Tag Archives: Persona

Best of 2017

It’s been a while since I played enough games to populate a top ten, so let’s follow last year and stick with the top three.

2017 was arguably the best year for games in a while, with a number of early contenders that would likely have made the list, had I played them. Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey have ensured me a good time whenever I buy a Switch, getting me more excited about Nintendo games than I’ve been since the N64. Surprise critical successes like Nioh and Nier Automata intrigued. Resident Evil VII proved the series’ versatility with another complete overhaul that went over well. Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Assassin’s Creed Origins confounded my expectations by doing the over-designed open-world thing well. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is also likely to grab me just as firmly as its predecessor.

The above would almost be enough to populate an impressive top ten on their own, but alas, I didn’t play them. Oh well.

There are, though, a couple of honourable mentions for games that I did play but didn’t make the top three. First is the 3DS Dragon Quest VIII remake, which did a good job of transferring a rather immense PS2 game to the handheld with surprisingly few compromises, and saw me through a couple of long flights. Then there’s Monument Valley 2, an excellent sequel to one of my favourite phone-based Escher-like mind-benders. Both are firm recommendations for anyone with time to kill and a handheld gaming system on their person.

3) Sonic Mania

A remarkable revival for a series that I don’t think has been worth writing about since the Dreamcast, and arguably not truly great since Sonic 3. Sonic Mania reminds me of something like Shovel Knight, in that it echoes a familiar classic gaming staple without being completely beholden to it – it’s how you remember the Mega Drive games looking, even if it’s technically far beyond what that hardware was capable of. I had a wonderful time playing it, feeling transported back to those early 90s stolen moments on my brother’s Mega Drive.

It’s easy to make fun of Sonic’s true believers, but maybe, after seeing how completely Christian Whitehead blew away expectations, the fans were right all along.

And maybe, if Sega had done something like this on the Saturn, things would be different now…

2) Metroid: Samus Returns

I’m slightly baffled by the fact that, after such a long, notable absence for Metroid in the N64 era – there were eight years between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime – it’s now been even longer since the last proper one. How many best game ever contenders does Samus have to star in to guarantee herself a regular appearance outside Smash Bros?

An enhanced remake of the second game, coming a mere 13 years after the enhanced remake of the first game (the pattern continues!) will have to do. MercurySteam – a strange choice of developer for this one, it must be said – put out a beautiful game, with understated stereoscopic effects adding much-needed visual flair to the most neglected game in the series, left to languish for too long in monochrome. While I’ll admit that the melee counterattack system hurts the pacing, discouraging fast traversal and otherwise turning many enemies into annoying bullet sponges, that Metroid magic was there, reminding me why Super Metroid remains my favourite game ever made.

I’d dearly love an entirely new instalment in this style, but if that’s not on the cards, the obvious next step is a similar remake of Super Metroid, which would make me fucking ecstatic. See you in 2030, then!

1) Persona 5

It was a safe bet to make the list after the last two games clicked so solidly with me, and here it is. I loved this game. The slick presentation and the music deserve mention, of course. The juxtaposition of carefree leisure time with really quite dark undercurrents was brave and amused me, too. But my most heartfelt praise goes to Atlus for demoting the random dungeon-crawling to a side quest in favour of properly designed, non-random dungeons, fixing my single biggest criticism of Personas 3 and 4.

Part of me misses the small town Japan feeling of Persona 4, which itself evoked the small town Japan feeling of Shenmue, but at the same time, this game’s setting in the middle of Tokyo has earned it a special place in my heart. My time with it bookended last year’s trip to Japan, meaning I visited many of the places I’d been spending time at in the game, lending a special weight of nostalgia to the memories of Persona 5. As the J-pop beats of Ouendan defined my holiday in 2005, then, so this will do for one of the best times of my life.

I Love Atlus

Independent publishers are something of a rarity these days, what with them generally either going under or being absorbed into one of the big guys, and some are better than others. This is a love letter to one in particular, which has constantly impressed me over the last few years and doesn’t seem to get nearly enough credit.


I’ve steadily built up a library of RPGs from Atlus over the past couple of generations, mainly in the Shin Megami Tensei series, and they’re universally excellent, challenging and fun, and the publisher is one of the best in the world when it comes to quality of its translations. Taking the very Japanese Persona series as an example, they were lovingly translated while keeping the original spirit without being obtrusive (1UP has a good interview on the methodology behind the localisation of Persona 4 here) and given great dubs, which could only really have been improved by the inclusion of the original voiceovers.

Also, special editions, limited editions, whatever you call them, most publishers’ are usually neither. Atlus’s, on the other hand, are frequently both. A soundtrack CD is the least that can be expected, up to lavish art books, guides, slipcases, and the rest. It’s a good reason to be cynical about £10 extra for a tin and download code, and it takes something special from anyone else for me to care any more. Only the late Working Designs was better for its treatment of obscure games.

And given that these editions are actually limited, they’re invariably good investments. The Demon’s Souls Deluxe Edition only came out in October and is already comfortably topping £150 on eBay. And while I might suspect certain studios of holding back copies of their out-of-print games and leaking them onto auction websites when they’re selling for hundreds – I have no evidence to support that accusation, I hasten to add – Atlus isn’t averse to running normal-price reprints of its rarest games. It might disappoint the hawks on eBay, but it’s a nice feeling to get a brand new sealed copy of a rare game like Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne or Digital Devil Saga – both superb, by the way – without paying over the odds for them.

The brilliant Demon’s Souls currently has me in thrall – seriously, either import it or hope for a European release – and I’ll be rekindling my relationship with the Persona series now that Persona 3 Portable is confirmed for an English-language bow. I make no secret of the fact that prefer RPGs on a portable system and so that represents my best chance to actually put in the 100-odd hours required to finish it. Port the superior Persona 4 and I’ll be yours forever.

Atlus is part of a rare breed these days, not only as a Japanese company that’s successfully doing its thing on the current generation but as a studio that treats its games and its fans right. How many of those are there? Valve maybe? This is one endangered species that I’d love to keep around.

2008’s Honourable Mentions

Not every game can be as good as Fallout, and indeed there are many excellent games from last year that I didn’t like as much as Mirror’s Edge at number ten but still deserve a mention, so here are a few more games from 2008, in no particular order, that fell short of making the main list but still deserve a mention.

  • Lost Odyssey – It was going to be between this and the game below for tenth spot on the list until Mirror’s Edge stormed in on Christmas Day and pipped them both. As one of the few JRPGs not to have disappointed this gen – I won’t play the well-received Tales of Vesperia until its PAL release – I found this to have likeable characters, an interesting story, and yes: some nice towns too.
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village – When this became the surprise hit of the end of the year, it was well-deserved. It’s teasingly close to being a point-and-click adventure, it has a charming art style that looks like French animation, and Level-5 even managed to cram FMV cut-scenes in there to further the story. It helps, of course, that the puzzles and brainteasers are uniformly excellent and just the kind of thing to play on a handheld. Wait until the price has normalised and then give it a look.
  • Dead Space – It may be hard to describe this game in any terms other than its plainly obvious inspirations – Alien’s Nostromo with a dash of Doom 3 and a liberal sprinkling of Event Horizon, all topped with Resident Evil 4’s controls – but it’s still a highly satisfying and actually quite scary horror game. The companion animated movie is worth a rental as well.
  • Rock Band 2 – As I hadn’t bought a music game since Guitar Hero II, Rock Band 2 was my attempt to see how far things had come in the intervening generation of plastic instrument-based room-clutterers. Not all that far from the perspective of someone who only plays the guitar, but the boom in à la carte downloadable songs and the sheer amount of music that’s now on my hard drive to choose from makes it pretty irresistible. It makes you feel like a rock star and fulfils all similar clichéd review quotes, and I’d imagine it’s even better with the room for a set of drums.
  • Geometry Wars 2 – Pretenders be damned, this is the only twin-stick shooter to play. Take the successful gameplay of the first one and give it six more modes and some brilliant music and you won’t find many deals that are as obviously worth getting as that. Played on a big 1080p TV with surround sound, it may well give you a seizure, but you’ll have to agree that it’s worth it.
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – The degree to which I still love Street Fighter II has already inspired its own post, and this has made the other versions irrelevant. Looks great, plays well online, the balance tweaks are enough to actually improve things while not being sweeping enough to rile the hardcore, and if you disagree with any of those comments you can turn off whatever it might be that’s offending you. I don’t have a bad word to say about it, and it only didn’t make the final list because… well… no matter how good the game is, it’s still Street Fighter II again. Roll on February.
  • Persona 3 FES – This would have been in with a shout if I hadn’t played and preferred its sequel in the same year, but it’s still worth a look for its sufficiently different setting and tone. It’s also available for a pretty good price by now, so it could be one to bear in mind for when you’ve finished all your Christmas goodies.
  • Rolando – ‘An iPhone game!?’ you say? Yep. I liked LocoRoco a lot when that came out, and this is pretty blatantly ‘inspired by’ that game but with the benefit of what the PSP game lacked: tilt controls. It’s unfair to call it a clone, though, as it has a lot more gameplay variety and more creative level design, all designed from the ground up to take advantage of the iPhone’s particular gifts, and I might well end up making a case for it with its own post before too long. In the meantime, if you have an iPhone or iPod touch and are looking for a game with some meat to it, it’s only £5.99 and bodes well for the future of dedicated iPhone development.

I think that’s enough looking back for another year. See you in 12 months for more complaining about the state of [insert genre here].

Best of 2008 #9: Persona 4

Persona 4

Considering that this was the second Persona game that I played in 2008 and that it had to live up to the high standards of its predecessor, the standard that Persona 4 manages to hit is all the more remarkable.

I was pretty much guaranteed to like this one as soon as I saw the small-town Japan setting – I like another game with a similar setting, in case you didn’t know – and although I do indeed like that better than the more anonymous city of Persona 3, there are other reasons why I like this one better. There’s no more shooting oneself in the head to summon demons, but you can’t have everything.

It’s not far removed from P3 in terms of gameplay and structure, but all of its changes are for the better. As well as finally letting me see what a spell does from the menu, finally removing the need to memorise the functions of moves with such descriptive names as Pulinpa or Marakukaja to avoid the potentially harsh punishments for using the wrong one, there’s more variety to the dungeons, better characters, and a fantastic translation.

I mean, somehow the translation team managed to take a cute bear-thing called Teddie, who’s with you throughout and talks in frequent bear puns, and not make the whole thing un-bear-able. Sorry… but it’s still an impressive feat of translation in an already genuinely funny script.

So a round of applause for Atlus, sending out the PS2 with one of its best RPGs and what will surely be – I’m sure that I said this about God of War II and Persona 3, but I actually think it’s true this time – the console’s last truly great game.

Persona 3 FES

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FESMuch as I’d like to, I can’t spend all my time playing GTA IV (16 hours over the long weekend was quite enough), and with the rest of the development world going into hiding until everyone gets bored, I’ve had to turn over a few rocks for something else to play.

So I came to this: the expanded edition of last year’s well-received Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. This is where I put a rant about how it’ll never come out here, but I only just found out that the original game did, in fact, come out in the UK. Still, that doesn’t improve our chances of getting a remix of a game that probably didn’t make it out of four figures in sales. Import is the only way to go if you want FES (pronounced ‘fess’, as it’s short for ‘festival’).

Right, here comes the synopsis. I’ve played some weird games in my time, but this one takes the biscuit. The premise is that there’s a 25th hour to every day called the Dark Hour. Most people are completely unaware of it, as they transmogrify into coffins (seriously) for the duration and return to normal at 12:01 as if nothing has happened. But a select few are able to retain their form and must spend their nights fighting ‘shadows’, demons that emerge from a mysterious labyrinth called Tartarus, which only appears during the Dark Hour. Someone dies or inexplicably becomes catatonic during the night? That’s the shadows getting up to no good with them.

Naturally, your protagonist and some of his school friends are among those with the ability to roam the Dark Hour. They also have the handy ability to control personas – personal demons called forth from their psyche by shooting themselves in the head. Yes, really. Strengthen your personality by day by making friends, having relationships and joining clubs, and it makes your personas and their spells stronger for when you roam the randomly generated 200+ floors of Tartarus, grinding and fighting occasional bosses to build yourself up for monthly story events that occur during the full moon. Continue reading Persona 3 FES