My friends and I went en masse to GameStop’s Black Friday sale this year. Mostly we were there to purchase my neighbor a PS4 Black Friday Bundle and my husband his own 3DS XL, because he was understandably jealous of mine, but I got myself several games, too!
It was undoubtedly the friendliest Black Friday event I have ever attended. Our local store opened at midnight for the occasion, but my rural southern Oregon town could only muster about eight other gamers excited enough to arrive early to line up. My friends and I moseyed on up to the storefront about ten minutes before midnight, and we had no problem acquiring all the game-related goods and services for which we had come. In addition, I picked up a copy of Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth for my 3DS and Xenoblade Chronicles for my Wii. I wanted to pick up a copy of Theatrythym Final Fantasy Curtain Call (which has got to be the worst and weirdest name for a game in history, but whatever) for $20 off the list price, but was stymied in my efforts by the fact that my local GameStop apparently had not bothered to stock any copies of one of the games featured in their own Black Friday ad. I forgave them once I got home and realized I could just buy the game for the same price on their website, but now I have to wait 5-8 days to play it!
I was lucky enough to have a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving, so I got a chance to play both of the games I did get in-store, and damn, they were worth every bit of the conspicuous consumption required to get them.
First of all, the first run of Persona Q comes with the last 12 cards of the Major Arcana of the Tarot as they are represented in the most recent Persona games, and that is just cool. It is admittedly a little annoying that the marketing departments involved decided to spread all 22 trumps across two separate game releases, and that I would have had to also purchase Persona 4 Arena Ultimax in order to acquire the entire set, but I appreciate the decision to include such a cool bonus for fans. The cards are surprisingly large as well, almost the size of my hand.
The game itself is impressively amazing. It’s a spin-off game of both Persona 3 and 4 in which both casts meet and interact somehow, which seriously sounds like the premise of some terrible fanfiction, so I was expecting the fanserviest fanservice that had ever fanserviced instead of a new, awesome, standalone entry in the Persona series, but I was only about 33% correct. Yes, the game is a vehicle for fanservice, and the interactions between the characters will make absolutely no sense if you haven’t played both Persona 3 and 4 and remember the events pretty clearly, but underpinning the fanservice is an unexpectedly excellent and satisfyingly complex set of game mechanics.
Remember Etrian Odyssey, that strange first-person map-drawing dungeon-crawler? I wrote a review of the demo of one of the later games in the franchise where I said that I found the mapmaking surprisingly fun, but that the plot didn’t seem interesting enough to keep me drawing maps for upwards of 30 hours. Well, apparently if you throw some Persona characters in an Etrian Odyssey game, that is what will keep me drawing maps for as long as you would like me to draw maps. Because damn, I am really enjoying drawing maps while Akihiko bickers with Shinjiro about protein powder.
Atlus is shamelessly ripping off their own IP in this spinoff, and I don’t really care, because the result is so damn fun to play. I get to explore dungeons and make maps, and also fight Shadows and fuse Personas? Fuck yes, sign me up! The combat is standard Persona 3 and 4 fare – exploit your enemies’ weaknesses, gain bonuses, kick ass, wash/rinse/repeat – but combined with the exploration aspects, it somehow seems fresher. In a poorly-rationalized twist (it has something to do with faaaate), the Protagonist no longer can swap his Persona out at will; instead, the entire cast can equip “sub” personas that can be equipped like any other accessory. These sub Personas provide stat bonuses and allow the use of more skills, and they level up independently of that character’s “main” Persona. It’s a new way to use an old mechanic, and I appreciate the variation.
Lastly, the game is gorgeous. Modern Persona games ooze with cell-shaded, pop-manga stylishness, and this one is no exception. Everything – the storefronts, the dialogue boxes, the menu screens – is colorful and aesthetically pleasing. It’s almost more impressive because the game easily looks as good as its PS2 and 3 counterparts, and it’s sitting pretty on the 3DS, a handheld. I will say that the 3D effects are pretty lackluster during dialogue and shopping portions of the game (the backgrounds look weirdly blurry, and the character models seem to almost sink into the backgrounds instead of popping out like you’d expect them to), but the 3D is excellent in the first-person dungeon crawling and the battles. I’ve only been in the first dungeon so far, but it looks amazing, like a living, three-dimensional popup book designed by Dave McKean.
This game is absolutely a must if you’re a Persona fan. If not, well, I think the gameplay can stand on its own, but the plot and dialogue might be confusing enough to be downright alienating for someone who’s never before touched a Persona game.
I’ve been wanting to play Xenoblade Chronicles for some time. I loved Xenogears, its weird, ponderous, pretentious-but-amazing PS1 spiritual predecessor, although I haven’t played any of the Xenosaga games. I was super excited when Nintendo published Chronicles and localized it for North America, but I kept pushing off playing it because I wanted to finish Skyward Sword first. Well, I still haven’t finished Skyward Sword, so sue me, but I’m glad I started playing this game!
Xenoblade Chronicles is a cutscene-heavy sci-fi action JRPG, which is about what I was expecting from director Tetsuya Takahashi. The game is set in a strange world where the Homs (humans) and other organic life forms live on the back of a mindblowingly huge titan named Bionis. Apparently, Bionis is eternally locked in struggle with a mechanical titan of equal size and strength named Mechonis, and his evil, robot children like to fly over to Bionis and murder its inhabitants. The Homs live in technologically-advanced “colonies,” though, so I’m betting they’re secretly from spaaaaace. That also seems a safe bet because that seems like a bit of a thing for game director Takahashi.
The battle system is a combo-driven mashup of menus and MMO-style skill cooldowns. It took me about an hour to figure out what the hell I was doing in combat, because the help windows that pop up to explain what’s going aren’t very good at doing their job, but once I finally figured out that pink abilities make enemies susceptible to being “toppled,” and green abilities make the enemies “topple,” and once they’re toppled, you can really fuck them up good (similar to how enemies must be “staggered” to make any progress against them in the FFXIII games), I started having a blast. The battles are quick, satisfying, and strategic, because the placement of your character in relationship to the monster you are attacking is important to ensure your abilities do the most possible damage. You can switch between different characters in your party, and the AI does a pretty excellent job of fighting with the members that you aren’t directly controlling.
The voice cast is really solid (and apparently includes Jenna Coleman of Doctor Who fame, although her character has not yet been introduced), and the music is amazing. Like really amazing. Takahashi apparently hired a crew of six different composers, and damn, did they ever do their jobs! I would listen to this battle music all day. It sounds like The Black Mages covering all the best bits from the soundtrack of Star Ocean: Til the End of Time. It’s so good. I really cannot express to you in words its amazing, rocking, majesty, so have a listen.
Do you hear that shit? Electric guitars, driving beats, and trumpets? Hell yes, this is the level to which all JRPG soundtracks should aspire.
The game looks pretty good for a Wii game. It’s very nostalgic, honestly, in a way that hearkens back to the very best RPGs of the PS2 era. My only issue with the game so far is its impossible and irritating world map. I have a lot of trouble navigating with the stupid thing, and its marks for the sidequests are really difficult to read.
This could have something to do with the fact that I have my Wii hooked up to a CRT-TV rather than an HDTV, but I really just feel like the side quest markers are usually vague approximations at best.
I was also very grumpy that the single female member of the party gets fridged about three hours in so that Shulk, the protagonist, can get all moody about it and swear revenge on the evil, heartless robots.
I really liked Fiora, and it was pretty badass to see her charge a giant robotic overlord in a robot tank, but I would have liked continuing to have her in my party so I could play as her for the rest of the game even more. Oh well, I’m pretty sure Shulk recruits more ladies later on, but still. Why does it always have to be the girl that gets Aerithed?
So, all in all, a very successful Black Friday was had by all. What’s the coolest gamer thing you got on Black Friday?