well-prepared for some locations (where your life will be miserable without particular abilities). What else… a lot of enemies are simply reskins. You get up to 20 Einherjars in one playthrough but only several of them actually stand out. As an example, by the end of the game I ended up with 5 or 6 Einherjar mages but with zero reasons to use any of them. The last but not least — the AI sometimes acts… weirdly. Like, an enemy can start running in circles (poison the bastard and wait until it dies). Or when I was fighting Hrist and Angrim the latter just gave up at some point and stopped attacking me entirely.

It was a long paragraph that lists things… which essentially don’t matter. Because Valkyrie Profile 2 is fun as fuck. It managed to make even mundane things not especially annoying. For instance, I hate inventory management in games (“just assign the best weapons automatically and let’s get it over with!”) but even that is somewhat entertaining in this JRPG, thanks to the rune linking system and that you feel how powerful your characters become with the right combination of equipment and skills. Beating the same enemies again and again? Hey, it’s a good opportunity to try out a new combo! The dungeons are designed really well and I actually enjoy photon puzzles. The story, as average as it is, uses likeable characters (who wouldn’t want to be stepped on by one of the Valkyries after playing this game?) and sometimes is surprisingly dark and dramatic. The execution of Alicia’s father is one such example. Or what about the fact that the main heroine doesn’t survive the final battle, how often does something like that happen? On top of everything else Valkyrie Profile is a game with a certain degree of replayability, it’s just interesting to explore its mechanics and try different strategies. It’s very hard for newcomers, but at the same time you can finish it in less than two hours if you are willing to cheese your way through know how it works (there are speedruns on youtube). I played blindly, so my playthrough was fairly challenging and it took me about 50 hours to beat it (without the Seraphic Gate). Not gonna lie, it’s kind of tempting to start the game anew now, especially after I’ve watched this great longplay (the screenshots I posted are from it, because, well, it’s tricky to take a screenshot from a PS2 game).

I’m not going to play Valkyrie Elysium that’s coming out this fall, but, but! Square Enix will also make the first VP available for purchase on PSN! It’s kind of hard (and not cheap) to find the original PS1 disc, so I’m happy that I will finally get a chance to play the first game as well. And who knows, maybe replay the second after that =) In the meantime I’m going to enjoy my new toy as much as I can and check out an epic JRPG series I missed back in the day — Xenosaga.

Another Tennocon is officially in the books and this time around it was pretty special, because not only we showed Duviri, a new quest and planet Warframe players are going to get soon, but also announced a new game Digital Extremes is working on.

Tada! Soulframe, ladies and gentlemen

And, of course, The Duviri Paradox

I’m quite a lucky bastard considering that I had a chance to work on both projects and implemented a couple of new shiny graphics features there =) Hopefully the players will enjoy the quest and, one day, Soulframe =)

Spy x Family

I’m not going to write much about it. The first season of Spy x Family is a good anime, that did everything right. It’s funny enough, has likeable characters and its animation is flawless. It wasn’t my favorite show of the season, but it never felt underwhelming. Spy x Family plays safe everywhere and honestly, it’s an ideal anime for… anyone, even for people who don’t usually watch Japanese cartoons. Considering its hmm fairly minimalistic approach to the plot I’m skeptical about next seasons, because my guess is that they’ll be filled with fillers Anya’s school activities mixed with an occasional Lloyd’s mission. Or maybe we’ll finally get to see Yor at work? The authors can drag this for years and years and I’m not sure how exciting it’ll be to hear “Waku-waku” or something about peanuts for the hundredth time.

There’s certainly an upside in this anime’s popularity though. I’m super happy that more people will get familiar with Hayami Saori, Yor’s seyuu. First of all, she’s Emma in Trails of Cold Steel. More importantly though, she has such a unique voice! Usually it’s very difficult for me to recognize the voice actor/actress, even those I really like — perhaps it means that Amamiya Sora, Mitsuishi Kotono, Hayashibara Megumi, Takahashi Rie, Chiwa Saito and others do a great job — but there’s a few seyuu such as Omigawa Chiaki or Hayami-san, whose voices you can’t mistake for others, it’s always a pleasure to watch an anime with them =) Hopefully we’ll have more scenes with Yor in the second season.

I don’t have too much to write about Aharen-san but just want to make a couple of notes in the case one day I’ll need to remember why this show was good =)

The two main characters confessed and started going on in the end of the anime! A rare and always welcoming development.

The running gags with Raido being JD and coming up with another bizarre idea of why Aharen-san is doing what she’s doing. “Wait, does it mean that actually Aharen-san is into death metal?!”, “Wait, does it mean that Aharen-san wants to conquer the world as a pop-idol?!”

Today is the day when millions of Canadians have moved one step closer to becoming first-class citizens again — you don’t have to show papers with your private medical information to travel anymore =) There are still hoops to jump through and the program was “suspended”, not cancelled and burned with fire, but that is at least something. Quite a few of the covid response measures baffled me (and we’re going to be figuring out this mess for years), but all those vaccine passports is a thing I never imagined I would see in the 21st century. I don’t even know which word describes it better, “dumb” or “disgusting”. “Yeah, I know that you’re 20 years old and just had covid; nah, you’re still a sick antiscientific bastard and you can’t board a plane to fly from Calgary to Halifax to visit relatives, go get a car — it’s just a 3 days drive. Rules are rules”. Everybody cheers — they are finally safe.

I won’t be surprised if we see another attempt to resurrect the “papers please” program in fall, when the respiratory season starts, because, why not? It’s just a minor inconvenience after all, nothing to worry about. I only hope that if that happens this time around it will be met with more skepticism.

Paripi Koumei

Chan chan a chiki chiki ban ban… I mean it’s good to get another P.A. Works anime =) Yeah, even though I always complain about their shows I still look forward to watching every new one, because who knows, maybe it’ll be another Shirobako.

For what it’s worth, Paripi Koumei is (sadly) not Shirobako. It’s another isekai (apparently we don’t have enough of them), this time in the reversed format — Kongming, the famous strategist from the Three Kingdoms period, is resurrected in modern Tokyo. The plot is straight as an arrow: he bumps into an aspiring singer Eiko, is completely charmed by her voice and becomes her tactician/producer. We get to see about 3.5 Eiko’s performances, she becomes slightly more popular and then there’s a rivalry against an all-girls band wearing very chiki-chiki-ban-ban costumes Azalea. Yet Eiko shows that dedication to music (and having a genius on your side) is more important than revealing outfits, even the evil Azalea’s producer understands the error of his ways, everybody hugs, the end, see you in the second season. This naive story manages sometimes to become even more My Little Pony-esque, like in the last episode when the Azalea’s producer simply forgives Kongming for, basically, stealing the likes they’re hunting for from his band. Oh well.

The interesting thing about Paripi Koumei is that despite being objectively an average anime it was still fun to watch. It’s very lighthearted; the main character, Kongming, is ridiculous, in a good way; some of the supporting cast members are great, like the bar owner or Kabe’s high-school friend who got him into rap. I just wish this show had more to offer in terms of the plot and character development.

And of course I have to add this =)

Dragon Star Varnir

Dragon Star Varnir had been on my radar for a long time — I was intrigued by the rather grim world of the game and also wanted to try out a JRPG developed by Idea Factory/Compile Heart. I knew of their games, most notably Neptunia, and knew that some people refer to them as “waifu JRPG”, but have never actually played any of them. Recently the stars aligned — I didn’t have anything to play, Dragon Star was on sale, so I finally was able to sink my teeth into it (you got it, right? it’s a game about dragons… well, whatever).

First of all, is it a waifu game? Well, yeah, hard to argue with that. What JRPG isn’t though? Personally, being a degenerate I don’t consider this as a minus, don’t see anything wrong in an idea of playing a game where you may find a character (or multiple characters) attractive.

However, if you look past the jiggly physics and the fact that in battle you can move the camera to look under the girls’ skirts Dragon Star Varnir turns out to be a very good game, with likable characters, simple but decently-written plot and unusual combat system.

If I mentioned combat… It’s actually pretty fascinating that IF are willing to do such bold moves as investing into development of niche battle mechanics. 3 levels in the air, devouring the enemies to get new skills (and sometimes simply because there’s no other way to defeat them, your attacks only increase their level of fear but don’t do any actual damage) — I wouldn’t say that the game requires you to come up with elaborate strategies but it was more fun than I expected. Also Dragon Star Varnir is difficult. Partially because some of the enemies attack you 3-4 times in one turn and can hit like a truck, so be prepared to revive your witches regularly. Partially because you can’t grind if you’re going for the good ending. Not everyone likes time-based mechanics like the Little Sisters feeding in this game, but I kind of just accepted it, because I really didn’t want to kill any of them =) Maybe it even made the playthrough more interesting, because I couldn’t mindlessly rush through regular battles. To be fair, the true ending was a bit too happy for this quite sad overall game, wish there was a way to get another ending without having to sacrifice any of the Little Sisters (I watched the two other endings on youtube and they both are, frankly, more dramatic and satisfying than the one I got).

I liked the premise of the game, the idea of a world where witches don’t have any hope. They are hated by humans and even if they weren’t — the only two options they have in life is either to go mad or become dragons. What a nice life eh? All the events you learn about have something to do with death, desperation and sadness. The entire story is just an attempt of 6 witches to try and lift the curse of this world, it’s pretty straightforward but not annoying and as I said — I liked the characters. There are not so many of them in the game in general, they have distinct roles and it’s impossible to get confused or forget some of them. The best written characters in my opinion is Charlotta (who is also probably the cutest girl in the game and I got her ending) and Karikaro. Minessa, despite being the face of the game, is way too average.

The main gripe I have with the game is its camera. It has a weird lag that makes it super uncomfortable and sometimes frustrating. There are some minor issues with the translation, like you’d never be able to guess that an accessory changing something called “Satisfaction” actually affects chances of a critical hit =) The rest… Dragon Star Varnir is obviously not a high-budget game, so keep your expectations in check.

Overall, I consider my first encounter with an Idea Factory JRPG a success. Dragon Star Varnir is a very good game, with unusual setting and with somewhat unique approach to combat. And don’t forget about all these cute witches! I guess now I will be less afraid to buy Death End re;Quest, another IF/CH game I wanted to play, or who knows, one of Neptunia games =)

На этом концерте и в этих песнях Мастер наверное звучит как они никогда уже не будут. Серышев и Шендер тут жгут. Не повезло людям которые могут только сходить на концерт современной версии группы (ага, трава раньше была зеленее).