395 Reviews liked by PansyDragoonSaga
new art style sucks and is totally sauceless. even though i dont like the bones of this game (flavorless fantasy writing with a structural twist of the most uninspired order, albeit one that does try to do yu-no style time travel in a jrpg framing, with really uninspired combat) the original portraits genuinely have a majesty to them; heavy on shading, angular, well defined fabrics, really stood out on the original DS. the sprite tiles looked good then and dont suffer now, it is actually very rich in that regard still, but the portraits now serve granblue-filtered sword art online. and the fact that you had to pay to get the old art back as dlc? fucking embarrassing. atlus sucks sometimes. i tried this game like 10 times and it sucks a lil more every time i drop it.
The sunset that permeates throughout 1985 Japan is meant to invoke a sense of nostalgia, and even if you haven’t had any experience in that setting, the invocation of certain well-worn otaku media tropes will encourage a feeling of familiarity. Yet, you’ll never settle into a state of complacency within even the most innocent of scenes. The constant displacement in time forced by the necessary narrative-switching results in this world feeling alien and uncertain. Even within character’s narratives, scenes will play out the exact same way only to diverge midway through, leaving you unsure as to whether this is truly the next in a sequence of events, or some parallel timeline, or maybe even somehow both? Even the tropes that 13 Sentinels deals with are so heavily interconnected and draw from so many different genres, from shoujo romance to psychological horror to historical drama, that results in a rather distinct feel even if one is experienced with otaku media.
You could just forget, indulge in the mindless delicacies like crepes and kaiju movies of bubble-economy Japan without paying to mind just how unnatural capitalist luxuries really are, that our way of life is so far displaced from humanity’s origins. The usage of puzzles during the narratives prevent that, forcing you to be actively thinking about the world you’re presented with and manipulating it for your own progression to demonstrate an understanding of its artificiality. This romanticization of an era of false peace calls into question what it means to truly be forward-thinking for a better society. The convenience of a pre-existing image to base an ideal world on does not negate the many failures that have been proven through history, but the question looms “is it even possible to imagine a realistic post-capitalist society with how deeply entrenched capitalist realism is now?” 13 Sentinels doesn’t have a solid answer, but I’d rather that over pretending that there is an easy answer.
Sweet Pool is a true act of artistry through transgression; it employs a variety of extremely disturbing subject matter depicted by rather visceral means including, but not limited to, sexual assault, torture, self-cutting, cannibalism, and necrophilia, in a manner that is not always mechanically necessary but rather used as means of metaphor for the emotional conflicts of the character. (By the way, consider that your content warning) It’s a game I felt incredibly unclean after playing the fanslation several years ago, and I still felt unclean after playing the official translation a couple years ago. This is not an uplifting game about how it’s okay to be gay, rather this is a validation of the pain and trauma that many queer men have experienced in a way that feels incredibly pointed.
It all starts with the setting, conveniently a Catholic school. The game weaponizes Christian symbolism to represent paranoia; it’s mentioned early in the game that the students don’t actively believe in Christian teachings, but still passively do in a manner that reflects many cultural attitudes of the era: no longer popular to be openly spiteful towards LGBT people, but the hateful words of before are something that is still passively believed by a majority of the population. Indeed, the story of Sodom is constantly invoked throughout the VN as a plot point, as a reminder of what God is often taught as believing about gay people.
Now, the core element of the body horror being “crapping maggots out your butthole” sounds incredibly alienating as a premise, and it is completely by design. Youji’s repeated “cleansings” leave him feeling disgusted by and dissociated from his own body, it’s his “dirty little secret” that he can’t express to others, at which point SP becomes not just a game about men-loving-men and reveals itself to also be a transmasculine narrative. At this point, as a cis man I’m deferring to Vrai Kaiser’s excellent article on the game, specifically the sections “Your Body, the Enemy” and “Diving Deep”. It’s a great article all-around even if I don’t agree with all the points, and I would be remiss if I didn’t concede on at least these well-thought-out points. (https://www.fanbyte.com/features/sweet-pool-best-cronenbergian-erotic-horror-game/)
It’s a good time to bring up the game’s interactive system as well: instead of being presented text choices at branches, you are merely presented with two lights at the corner of the screen representing instinct and reason. There are no words that can help you understand what they necessarily mean in each context. What’s really neat is that selecting exclusively one or the other leads you to the two bad endings belonging to the non-true love interests (more on that in a bit) that are uniquely suited for someone who only adheres to one. Selected only reason? Youji dies in a manner karmically suited to someone who cannot defend his own feelings and compromises himself way too much for the sake of “getting along”. Picked only instinct? Youji goes out in a horrifically passionate flame without any regard for his own self-preservation. These two endings contain the most disgusting content in the entire VN, and yet they work so effectively as pleas to not be like Youji nor his faux-love interests in these scenarios. One ending, the “all reason” ending, has some immensely triggering imagery to me that has managed to haunt me in a way that has lead to being a better person, because I never want to become like that.
So, Youji’s harem isn’t really a harem, so much as a pack of hormone-addled teens that can barely contain their desires to have sex with him and fight over their possessiveness. There’s a conversation to be had about BL’s tendency to overuse sexual assault, but something about SP that causes me to be more lenient is, again, tying back to its unique insight of the lives of gay men. They are all literally the only men-loving men that each other knows, and in particular Youji is the only, well, bottom in the story. I say this not to justify any of the more depraved sexual acts they perform on Youji unwillingly, but rather as an understanding that this is a very extreme metaphorical depiction of the desperation queer men can feel to find a partner, compounded with their hostile environment basically making it a miracle they discovered each other in the first place. They’re all convinced they’re each other’s only chance at being intimately understood and take pretty drastic measures in misguided attempts to assure it.
There’s a lot more I could talk about, such as the recurring theme of the characters being anxious of not living up to their legacies (hint: that’s also a gay-coded thing), the more particular struggles in communication between Youji and his canon love interest Tetsuo, the heart-wrenching true ending that served as a testament to all the gay men who couldn’t live to find their other and the gut-punching credits theme “Miracles May”, a jarringly gentle song performed by Kanako Itou that encourages reflection on what just transpired. For a rather short VN (it can be completed in under 15 hours), it’s so thematically rich and emotionally impactful. If you think you have the stomach for it, please play this game (and with the 18+ patch) for an incredibly introspective and, in my opinion, important piece of LGBT fiction.
P.S. I actually own official GIFT plushes of Youji and Tetsuo. They cost a lot and it's incredibly difficult to find someone even willing to sell them online but the fact I got the pair together was a small miracle in an of itself and I treasure them as my rarest official plushes.
an excellent collection of 'moments' (if you ignore that its pastiche/regressive nostalgia, they're all ripped off whole-sale from past entries in the series, which uniformly executed them better) but a legitimate trainwreck of a narrative built on one flimsy justification after the other. i unfortunately lost a lot of my goodwill and charitability towards the game in the last quarter of this meandering, directionless, and deeply hypocritical/ill-considered work. would rather be playing this over 5 but it's not saying much. ive said it before but AC's base of mechanics are in my wheelhouse entirely, and without very much in the way of improvement or alterations to the formula i'll end up looking to other factors in assessing any given title here but man this was such an exhausting disappointment im not even sure i want to unpack it, i'm not sure it's worth my time. a mess in every single way.
okay maybe there's one thing i want to address. there's a bit in ace combat zero that i love; a faceless and nameless belkan squadron intercepts your sortie. at first, the player is led to believe they are yet more threats to quarrel with, but the squadron instead begins attacking the enemies you had already begun duelling - belkan bombers who intended to bring a fiery end to the war through means of nuclear self-immolation. in keeping with ac0s themes, how you engage with this neutral squadron is up to you - and their names are never revealed, ultimately buried by nuclear ash in the annals of history. but they were lone actors in a campaign marked by a quite complicated and nuanced war effort, singularly opposed to a crime against humanity at the hands of their nationalist, authoritarian generals.
ac7 ends up making the argument that belkans are innately evil warmongers who just cant stop engaging in conspiracy and stirring international conflict as revenge for the past lol. you can see how the person behind ac5 spearheaded this games script. any game that earnestly tries to make the argument that drone warfare is bad but fighter jets are cool and good should probably be laughed at. doubly so if the protagonist fights for the in-universe analogue for america against these drones, which are manufactured by an antagonistic state for which drone warfare would only be beneficial in reducing the casualties of war. triply so if the in-universe america analogue was repeatedly shown in the campaign to be obscenely incompetent and corrupt, forcing convicts to be conscript forces, and this goes unquestioned. or if a late-game mission involved you and your band of unlikeable cronies raiding and indiscriminately tearing through an independent separatist state filled with refugees to 'stock up on supplies' with no oversight from higher authorities, and this was the narratives stab at posturing moral ambiguity. but yeah man drones are bad
The fact that this game recreates the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, but then makes it canonically run not by the US government, but by the paramilitary force of a shadowy Illuminati-esque global cabal headed by a supervillain with a literal skull for a face, which the US military then bombs because it would presumably be an international scandal if word of a black site being run on US-controlled soil ever got out, tells you kind of everything you need to know about Kojima's approach to politics.
That nonexistent game that a random kid plays on an X360 with a PS4 controller in a random movie. randomly made up for that random movie. Almost metatextual.
It looks like a remake of 007 Nightfire, constantly changing (that section in the fancy spy car with built-in missile launcher) and moving with ideas "borrowed" from absolutely every fps that has had relative impact. from the approach to the kinesthetic gunplay and set-pieces of Infinity ward and Raven software, through the parkour of Digital illusions and Respawn entertainment, to the powers of attraction and gravitational push of Chinese online shooters, and, of course, also Dark Souls lol. All in one, mixed and scrambled. A tasteless aesthetic mashup that finds a meaning like a rabbit hole towards a wonderland that fits as a prima, with all the influences in plain sight and without a defined aesthetic identity that personally inspire me with a certain tenderness, since although they denote a lack of personality At times, their ideas to create mechanical mashups with the ideas of others end up on interesting grounds by not having the need to innovate or be accountable to a public that demands "innovation" or "essence", and perhaps this is not the case, and if , this game is fetishist for the purest technical muscle.
Zack Snyder would like it.
Shin Megami Tensei V
This review contains spoilers
the first time we perform a demon fusion in smt5, a circle of keys rises up and our nahobino starts jamming out a gothic organ dirge like it's second nature. lots of things come to this mc naturally, with no expression of confusion or uncertainty—not even a smirk. just that cold gaze. and why not? atlus likely understand that this isn't our first rodeo, and that we're here for the vibe. the nahobino is vibing hard. it's almost like they were born for this.
if there really are those who view smt as "persona without the heart," some are going to think this nahobino is without a personality. as i see it, the steely, confident, even menacing demeanor of this character (even in its duality, given your symbiotic bond with the proto-demon aogami) is as good a "blank slate" for us to impose our will upon as we could ask for in a world full of demons. shin megami tensei is about exploring that spiritual freedom like a true libertarian and/or satanist and this game doesn't fuck around. uhm, i'm being sort of facetious. and corny. it probably doesn't come across. anyway.
truthfully, i don't need all of my games to be power fantasy—i play them for the desperation, despair, and helplessness of some of them, too! and other, gentler things... and such. something like this, though, where your goal is to pursue the throne of reason ruthlessly, well, the best shin megami tensei stuff gives me a mixture of empowerment and punishment i find very inviting. and, i mean, those demon's just look awesome
also not fucking around: the practically obligatory opening setup is over very quickly, and then it's right to it. zooming around like a demonic metal sonic in this landscape of glittering golden dunes and destroyed buildings... the music is just a vibe—and then you get into a fight—it continues to be a vibe until you execute your first attack: "aramasa!" the nahobino screams, as the metal kicks in... well, it whips ass. this is just a cool game, constantly making you feel cool for playing it. that battle music alone is almost enough to make up for the absence of a banger attract mode like nocturne's.
in V's favor with respect to other games from the last couple decades of this series, the qol improvements to the familiar systems and ui elements are very nice (e.g. i feel every jrpg needs an auto-heal outside combat and thankfully we have that here). and, i mean, as a blurry open world-ish rpg on switch it actually reclaims some of the dreamy and apocalyptic inverted world vibe of nocturne. there are some fairly obvious parallels to nocturne's imagery, more so than IV. while i'd say nocturne remains king in terms of mood and a somewhat more restrained presentation, V gains a wider, more seamless space to roam. nocturne dwelt much more heavily in interior spaces—a dungeon crawler with lucifer in the black lodge. there are literally two actual dungeons late in V, but, you know, that's just the kind of game this is. it's nocturne's overworld map blown up macro; a sprawling kingdom of brilliant gloom for us to survey from every peak we reach and then make our own. ymmv
while the peak of jrpgs since at least 2010 has, to me, easily been dragon quest XI, this is one of a handful i feel truly begin to even contend (depending on whether we're including action rpgs or mmos). anyway, it's a real one.
Tales of Arise
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