Wednesday 31 May 2017

Why There's A Place for Silly JRPGs

Last year, I tried a few JRPGs in my backlog I had been really excited for, such as Fire Emblem: Awakening and Lost Dimension. I really enjoyed both of these games, but they both had stories that were predominately serious and after playing them back-to-back, I found myself in a weird place where I briefly wondered if I needed a break from JRPGs because the stories were feeling so heavy. But if course, the answer turned out to be no, as after playing a very silly JRPG in the form of Sorcery Saga: the Curse of the Great Curry God, I'm into JRPGs more than ever, with my love of JRPG silliness fully tended to. Silly JRPGs often get a lot of flack from well-meaning JRPG fans that think they're a trashy part of the genre and I understand they're not for everyone. Personally, I love these silly and sometimes trashy JRPGs for a break between and during serious games or for when I want to laugh while still playing game mechanics I like.
My first silly JRPG experience was probably Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection (Technically it's not JRPG, rather an Idol Simulation game, but it's in the same vain as the main Neptunia series so I count it). I was attracted to it because I'd always had a small interest in trying the Neptunia series because of its gorgeous anime cover art and the Idol premise in Producing Perfection pushed me over the edge as a fan of pop music. I spent a pleasant few hours in my first playthrough with Neptune and was completely charmed by her love of pudding and refusal to take anything seriously. I was so charmed by her I played through each other character's story as well and found myself giggling and just feeling happy while playing this carefree Idol game. I'd always played serious games with a hint of humour, so having the humour portion outweighing the serious was a completely new experience and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
I found the same light-hearted feeling when I tried Sorcery Saga: the Curry of the Great Curry God last year. I was really excited for Sorcery Saga because along with being humourous, it was a proper RPG. In terms of being delightfully ridiculous while being a good gaming experience, it didn't fail to deliver. I was hunting around a fantasy world desperately looking for curry ingredients that were centuries old with my strange everything eating pink thing named Kuu and was constantly bombarded with silliness from every side character in the game, including but not limited to a group of heroes named after food, a Prince that falls in love with almost every woman he sees and his poor wife. Best of all, I was getting this beside a fairly familiar gameplay experience, which allowed me to have fun while also feeling at home.
Outside of full silly JRPG experiences, silly moments can also be a great way to break up the heaviness in a JRPG and humanise otherwise very serious characters. One of my recent favourite characters is Ignis from Final Fantasy XV and I don't know if he would be if there hadn’t been the more lighthearted moments with the group. Imagining Ignis without the recipes and sarcastic humour is pretty sad as they're what make him so likeable and made him feel much more relatable when heavy story moments hit. This kind of silliness has made many of my favourite characters feel much more relatable and the fact that so many JRPG series embrace this is one the things that make me love JRPGs above all other games.
Whether it's in a royal quest or a search for legendary curry, silliness is a great thing that has been embraced in the JRPG genre and it's great that there are games that embrace this in big and small ways. I probably love deep stories more than silly JRPGs, but I hope to try more silly games such as Senran Kagura and Cyberdimension Neptunia for more laughs mixed in with my JRPG fun. Some people may brush these silly games aside, but for me they’re a strange part of what makes the JRPG genre special.

What's your favourite silly JRPG? Do you prefer your JRPGs to be more serious or silly?
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Friday 26 May 2017

The PS4 Is Finally Becoming a Worthy JRPG Machine

I remember getting my PS4 at launch in late 2013, ready to play games like Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3, thinking I would need a PS4 ASAP for their eventual but surely not far off releases. My PS4 was in my home all 2014, but other than the new toy hype and one week playing Child of Light, it was barely used and I found some concern creeping in, as my PS Vita and even my PS3 at the time were getting much more use. The PS4 begun with a lack of JRPG support, with big JRPGs like the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster originally coming to PS3 and not PS4 initially (thankfully, it’s on all current gen PS4 consoles now). Fast forward to now and I’ve only played one of the two games that were my system sellers for the PS4, but I’ve found myself able to keep my PS4 plugged in much more consistently since last year and it has finally become my preferred home console. Here’s a look back at the PS4's journey into not only being a console for the players, but for the JRPG players too.

(For simplicity, I'm only covering JRPGs released in the west for this post)

Launch Lineup
The contrast between the PS4’s lineup now and then is very evident in PS4’s launch lineup, as well as my initial struggle to find JRPGs on it to play. There were no JRPGs at launch, leaving a JRPG lover like myself a little at a loss. I had some fun with non-JRPGs such as Resogun and Contrast in the first month of the PS4s release, but there was a bit of playing PS4 only because it was my new PS4, rather than for a game I was really keen on. And yes, part of this is my own fault for deciding to jump on the PS4 train for games without solid release dates and I have certainly learnt my lesson (in saying that, you put the words new Final Fantasy and new Kingdom Hearts in a new console game lineup and I’ll probably be interested in your console). Regardless, the launch lineup for the PS4 isn't all it had to offer and things did slowly begin to look up throughout the console's life.

2014 was fairly light on JRPGs on the PS4. In fact, I only played one, Child of Light, which isn’t even from a Japanese developer but was, regardless of origin, a magical JRPG experience. Many people would agree that Child of Light was unique take on the JRPG genre with gorgeous and poetic story-telling and was the first game that felt like what I was looking for on the console. It’s not the longest game in the world, but it was a worthy start to seeing JRPGs on the PS4, even if I spent way more time playing JRPGs on my Vita in 2014 and didn’t touch the other JRPG, Natural Doctrine, that released later that year.

JRPGs were still a little on the light side in 2015, although things were starting to pick up compared to the first ones. A few JRPGs such as Disgaea 5, Final Fantasy Type-0, Dragon Quest Heroes and Omega Quintet were all released in 2015 and while that year featured a little more or less than enough JRPGs to count on one hand, welcoming two bigger JRPG series such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest to the PS4 gave me a bit of hope for my beloved high-tech black box of developing dust. For me, I still didn’t find myself using my PS4 much, although I did pick up Omega Quintet when it came out in Japanese, but didn’t really play it much due to the language barrier. But having some big JRPG series and a few quirkier ones seemed a step closer to the PS4 I wanted, even if it was still taking awhile to get there.

Early 2016, I plugged my PS4 into my TV for the first time in awhile and played a JRPG experience that made me fall a little in love with my PS4: Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth. It was the deep JRPG experience I was looking for on PS4 and probably my first consecutive 50+ hours with the console. 2016 was when things really started looking up with the release of some of my new favourite JRPGs such as World of Final Fantasy (my game of the year last year) and Final Fantasy XV, alongside other JRPGs on PS4 I missed like I Am Setsuna and the remaster of Valkyria Chronicles. 2016 had over 10 JRPGs for the PS4, pretty much doubling the PS4s JRPG lineup and paving the way for a fantastic 2017.

Along with ending the long running hype train for Persona 5 this year, the first half of 2017 has been pretty fantastic for JRPG fans and I still feel a lot of joy seeing some current games media articles with titles saying ‘JRPGs are making a comeback’. There's been Persona 5, NieR Automata and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 HD this year so far, Final Fantasy XV will be getting extra episodes and later this year Final Fantasy XII will be released in remastered form for the PS4, along with any unannounced JRPGs that will may or may not appear on the system later this year. The best part of the major JRPG releases so far this year is that it has seen more high quality JRPGs appear on the system, with NieR and Persona 5 currently having a lot of buzz and curiosity, giving JRPGs a prominent home on the PS4. If you're a JRPG fan, at this point in the PS4’s life there is probably something for you, with tactical, action and turn-based JRPGs all having some kind of home on the system now.

The PS4 is in its fourth year as a current gen console and is finally looking like a worthwhile console for JRPG fans. And the future continues to look bright for JRPGs on the console, with a Final Fantasy VII Remake in the works, another great looking Digimon game coming out next year and Kingdom Hearts 3 still being in the works (that will hopefully be a standout JRPG on the system). The PS4 has become the console I wanted it to be when I bought it - one with high quality JRPG experiences that are better than the ones I played on PS3 and the home of sequels to some of my all-time favourites. Despite having many PS3 games in my backlog, I’m having such a good time with my PS4 these days I’m reluctant to unplug it and I’m honestly glad the great experiences available on PS4 have finally made me feel that way about my late 2013 console purchase.

What's your favourite JRPG on the PS4? And what made you/would make you buy a PS4? (game, feature or otherwise!)
Leave a comment below, send me a tweet at @JRPGJungle, hit me up on FacebookYoutube or Instagram and let's talk!

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Friday 19 May 2017

Review: Persona 5 (PS4, PS3)

With Persona 4 being so important to me, it’s no exaggeration when I say I had sky high hopes for Persona 5. Persona 5’s long and rewarding journey definitely managed to pass and even exceed my expectations, with a deep JRPG story that stole my heart thanks to a masterful balance between deep gameplay mechanics and the rich narrative being the best the Persona series has seen yet. If you’re like me and missed balancing school life, rich dungeon crawling, a great JRPG story and fulfilling relationships on an in-game day-to-day basis, Persona 5 has all of this in a stylish 100+ hour experience that is a standout entry in the series and in the JRPG genre.

Persona 5 begins in typical Persona fashion. Between strange dreams about Velvet Rooms and being granted special powers, you’re a transfer student entering a new town ready to start your new life and not get in too much trouble, especially since you're on probation. This is until it comes to light that a bunch of important individuals in Tokyo are corrupt and as part of the special powers granted, you’re required to partake in a rehabilitation that tasks you with removing their distorted desires by stealing them directly from their hearts. After discovering other worlds in the form of Palaces on the way to school, finding out how to use them for your goal and meeting a talking cat, it's time to become an after school Phantom Thief and change hearts by conquering dungeons with your friends. Yes it's a pretty outlandish premise, but detailed story-telling makes it a gripping tale that kept my attention for the entire journey.
The unique premise is brought to life by Persona 5’s wonderful cast of characters that are all outcasts in their own way. Each character has their own perspective and personality, such as the quirky artist Yusuke or the kind but feisty student council president Makoto, and thanks to each character's own hardships their motivations are very easy to get behind. Even comical and potentially trope-y characters such as Ryuji have shining moments that add depth to their archetype and while I loved the characters in Persona 4, the depth of Persona 5’s made me connect to the group instantly.

It’s great Persona 5’s cast is so good, as a big part of Persona is spending time with your friends and raising your Confidant relationship rank with them. The social mechanic from previous Persona games is updated to give much more benefit than just a little boost in Persona strength; Confidants provide skills that help the protagonist in his journey inside and outside of dungeons, skills so useful that they’re essential to using your time in Persona 5 wisely. These skills introduce a layer of multi-tasking to Persona 5, as you can get your friends to do things for you, such as grow SP restoring items or make lockpicks for treasure chests while you run around the buzzing city of Shibuya doing other things to aid your journey as a Phantom Thief. It’s an appropriate step up for Persona’s already engaging time management aspect, and heightened the experience I love about Persona of trying to make the best of it’s large, yet limited amount of in-game days.
Persona 5 isn't just full of social mechanics though. There are more day to day activities than ever to partake in when you’re not busy conquering dungeons in the journey to make the protagonist a better person by raising social stats such as his guts, knowledge and charisma. In the quest to raise your social stats that affect what you can do in daily life, you have many choices such as going to Shibuya and going to cafes to raise your knowledge or charm or eating big burgers to raise your guts. You can see movies about love to raise your kindness or go home and play a challenging video game to raise your proficiency (yep. Meta). The balance of dungeon crawling and everyday life is a big part of Persona 5 and with so many things to do and people to see, the choice of saving the world today or tomorrow is a bit more difficult, but all the more fun to think about.

All of Persona 5’s fun social mechanics come together when using their benefits while dungeon crawling to steal hearts and fix the world. Persona 5’s dungeons are a little different to previous Persona games, with Persona 5’s use of set story dungeon layouts as opposed to the randomized ones of the past working well to making the overall experience more interesting and also make it better for storytelling. Instead of just making more complex dungeons, Persona 5 adds in platforming, puzzles and even a few stealth elements to make things more complex. It succeeds, with combinations of these elements making no two dungeons feel the same. The addition of these elements make Persona 5’s dungeons reflect its stylish nature and make it one of the most interesting dungeon crawling experiences I’ve ever had. I found myself in awe on multiple occasions by some of the challenges I faced, whether it be putting together a picture puzzle of an important plot point or switching between being human or mouse to get through an intricate area. Working them out felt interesting and rewarding, on top of destroying shadows in battle.

Speaking of battles, Persona 5 doesn’t stray too far from the battle system featured in Persona 4, but it does make it more polished and adds in a few things from old Persona games to make it the series’ best yet. A bunch of nice shortcuts have been added to help you choose between using your Persona or attacking directly really easily, along with the incredibly convenient assist button that automatically chooses the best attack to hit an enemy’s weakness if you have it. The most interesting addition to battle is the Demon Negotiation, which allows you to do talk to demons to get items or money or even make them join your own roster of Personas. While it can be pretty hard to tell what will make each particular Persona happy, it ends up being an amusing little trial and error game to break up turns in battle. Whether it be asking for money or suggesting a knife game to a cute Pixie to try make her join your team, the Demon Negotiation is a touch that suits the Phantom Thief motif, adds what feels like a monster collecting mechanic and is a cool throwback to past Persona games and its Shin Megami Tensei roots. Partnered with a polished version of its usual battle system, Persona 5 is the best of old and new.
Adding to the running theme of Persona 5 improving on all important aspects of Persona, the Velvet Room has also been improved with little things that makes fusing Personas easier. The Fuse By Persona option allows you to sort by Arcana or Level and scroll down the list of Personas you want to create, as opposed to showing a bunch together and checking the results before committing. It sounds small, but it speeds up the process of Persona fusion a lot and just feels much simpler, even though there are so many Persona possibilities. Also added are a bunch of new things you can make and do with Personas. They unlock slowly throughout Persona 5, so I don’t want to say too much, but there are ways to get items and even some network features in there that add more choice to what you can do with your Personas and with so many Personas to collect, it’s cool to have the option to do more with them.
While Persona 5 is full of big changes in its dungeons and good small quality of life upgrades in other mechanics, it also adds plenty of small details that make the experience just that little bit cooler. I got so many kicks out of getting my protagonist to watch a movie and hearing the little pieces of dialogue, putting into button combinations while I made him play video games and choosing which type of person I wanted to talk to at one of his part time jobs. It’s these kinds of small details partnered with the changes to some of my favourite features that reminded me why I fell in love with Persona - it connects so well with me on so many levels and these little features made this all the more stronger. These details are heightened further by a fun jazz infused soundtrack and strong voice acting throughout. There is thought and love put into every small aspect of Persona 5 and it really makes the experience shine.

I only left Persona 5 with one small gripe and it’s that the transition from PS Vita to home console isn’t a perfect one when you factor in save points. There were plenty of long dialogue moments that were hard for me to witness in full in one sitting if I was playing just before work or sleeping, and I found myself putting my console into rest mode so I could resume from where I left off more often that I'd have liked to. In saying this, it’s also something I can see effort was put into making better, with players being able to save anywhere on the streets of Tokyo most of the times and a mostly good amount of Safe Rooms to save in during dungeons. The lack of save points in long cutscenes is something I don’t know how they could fix, as littering cutscenes with save spots would probably be annoying, but it’s a problem I never had with the Vita version of previous Personas. However, between better graphics, decently fast load times and gorgeous anime and in-game cutscenes, Persona 5 does sit pretty well on the PS4 (and the PS3 version has okay load times too from memory) and in the end, the slick experience fits pretty damn well enough on a current gen console.
Persona 5 may not have released on Valentine’s Day as it planned to, but it definitely stole my heart with it’s deep JRPG gameplay and characters worth spending over 100 hours with. I really enjoyed running around Shibuya and choosing what I wanted to do, whether it be running through the interesting dungeons or making meaningful relationships with complex characters. Persona 5 manages to improve on its already great JRPG battle system and its tried and true gameplay formula. What it adds to the experience in new mechanics only heightens it, with it being the most polished Persona game and JRPG of recent times. I’m already itching to go back and see where different dialogue choices will take me, and it’s addictive high school dungeon crawling lifestyle was well, well worth the wait and is a must for any JRPG fan looking for a long fulfilling experience.

Score: 9.8/10
A highly worthy Phantom Time Thief that is a must-play for big fans of JRPGs and Persona.

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What did you think of Persona 5?
What was your favourite thing about it? (If you can think of just one...I can't narrow it down!)

Leave a comment below, send me a tweet at @JRPGJungle, hit me up on FacebookYoutube or Instagram and let's talk!

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Wednesday 10 May 2017

Games That Changed My Life: Final Fantasy X

A long time ago, I wrote about how much Persona 4 Golden changed my life. Even now, it's still one of the most significant JRPGs I've ever played and I can safely say if I hadn't played it when I did, I don't know if I'd be making JRPG content at all. But before Persona 4 Golden, there was another JRPG that struck a chord in me that made me realise video games were much more than just finding gems and beating up bad guys. That game was Final Fantasy X. I've probably mentioned on here before many reasons why Final Fantasy X is so important to me, but I don't think I've dedicated an entire post to it. My journey with Final Fantasy X is significant enough to get its own post, as my first story-driven JRPG, my first video game addiction and the first one that moved me.
I discovered Final Fantasy X when I was around my early teens at a friend’s house. A slightly older friend was playing it and it was one of the prettiest games I'd ever seen. As someone who had mostly played kids games like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, the world of super detailed graphics and tons of voice-acted cutscenes was pretty much new to me. Partnered with the big summons and overdrives making it visually stunning at the time, Final Fantasy X was probably the closest I'll ever get to love at first sight. I had to convince my parents (who would've preferred me to play a game that wasn't M15+ in Australia) to get it for me and thankfully thanks to the lack of blood and gore, I was allowed to play it and only got in trouble when Yunalesca showed up on screen (and I'll never like her because of that).

Whether it was the graphics, the deep story or the turn-based mechanics, I instantly adored Final Fantasy X. In fact since I was so young and impressionable at the time, I'm probably not exaggerating when I say I loved everything about it. It was different to everything I'd experienced in video games. I was connected to the characters on a whole new level, with Tidus’ outbursts catering well to the angsty teen in me and the story covering romance, life, death and friendship was what I never knew I wanted from a game. It was like a movie, except it felt like I had some control over where it went. Most of all, the characters taught me some weirdly good life lessons, such as laughing when things are hard or not just accepting bad situations. I didn't know at the time, but I'm pretty sure these things subconsciously influenced some of my high school and ultimately life decisions as there are things and values in Final Fantasy X that are still important to me now.
Final Fantasy X also was the perfect thing to set my developing completionist tendencies on fire. I'd already completed all the Spyro games to completion, but I found doing quests and finding extras in Final Fantasy X much more rewarding since completing things had the potential to reveal more cutscenes and more story. I still haven't completed Final Fantasy X 100% to this day, but the amount of things to complete and do in Final Fantasy X will probably always impress me and I know I've spent hundreds of hours trying to do them all.

Other than helping me become the completionist I am now, it was my first story-driven JRPG. If it wasn’t for Final Fantasy X, I wonder when, or even if, I would love the Final Fantasy series, which is almost strange to think about with my current Final Fantasy XV addiction. And without my love of turn-based JRPGs, would I have even been interested in Persona 4 Golden or even knew that it existed? JRPGs are such a big part of me now, so I'll always be grateful for Final Fantasy X starting my love for them.
Final Fantasy X was a standout game for its time and will always be a standout game to me. Falling in love with its world and characters are some of my fondest gaming memories and my love of it drove me to my love of Final Fantasy, which led me well down the path into JRPGs being one of my favourite things ever. It put me on the path to being a JRPG fan and for that, I'm forever grateful and can safely say that Final Fantasy X definitely changed my life.

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What JRPGs have changed your life? Which Final Fantasy game was most significant to you?
Leave a comment below, send me a tweet at @JRPGJungle, hit me up on FacebookYoutube or Instagram and let's talk!

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Monday 8 May 2017

The Story of How Map Markers Ruined Me

When playing Persona 2 and Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD recently, I noticed I felt a little lost. Not in a deep, emotional way or anything, but much more literally, at least in my gaming life. Both Kingdom Hearts and Persona 2 are over 15 years old (let that sink in) and in these 15 years, there are certain things I've apparently come to expect need in what I play. Aside from the beautiful graphics and smarter UIs found in modern video games, there's a little tiny thing I'm lost without - map markers and map points. It's exactly what it sounds like: I am saying that among the many fantastic JRPGs I was catching up on that I missed or hadn't played for a long time, before noticing how wonderful the story is or how good or bad some of the pixel art is, my biggest problem becomes how lost I find myself navigating these old worlds.
It's important to mention that I don't usually blame the older games I'm playing for this. While yes, the older games could have put in more or better maps and could have made their destinations clearer, and in some cases there's but a small hint about where I need to go. But this was much more normal in those older games because the current standard of ‘spell everything out to the player’ wasn't there. Games could be much more subtle and could hint at destinations rather than just plunking a marker on a map. When I played Kingdom Hearts as a kid and was in the Jungle and it asked me to find and save someone, I happily ran around until I found them, no matter how long it took. I accepted it all as part of the task. Now when that happens, I start to feel a weird frustration, like the game is wasting my time. When I actually think about it, if I was the actual protagonist inside the game, I wouldn't have a little map marker showing me around. Protagonists may follow a map in some games, but in a map-free experience like Kingdom Hearts, the player is exploring and finding things just like Sora would and there's nothing wrong with that. So why do I feel frustrated?

The root of my frustration most likely comes the large amount of games nowadays that feature comprehensive maps or are criticised if they don't have them, a sentiment I can understand. There are so many games to choose from nowadays that if it's between two similar story games with varying ease of navigation levels, it's logical to pick what's going to get to the story and gameplay paid for rather than just running in a circle. And with open worlds becoming more and more common, it's rare for a quest not to include a map point to run to because that circle running is a quick way to lose the gamer retention an open world provides.
Although I can't navigate my way out of a paper bag without a map point or marker, I kind of understand why things have to be like this and why map markers and good maps in general are a very important part of making a world as engaging as possible. My free time, like most people's, is limited and map markers get me from A to B much more easily than I could more by myself. While it's a small bummer that it's now highly novel I explore an open world without a map point and I'm destined to find myself running in circles every time I play an older game, I understand the games are just trying to keep things interesting.


Are there any troubles that you have when playing older games? Can you live your JRPG life without a map marker?
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Friday 5 May 2017

Persona 5's Confidants and Unlockable Mechanics (#JRPGAppreciaton)

One of the first things that stood out to me about Persona 5 when I tried to play it in Japanese last year was the way that gameplay mechanics kept unlocking, even 40 hours in. Playing the English version now, I'm still having the same experience five dungeons in, thanks to the Confidant system in Persona 5. This constant unlocking of new mechanics keeps gameplay varied and gives more benefits than just interesting conversations and Persona EXP for spending time with NPCs, and it manages Persona 5’s depth well. It's one of the many things that keeps Persona 5 deep in its JRPG roots, with the polished gameplay Persona fans know and love.