When Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix released a week ago, I came up with the bright idea of playing Kingdom Hearts Final Mix on Final Mix: Proud difficulty. I figured that I already beat the game on Normal years ago, so the added challenge might be refreshing, and there’s also a Trophy in store for accomplishing the feat. This is a decision I am regretting now.
Final Mix: Proud is flat-out frustrating and demoralizing. The game already suffers from camera issues and somewhat stiff combat mechanics as it is, but these issues are far, far less pronounced on Normal. On Proud, they simply become more debilitating as every move counts and one wrong move could mean the end of you, especially in boss fights. It’s become so infuriating that I have actually avoided fights just to progress because some fights become drawn-out affairs and Goofy and Donald are knocked out constantly, leaving me to my own devices as reviving them would simply be a waste of much-needed mana that is used for my own survival. I’m currently on the fight with Chernabog, but having difficulty finishing him off because as soon as he starts launching firrballs, it’s over as I can’t dodge them and can’t survive them, either. It reached the point where I went on Facebook last night and announced that I was done trying to finish the game on Proud.
Then, I sat down and did some thinking and I realized that I’m actually missing some crucial stuff. I don’t have Curaga, I only have Aero, and I don’t even have the Oblivion keyblade. I’ve been having trouble completing the Hercules Cup in the Olympus Coliseum, which leads to learning the Yellow Trinity and thus makes getting Aerora impossible, which is why that is not upgraded. I then thought, though, that I want to collect all of the Dalmatians, which leads to an Aero upgrade, and activate all of the Trinities anyway, so I’ve decided that I’m going to go back and collect all of these while leveling up in the process. Perhaps this will make things easier for me in the long run, as even if I defeat Chernabog, Ansem is probably going to hand my ass to me, so I better be ready.
Proud difficulty is frustrating, yes, but I think part of the problem was me neglecting things simply so I could push through the difficulty and get the playthrough over with. In essense, Proud difficulty ruined the experience for me, but I’m going to try and finish it. I simply hate leaving things unfinished, especially a great game like Kingdom Hearts.
It’s been a long time coming. Ever since all of these high-definition upgrades of classic PlayStation 2 titles have been churning out since the God of War Collection released back in 2009, one collection I’ve been wanting to see is a Kingdom Hearts compilation redone in glorious HD and with Trophy support. My imagining of the set simply included Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, but Square-Enix decided to do it differently. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix includes the Final Mix version of the original title, which includes all sorts of changes, including new cutscenes, enemies, bosses, and more that have never made it stateside before. It also includes Re:Chain of Memories, which is the PS2 redo of the GameBoy Advance title that takes place right after the first title. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is also included in a series of cutscenes instead of the entire game, as it originally released on the Nintendo DS, which would have required a huge graphical overhaul or even a total rebuild of all of the assets in order to bring the visuals up to par.
The collection released in a first print run limited edition, which comes in a special artbook packaging encased in an outer sleeve. Before I start showing pics (there aren’t very many), it’s time to get hyped.
Okay, now that the stage is set, here are some pics of this long-awaited collection.
The front cover of the game. The case is bigger than a standard PS3 case, with it being about the same size as the Hitman Trilogy Limited Edition that came out earlier this year.
The back cover. I don’t like how deceiving the description for 358/2 Days is. It makes it seem like the entire game is included, which it’s not. It should have said “Retold in a series of HD cinematics” or something.
The outer sleeve and the cover of the artbook featuring the classic picture of Sora standing on the beach of Destiny Islands.
A closer look.
This must be an early concept of Sora. It looks like he was originally part-monkey. I kind of get a Zidane Tribal vibe from him, which isn’t a bad thing considering he’s the main character of one of my favorite games of all-time.
The first page, with Sora, Donald, and Goofy ascending the stairs of Castle Oblivion and Namine sitting in the background.
Some concept art of Sora, including that monkey-esque design again, but this time sporting a pulley-like sword. Interesting.
This is Halloween! This is Halloween! Sorry, I can’t help myself.
Some Keyblade art, including a transparent sketch sheet overlapping a final design.
The “manual”, registration card, and the game disc housed in the back cover of the artbook. I know some people aren’t huge fans of this, but if you want the artbook, it’s the only way. You could always remove the disc and put it in an empty case with printed cover art, but I don’t mind this as it’s in very presentable packaging, unlike the Collector’s Edition of Batman: Arkham City, which housed the disc in a small, plain, white book that stuck out from the shelf by an inch and had nothing printed on the spine. I still need to print cover art for that…
A close-up of the disc in the back of the book.
All in all, not a bad freebie at all for those who pre-ordered early enough to get one of these. My local Walmart received eight copies, but all of them are regular editions of the game, which pretty much means that chances are slim that you can get one of these right now if you didn’t pre-order. If you didn’t, but happen to run into one, scoop it up. I don’t see these lasting very long out in the wild.
As for the game, it looks gorgeous in high-definition. All of the visuals have received an overhaul, and while character models are identical to the PlayStation 2 version, they still look fantastic during cutscenes. I guess the next collection, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix, if there is one, would include Kingdom Hearts II, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, as that leads right into the upcoming third entry, and Re:coded will probably be redone in cinematics like 358/2 Days, likely for the same reason. Where does that leave Birth by Sleep, though? They could include that as the graphics are pretty much on par with the PS2, but that would up the price, seeing as it would include three playable titles and one in cutscene form. I’m sure we’ll see the collection in the next couple of years, seeing as Kingdom Hearts III is still very early in development and it’ll help bridge the gap for people looking to catch up.
Hello all! I wanted to start today by saying thank you to everyone who contributed to the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter so far. As I sit here and write this, I can happily say that the project has currently raised over $750,000! This means that Mighty No. 9 will probably be completely funded by the end of today, which also means that it’ll be time to strive for the stretch goals, with the highest being $2.5 million. If that threshold is crossed, that means we’ll be playing Mighty No. 9 on our consoles. If you’d like to check the project’s current progress or haven’t seen the project at all yet, click the Mighty No. 9 image on the right sidebar and that will open a new tab to the Kickstarter page.
As for the title, that pertains to a session of Skyrim I had yesterday that I found quite annoying and amusing all the same. I felt like picking up Skyrim again because every time I tried playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, I just kept thinking how much better Skyrim is, so I shelved Amalur and popped that in a couple of days ago. I simply love walking into shops and stealing things. The A.I.’s reaction is always hilarious, as causing pure chaos in Skyrim is always extremely entertaining. However, during my shenanigans, I started to notice that I had vampiric powers and a sensitivity to sunlight that became increasingly worse. I paid it no mind for a while and simply went about completing quests and stealing from shops until, after an attempt to fast travel to another location to complete a quest, I became blood-starved, which pretty much meant that I had not been sucking people’s blood and, therefore, looked so hideous that everyone and their grandmother was trying to kill me. This made doing pretty much anything impossible, so I reloaded my save and did a Google search as I had no idea how to get rid of my blood-sucking issue with the information the game supplied. There was nothing on my quest log that even remotely hinted towards anything vampire-related, but I later found out that I had to speak to an inn owner and ask about rumors. Lo and behold, one was about a guy who knew about vampires. Bingo.
I paid the guy a visit and was told I had to use a “Black Soul Gem” and I had to kill someone while casting Soul Trap on them. So, I bought the gem off of him as well as the tome that taught me Soul Trap, then set out to find a mercenary who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. With my mission completed, I hurried back to the man who then told me to meet him in a spot outside of town at dawn in order to complete the ritual. This is where the next part of my problem arose. When I made my way to the spot and waited for him until dawn, I became blood-starved, which meant that now he was trying to kill me. Again, I reload my save and now I start looking for someone to suck blood from. I ended up breaking and entering into some sawmill where a poor sap was sleeping in his bed. All the poor guy ever wanted to do was make an honest living. Alas, I needed to sate my thirst, so I took a few bites and made my way back to the ritual site, where my vampiric powers were finally gone for good.
The worst part is I don’t even remember when I contracted the vampire disease. The last time I played this game was in January of 2012, so I naturally don’t even remember any quests that may have involved becoming afflicted with the condition. I’m glad the problem is solved, though, so now I’m back to completing quests and stealing more gold and goat cheese. Hey, everyone needs their goat cheese, especially when you can just take some off of the counter and sell it right back to the guy. Ah, Skyrim. It’s crazy stuff like this that makes people love it so much.
I won’t be playing Skyrim for much longer, though. I may play some more today, but tomorrow, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate hits stores and I’m definitely grabbing a copy. Say what you want about the apparent sexism in the game with all of the scantily-clad women, but DOA has definitely defined itself as a fighting game franchise to be taken seriously. I look forward to jumping into a lot of the new features and balance changes.
Until next time, everyone. Thanks for reading!
It finally happened, folks. Operation Rainfall came full circle last month when Pandora’s Tower launched for the Nintendo Wii, serving as a sendoff for the insanely successful console. The voices of gamers across the nation were heard by the industry, and while Nintendo of America themselves barely foot the bill after getting an exclusive deal with GameStop for Xenoblade Chronicles and allowing XSEED Games to publish both The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower, at least the games finally hit North American shores. The dust has settled and one of the largest campaigns in industry history has become a success. I, for one, really ponder how much of a success such an endeavor was, though.
Now, hear me out. I don’t deny the fact that a crap-ton of gamers banding together for a common cause was in any way, shape, or form not a triumph. It was, and it was wonderful to be a part of it by posting on Facebook and Twitter to Nintendo of America, demanding these games. I have to think of what we all received out of the deal in terms of the quality of the games. When this campaign launched, I had already heard of Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story and really wanted them to come stateside, as the development teams behind them have reputations that precede them. I never heard of Pandora’s Tower, and if you’ve read my recent review, I wish I never had, but buying and playing it was an obligation; I merely followed through on my word that I would buy the game as part of the campaign. After playing all three titles, I can’t help but think that the campaign may have indeed been a waste.
I’ll start on a positive note. Xenoblade Chronicles was good. It was a bit too long for its own good, didn’t have the greatest pacing, and the characters and plot weren’t overly remarkable, but the battle system felt fresh and the open nature of the environments made for some memorable sights. I had a good time with it, and while it certainly isn’t Monolith Soft’s greatest work, it was definitely one of the better titles on the Wii, which isn’t a hard feat to accomplish given the paltry selection of quality titles on the all-but-dead console. The issues with the selection of games we received from the campaign starts with The Last Story.
Hironobu Sakaguchi is a genius. His work on the Final fantasy series and Lost Odyssey were nothing short of amazing, so of course, my hopes were high on The Last Story being just as fantastic. What we received, however, was a boring, poorly-developed story that ended too soon, had one of the most unmemorable cast of characters I’ve ever seen, and was dragged even further down by a shoddy framerate, bland visuals, and a laughable combat system that completely failed to find its identity. The only redeeming element of it was the work of composer Nobuo Uematsu, and even then, this was some of his worst work to date, with only a few standout tracks. Needless to say, I felt like The Last Story was a complete and utter waste.
Pandora’s Tower was a chance for redemption, and while it wasn’t a game I would have picked up normally, my obligation is what led me to purchasing it. The game was just flat-out bad, with only the boss fights being any sort of redeeming quality. Everything else was either boring or broken. If you’re keeping score, this means that Operation Rainfall has a record of 1-2, as in one winning game and two losers. This is what obligated me to write this. I sat down and thought out how on Earth we benefitted from the campaign seeing as two of the three games were garbage. It honestly feels like a wasted effort, and I feel entirely let down about it all.
With that kind of mentality, though, I’d be missing the bigger picture. So two of the games sucked. So what? The journey and effort of getting those games here was a monumental one. Operation Rainfall proved that gamers can band together peacefully for a common cause and that we’re not the stuck-up, incorrigible, and childish crowd stereotypes label us as. People took to Facebook, Twitter, and snail mail to prove to Nintendo that they wanted these games, myself included. And it worked. Like I said, Nintendo shouldn’t take all of the credit for listening, not by a long shot, but, damn, did it work.
What about the fallout of it all, though? Has it made gamers too demanding of publishers, as if we’re owed something? Since Operation Rainfall, I’ve witnessed more and more people being vocal, both with their words and their wallets. People demanded more Tales games. Namco-Bandai issues an ultimatum, saying either Tales of Graces F sells decently, or the franchise is essentially dead in North America. What happened? People spread the word around, causing many more to buy it up, myself included, and now we’re getting Tales of Xillia this year. EA included micro-transactions in Dead Space 3. The result? It fails to meet sales goals as people complain about EA nickel and diming them. How about the Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco? People complained so much that Bioware made an “extended cut” ending to shut them up. There have been both positive and negative ramifications, clearly. I’m still unhappy about the Mass Effect 3 deal, myself. That was an example of how blatantly gutsy and entitled some gamers have become, and it actually makes me sick.
In the end, it really all depends on how you look at it. From a game standpoint, it wasn’t really worth it, with two weak titles coming our way, though we did ask for them. On the other hand, though, it showed us the power of gamers banding together for a common cause, as well as sparking future campaigns and vocal protests, both good and bad. To me, the campaign has its upside for sure, but after a poor selection of games and some of the entitlement gamers have developed over the past couple years, I can’t help but think that maybe it wasn’t the best thing for us after all.
Platform(s): Nintendo Wii
Genre: Action/Adventure, RPG
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer(s): Ganbarion, Nintendo
Release Date: April 16, 2013
Well folks, it finally happened. The final piece of what I like to call the “Operation Rainfall Trilogy” has made landfall in North America, marking the campaign as a monumental success not only for Wii owners, but for gamers as a whole. The fact that I was able to play Pandora’s Tower, an action/adventure RPG with a few similarities to Nintendo’s own representation of the genre, The Legend of Zelda, is a testament to the power of gamers in being able to unite for a common cause, even if that cause was only to bring some unique role-playing games to the US. I wished we could have received better games out of the deal, though. Xenoblade was a great game, don’t get me wrong, but The Last Story was a pretty big disappointment, in my eyes. Pandora’s Tower was to be the game that would justify the effort in bringing these games to North America. Unfortunately, it has utterly and completely failed to do so, existing as an even bigger letdown than The Last Story.
The game follows the unfortunate love story between Aeron, a quiet, yet brave young soldier, and his lover, a songstress by the name of Elena, who has been afflicted with a curse that, left unchecked, will turn her into a monstrosity. Along with a mysterious woman by the name of Mavda, who offers to help the couple lift the curse, they set out for the Thirteen Towers, which hang by chains over a large pit known as The Scar, keeping the pit from spreading wider and wider and thus causing serious damage to the world. In order to cure Elena, Aeron must ascend each of the towers in order to defeat each “Master”, or boss, if you will, extract the “master flesh” from their bodies, and feed them to Elena.
I will admit that the story was at least decent. It manages to throw a few curveballs your way, and while some of them you can see coming from a mile away, it still managed to keep my interest somewhat. Watching Elena struggle with the curse tends to get old and overly melodramatic, though, and watching her transform, moan and gasp every time she eats flesh had me skipping the cutscenes, as they grew old very fast and were nothing but awkward to watch. She makes so much noise that I thought someone was eventually going to peek into my room and expect me to be watching porn.
The game does manage to throw more than one possible ending your way, depending on your affinity with Elena. You can give her gifts and chat with her in an effort to strengthen your relationship, and the higher your affinity, the better ending you’ll get. I legitimately tried hard to gain her favor, but wound up with a middle-of-the-road ending. I can’t imagine the amount of hoops you’d have to jump through to get her to like you enough, as I spent a lot of my precious money buying her gifts, only for her to destroy them when she would start mutating. It felt like an endless money pit with nothing to really show for it.
Speaking of Elena’s mutation, Pandora’s Tower is time-based, meaning every time you go to a tower, you have a circular timer on the lower left of the screen ticking away. If you let it go empty, Elena mutates completely and it’s game over, so you’ll get the worst possible ending. The ways to avoid this are to either get the master flesh and bring it to her, or bring her some of the more common flesh from the regular baddies you’ll run into in each tower in order to hold the curse back temporarily before you dive back in to finish the tower. Yes, the concept of feeding your loved one flesh is very macabre and one of the more interesting elements of Pandora’s Tower. It’s gruesome to watch her eat it, and if you’re squeamish, you might feel more comfortable simply looking away or skipping the scenes altogether. However, it definitely shows the toll the curse is taking on their relationship in a very effective and emotional manner.
In order to feed her that flesh, though, you unfortunately have to traverse each tower, with the goal being to break every chain blocking the Master’s door at the end. This is where things go south, and fast. For starters, the dungeons are simply as dull as a well-used razor. The first five towers each have their own theme, with one being earth and another being water, etc., just like the Zelda franchise. That’s exactly it, though. This sort of thing has been done before, over and over again. We’ve dealt with element-based dungeons before, but the most criminal thing with Pandora’s Tower’s dungeon designs is that they get recycled halfway through the game. What’s that? You already did a water tower with a giant water wheel? Here’s another one that looks almost identical, but instead we made traveling between the floors more of a pain in the ass this time. You already went through a fire tower that had a smelter room? Have another one with what is essentially the same room with the same gimmicks, but with a more convoluted layout. See what I’m getting at here? Not only are the dungeon designs not all that great to begin with, but the developers actually recycled the damn things. It’s embarrassingly lazy and shows a complete lack of innovation on Ganbarion’s part, instead opting to pad the game with unoriginal and recycled ideas. They clearly took the easy way out.
While you trudge about traveling through those god-forsaken abominations, you’ll be wielding one major facet of Aeron’s arsenal besides his standard sword, called the Oraclos Chain. This chain is what helps him to get around, allowing him to grapple onto objects, hooks, swings, and even enemies, making for a rather versatile tool. How you control it, though, definitely has room for improvement. You have two choices; you can use the Wii remote to point the chain as you grapple on to things, or go the Classic Controller Pro route and use the right stick to move a reticule around the screen. I found the Wiimote option to be far superior, as you can aim while attacking enemies at the same time and you have greater precision and faster movement, whereas the Classic Controller forces you to take your thumb off of the face buttons in order to aim the rather slow reticule, leading to some frustrations during combat. I normally don’t favor motion controlled options, but it’s clearly the better control scheme here. The game doesn’t use waggle for attacking, either, which is a definite plus.
No matter which option you select, though, there is no lock-on option, which makes using the chain problematic at times. A lock-on feature would have improved this game dramatically, as I found that, since the game is time-based, I had to get around quickly and precisely, but sometimes objects I needed to grab on to were very small, making it tougher to aim. The greater problem is when enemies decide to obscure the object I was trying to grab, a I instead grab the enemy, making matters more aggravating. The Oraclos Chain is also used for puzzles, but they are pretty much nothing but pulling switches and platforms, are overly simplistic, and have been done a million times before, with the only really creative use being using it to lock enemies in objects in place by tethering them to another object. One instance with a water wheel and rotating it to the right position was so downright infuriating that I almost shut off the game and walked away. For a time-based game, it was far too tedious and every time I moved it into a different position, I felt like I was taking a shot in the dark, which there simply isn’t time for trial and error here.
Then there’s the combat of Pandora’s Tower, which also fails to impress. Here is a typical battle in a nutshell. You come across an enemy, start hammering the A button until it gets ready to attack as it rarely flinches from your attack, then quickly try to dodge or block hoping you were in time. If you dodged it, repeat the same combo over and over again until it finally dies, and if it’s a pretty large enemy (most are), expect to hammer that A button for about ten full combos. If you were hit, you’re likely now missing about a third of your health, at least. I kid you not. Throughout the entire game, enemies typically did outrageous amounts of damage, no matter what my level was. If you happen to be fighting two or more large enemies, it’s a death wish. Some enemies are capable of one-hit kills, especially ones that have a purple fog surrounding them. It seems their purpose in the game was to break it, as they take any sort of balance this game has, which is little, and throw it off a bridge. What is even more infuriating is not only how little the amount of healing items you can find and buy (you can only buy one of each type per shop visit for each tower), but using them forces Aeron into an animation of him digging into his pocket and ten throwing it into the air, leaving him vulnerable to attack the entire time. I’ve had healing items wasted this way, and considering the limited availability of them, it simply made fights worse.
To that end, I found myself constantly avoiding fights, as they were drawn out and infuriating affairs with little depth and meaning, as boss fights really aren’t much easier if you happen to be a higher level. The Oraclos Chain is only ever useful during fights with one enemy because if you actually want to do any sort of decent amount of damage, you have to pull back on the chain with the left stick to charge it after you’ve grappled with it, which is impossible when enemies are attacking you from behind and you’re forced to rely on the abysmal evasion system.
Which brings me to the boss fights. I am happy to say (yes, happy) that the boss fights are the only truly satisfying element of Pandora’s Tower. Every fight is varied, though the one key element in damaging every boss is the Oraclos Chain. In fact, it’s the only way to hurt them, as you have to expose their weak spot, grapple on, charge it by pulling away from the boss, then give the Wiimote a yank once the meter is full, dealing some serious damage. One boss tasks you with pulling armor off of its body, which will either reveal the weak spot or a tendril that will attack you. Another has you pulling the enemy out of sunlight so you can hack away at it enough to expose the weak spot, then quickly grappling on to do some damage before it makes its way back into the light. Yet another has you rotating armor around its body in order to line it up with the weak spot before the enemy leaps into the air and resets the position of its armor and weakness, serving as a timed puzzle of sorts on top of being a boss fight. Some can be a bit frustrating at times, but my experiences with the boss fights are actually far more positive than negative, as I felt like the developers gave a damn in how they designed each one. The final boss itself is definitely climactic and demands absolute mastery of the Oraclos Chain, as well as quite a few healing items. One big thing with boss fights is, as I mentioned a bit earlier, avoiding regular battles and thus not leveling up isn’t really a big deal because you never use your sword to actually deal damage to the boss, and perhaps the only advantage is the amount of health you have, which also doesn’t really matter because the bosses actually don’t feel overpowered, which is a severe contrast to regular enemies, further bringing into question the overall imbalanced design of the game. Your Oraclos Chain gains power every time you defeat a boss, not every time you level up, so you’ll always be able to do more and more damage with it as the game rolls on regardless of your level, rendering normal fights pretty much as pointless as I stated above.
Pandora’s Tower’s visuals are at least decent, with a fantasy style injected into its design that won’t blow you away in the slightest. It’s far from the best-looking title the Wii has to offer, but at least it’s clean and consistent. The only problem, as I stated before in regards to dungeons, are reused assets that greatly limit the variety of visuals you’ll get to see. The camera can be an issue as well, as it is fixed, but at times won’t always provide you with the best angle of the platform you need to leap towards, which can make platforming (which is done in the same vein as Zelda) awkward and very hit-or-miss, leading to several moments of frustration. The camera also has issues during some fights where it simply won’t follow Aeron to the side of the screen, instead cutting your view off to the point where you can’t see Aeron at all.
The technical issues certainly do not end there. Perhaps one of the most laughable issues with Pandora’s Tower is a game-breaking bug when you try to enter Towers 11 and 12 for the first time. If you happen to select one of them, the game will freeze up and lock you Wii console, forcing you to shut down your Wii by holding down the Power button, forcing it off. There is a workaround that entails you falling asleep for an hour, chatting with Elena until she has nothing new left to say, then leaving, but even then it doesn’t always work. This issue, as far as I read into it, did not exist in the European version of the game released last year, meaning XSEED screwed the pooch somewhere. I don’t care if there’s a tedious workaround. An issue like this should not exist and it boggles the mind how so many people are running into this issue, yet XSEED somehow didn’t pick up on this during testing. It’s yet another black eye on a title I’ve already spent almost this entire review beating to death.
I wanted to like this game, more than anything. I needed a game to help justify the effort for Operation Rainfall, but Pandora’s Tower has shattered my hopes. It has great boss fights, and the plot is half decent, but that’s all it has going for it and can’t replace the amount of moments I became frustrated with the game over a cheap death against a regular enemy, struggled with the platforming, or was simply bored to the point that I wanted to shut down the Wii and walk away to play something much better. It’s by and far an atrocious way to sendoff the Wii, as it likely doesn’t have any releases left down the line and it definitely deserves far better. As dire as Elena’s situation is with the curse, you’re better off just letting her turn into a monster, as picking up Pandora’s Tower is a far more painful experience for you than what she’ll ever have to go through.
Anyone that knows me could tell you that I’ve played a lot of games in my 24-year lifetime . Most of the time, I’ve been fortunate enough to play some truly stellar titles, and I sing praise for more games than I don’t. That’s a good thing, as I obviously don’t want to play anything that would be the equivalent of garbage. However, throughout all of the great games I’ve played, there is a small handful that have cropped up that I can consider the best of the best, games that will go down in history as truly legendary experiences and leave a permanent mark on my legacy as a gamer. Over the span of the last week and a half, I have been blessed to have played one such game that I can hereafter count amongst the absolute finest titles I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. That game is Persona 4 Golden.
I really don’t even know where to start with just how absolutely mind-blowing this title is, but I guess I’ll start with why I even picked it up in the first place. As anyone who has read this blog within the past month knows, I purchased the Solid Gold Premium Edition, of which there are only 10,000 copies in existence, so not only do I now own a phenomenal title, but perhaps the rarest version of it. However, I came close to canceling due to some shipping discrepancies with Amazon. I can only imagine how different the past week and a half would have been had I not picked this up and instead opted to buy it at a later date. To think that I almost didn’t even experience this game is now unthinkable after I’ve finished it. It’s a travesty just to think about it. Hell, when the game came in, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to get around to playing it anytime soon, as RPGs are a serious investment of your time and I have a growing backlog that I could play leading up to Christmas. The real reasons I wanted to get the game in the first place at all were because I heard it was a unique and fun RPG (boy, is that an understatement) and I also wanted to know what exactly was going on in Persona 4 Arena, considering it’s a fighting game from Arc System Works, which also developed Guilty Gear and Blazblue, that takes place two months after the events of this game, so I really wanted to pick it up, but held off until Golden came out. In the end, it paid off in more ways than I can possible describe.
So, allow me to just come out and say it: Persona 4 Golden is one of the greatest games I have ever played. Period. It’s Final Fantasy IX-caliber, folks, and anyone that knows me well enough knows how I highly regard that title as my favorite of all-time, alongside a few Mega Man X titles and Ocarina of Time, so this is nothing to scoff at. I walked into this not really knowing what to expect, but after the first several plot-heavy hours of getting to know some of the key characters in the game and watching the game’s mystery unfold, I found myself getting sucked in. The more I played, the more I became involved in the nuances of this little town called Inaba, where the game takes place, and all of it’s unique and colorful inhabitants.
In fact, the characterization of this title is its greatest suit. A key feature in the game is forming Social Links with certain non-playable characters and members of your team in order to increase you bond with them, thus giving you additional perks like the ability to help knocked down characters in battle, cure ailments, and also giving experience bonuses when fusing Personas, which are essentially inner selves in the forms of different monsters, mythical creatures, and gods that sort of act like Pokemon in a way, though are far more visceral-looking and have Final Fantasy-esque techniques. It actually got to the point that, sure, I liked the perks, but I started to care about the characters I was speaking to. I didn’t want to let them down. They are so genuinely likeable and even realistic in their dilemmas that I wanted to acquire and max out as many Social Links as I possibly could. On top of that, the writing and voice acting is amongst the finest I’ve ever seen and heard in any game. Considering the game takes influences from anime, that’s saying a lot, as some English dubs of anime shows and games can be downright painful to listen to. The opposite applies here. Every voice is perfectly suited for the character and an absolute joy to listen to. It got to the point where I became attached to the characters, and when the credits rolled, I didn’t want to say goodbye. It’s very rare that I get so attached to the characters in any game, but when they’re all so likeable and human and you have the ability to interact with them more than just by watching cutscenes unfold, it’s difficult not to, and the experience is greatly benefited by it.
Beyond the amazing characterization, there also lies a murder mystery that kept me tangled in its web for the entire 67-hour ride. You read that right. It took that long to get through the game all the way to the true ending, and that included doing everything I could in the time I was given. See, you only spend a year in Inaba, as you’re just temporarily staying with your uncle and cousin while your parents are out of the country due to work. Barring plot points, you can spend every afternoon and evening doing what you want. The game has an inherit freedom about it that truly allows you to shape the experience as you see fit. Inaba may be a small town with few inhabitants, but there’s always something to do, and everything you do benefits you in some way, whether it’s hanging out with key characters, going to clubs and part-time jobs, or going to grab a meal at a local diner, among many other things.
Returning to the plot, it has several twists and turns and keeps giving you more questions to ponder. I actually found myself trying to figure the mystery out even while not playing the game. Who committed the murders? What’s with the TV world? What exactly is the Midnight Channel and why does it show certain people? Where did this power I have come from? The only way to answer every question is to attain the true ending, which takes good decision-making in order to attain. Most games I play anymore seem to have rather ho-hum plots that are straight-forward and don’t shape the outcome around the player nearly enough. There’s a couple that stand out here and there, but nothing like Persona 4. I haven’t played a game that kept me this involved in the plot in a long time.
Then there’s the battling, which is a tried-and-true turn-based system, like Japanese RPGs of yore. It’s very well-paced and has an amazing level of strategy layered in. Picking the right Persona for every situation is crucial, as every enemy has their own weaknesses to exploit with certain attacks. Plus, it can be set to delegate commands to your party members, or you can take total control and issue every order yourself. I prefer the latter, but having the option is fantastic and makes the experience open to any sort of RPG fan. I always looked forward to jumping into the TV world and taking down Shadows. The battling and dungeon crawling aren’t the heart of the experience, as the game emphasizes characterization and plot above all else, but it is undeniably another strong asset of the game. Plus, having the freedom to jump into the TV world almost anytime to train and level up keeps things flexible for battle-hungry players, as well as the possibility of picking up more Personas to use in fusion just by simply winning fights.
I was in love with the art style from the moment I watched the intro. This is anime through and though, folks. However, that shouldn’t put anyone off, as it never suffers the pitfalls of common anime stereotypes, like tons of forced fan service, for example. The menus are among the slickest I’ve seen in any game to date, and the visuals, while they do hail from a 4-year old, PlayStation 2 title at this point, are given a huge face lift to accommodate the power of the Vita. Colors pop off of the system’s OLED screen, and the amount of detail put into environments is impressive, given the game’s age.
To top it all off, the music. Oh, the music. Shoji Meguro, the lead composer for the Persona series, has done an outstanding job here. Most of the tracks actually have vocals in them, but they fit the game perfectly and I actually came to enjoy these catchy tunes. I was afraid they would start to grate by the end of the game, but the battle themes kept me motivated all the way up to the final fight, where some of the best pieces in the game shine through. The music also has an air of emotion about them, too, and always fit the mood. I swear, the track “Snowflakes”, which played near the end of the game while walking around school and town, nearly brought me to tears as the end of my year in Inaba encroached upon me. Hell, the ending nearly made me cry. That’s something I can only say about a very, very small amount of games. Just imagine a grown man nearly brought to tears by a game. It happened, people, and the music played a crucial part in it. Best of all, I’m not ashamed of it. Even if I had started bawling, I wouldn’t have been ashamed. Games are just as much an art form and a means of expression as movies and music, and this game is among those that truly showcases just how games can be a moving experience, as well. In fact, this may very well be the new standard.
I already miss Inaba. I miss the characters I got to interact with. The high school camaraderie, the hijinks, the highs and lows; all of it. It’s a title with emotion and character that does a damn fine job in making you feel as if you’re a part of the world. The fact that your character never talks only further emphasizes that. I’m not entirely fond of lead characters that don’t speak, but having him speak here would have hurt the game, in the end. It would have made it felt like you were watching instead of being actively involved, and that’s not at all what this game is going for. Getting to select responses during conversations makes you feel more involved with the characters and how you develop your bonds with them, as it also is a means to project your voice into the game, in a way.
I could go on and on about how fantastic this title is. There simply aren’t enough positive adjectives to describe it. Persona 4 Golden is an experience I didn’t want to end simply for the fact that I wanted to continue to interact with this wonderful world, but I also wanted to finish in order to see the plot come full circle. It’s bittersweet. Now that my time is done, though, there is always New Game+ and I could go for more Trophies, but when it comes to RPGs, I usually leave them alone for a little while after finishing them. It’s hard to jump back in a world and start over once you’ve already seen what’s happened in the end. I’ve already attained closure, so starting over again could potentially ruin that feeling. However, the story of Persona 4 is not yet over. Remember how I mentioned Arena? That’s now #1 on my most-wanted games list. I must see how this continues and I look forward to seeing the characters I experienced this adventure with involved in a fighting game with a full-blown story mode by the writers of the original game and wrapped around a 2D fighting system from the makers of the stellar Blazblue franchise.
I hereby welcome Persona 4 Golden into my personal Hall of Fame, as it certainly has left its mark on my gaming legacy. I’ve simply never played anything like it, and I feel very, very fortunate to have had the pleasure of being exposed to something so flawless. A very, very big thank you is now owed to ATLUS for bringing this game into being, and I look forward to indulging myself further in this series while also reflecting on the enriching, engrossing, and emotional experience this game has given me. It’s why I play games in the first place, and I will certainly never forget this experience for years to come.