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.