76 Reviews liked by wondermagenta


Bottom line: it’s fine. My 8 year old nephew 100%’d this game twice, and that feels like all that should matter. But - this game makes me uncomfortable. Because my nephew did not 100% Super Mario Odyssey, or any game before this, which provides the lens I need to dig into this game’s funny feeling.

That funny feeling started as soon as the game booted up and asked me to share my data. I know many games do this, but seeing it in the context of Kirby planted this seed in my head of “market testing.” That seed blossomed as I played the game and thought about how this game was marketed, how it reviewed, and it’s now franchise record sales. There are so many touchpoints that made me feel like I was playing game product as much as an actual game.

Forgotten Land’s whole gimmick, of Mouthful Mode, feels like a reaction to Mario Odyssey as much as an imitation. People responded well to the weirdness of Mario becoming a photo-realistic T-Rex and chilling in New York City. And by well, I mean twitter loved it. And by loved it, I mean it had high engagement. The weirdness was gif-able. My real world friends are still weirded out by the real people in Odyssey’s New York City. (I hate them!)

And so we get Carby. Carby is weird. It’s transgressive. It’s meme-able in the same way Mario’s capture mechanic was. Making characters that can glom onto any real world thing or object is marketing genius for building unexpected associations with your character and product. The merchandising potential is high while having to maintain few new character trademarks. Gimmicky transformations are nothing new to Kirby. Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Planet Robobot featured plenty. But something about the way they are used in Forgotten Land put me on edge. And I think that’s because the basic gameplay of playing as Kirby in the Forgotten Land is boring.

The best Kirby games have smooth movement and a wide range of character actions for Kirby that makes it fun to explore his otherwise simple levels. Transitioning to 3D in Forgotten Land came with some compromises that took away freedom of movement without offering substitutes. Kirby can no longer fly vertically infinitely. It’s perfectly viable to fly over levels in most 2D Kirby games, but the act of mashing the jump button gets tiring enough that you’ll eventually fall back to properly engaging with the game. Kirby no longer can run. The input for doing so in 2D was a double tap, something that can’t be registered as easily in 3D. So instead of adding another button for running, Kirby’s stuck on one speed.

As a result of these restrictions, the level design is plain. The camera lets you tickle it, but the levels are linear enough you’ll forget the option exists. Walk around, projectile spam with the same-y feeling copy abilities at enemies who mostly stand around giving the stink eye. Wait for a gap in canon ball blasts, hop over a bottomless pit. After enough of these elements have been remixed to feel like a game level, it usually ends with a Mouthful Mode transformation sequence. Yes, its funny when Kirby becomes a vending machine or a set of stairs, but you’re kinda wandering through barren levels getting pointless trinkets until something funny happens and then the level ends. Because if the level ends on something funny, that’s what you remember, so it must have been a fun time, yeah?

Forgotten Land reminded me of the difference between how critics and customers play games. Critics binge games, so love tangible details that are easy to write about. Variety and novelty work well on them because they are unlikely to replay levels, and games with lots of different powers and meme-able moments are easier to remember and describe to fill space. For me, it feels like the set pieces and gimmicks are to distract from the fact the base interactivity of the game character just isn't that fun or engaging.

Nothing sparks my intuition for a game’s insecurity like checklists, and Forgotten Land is brazen. Finishing any level immediately shoves a scorecard in your face with everything you did and did not accomplish. I appreciate games that let you track trinkets, but the presentation belies the intent. Unlike Mario Odyssey that hid its checklist in a menu you had to seek out, Forgotten Land is constantly making you aware of your “progress.” The main pause menu has a big completion percentage taking up more screen space than anything else. And to finish a world, you need to have accomplished a certain number of checklist items to challenge that world’s boss. These multiple systems in place guiding you to think about playing a level again, mere seconds after you’ve finished it the first time, irk me.

These systems irk me because they exist alongside other systems that feel even more sinister. Not in a vacuum, but because this is a Kirby game. Kirby can upgrade his copy abilities, but to do so, requires you find a trinket and amass quantities of two in-game currencies. One of these currencies is earned in separate challenge rooms from the main game levels. It feels so disconnected from the experience of playing the game one might ponder, “why couldn’t the hidden trinket just… be the ability upgrade, if we had to have one?” And the answer to that is to normalize children to the kind of game environments that have microtransactions.

Forgotten Land does not have microtransactions. However, it does have a “history of Kirby” book containing info about previous Kirby games. Notable, however, is it only shows Kirby games that are currently available for purchase on the 3DS, Wii U, and Nintendo Switch systems. Many of which are free-to-play spin-off games with currencies, upgrades, and menus very similar to the ones found in Forgotten Land - except these currencies cost real-world money. Notably absent from this picture book are older games like Kirby 64 and Kirby Super Star, which contain most of the inspiration in enemy and level design that Forgotten Land is aping.

This context also explains something odd that bothered me about the gacha-style collectible figures in Forgotten Land. (Another system that is pointless and dumb in any video game and is here being used to normalize gambling in a children’s game.) Figurines of enemies and bosses have pointless fluff Pokedex descriptions, but only those introduced in Forgotten Land. Series mainstays have no descriptions, lest they mention their origins and engender curiosity for these older, self-contained, non-monetizable games. (A departure from the historically themed collectables from the 3DS games, I might add.)

All of this modern gaming garbage - the achievements, the crafting, the currencies, the gacha, the base building, the incessantly chittering NPCs, the extreme number of reminders to upgrade, the data collection, the ads - I just hate it. And I know it works. It wouldn’t be here if it didn’t work.

When my nephew played Mario Odyssey, he’d find a challenge he thought was fun, and do it over and over again. He didn’t care that he didn’t get a moon. He didn’t need to collect every dumb hat, or scour the world for every trinket. The gameplay caught his interest, and the menus stayed out of his way. With Kirby, I know that isn’t the case, which makes me go from “wow, he really loved Forgotten Land!” to a sense of unease I can’t quantify.

In my rating system, 2 stars represents an average, C rank game. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is… fine. If you’re the type of person who only has time to play a level or two after work, it’s fine. If you are trying to get someone into gaming, it’s fine. (The co-op sucks. (Why no upgrades for Bandana Waddle Dee?)) But it’s not good. It’s expensive without feeling quality. I have no nostalgia for it, but Kirby Super Star is still the best Kirby game on the Switch. I find this expensively-produced mediocrity so weird.

Someone worked very hard on vector graphic animations for every level, (something that also feels like a response to Odyssey’s travel stickers), but the levels are so insipid in concept that the decals do nothing to help you remember what happens within them. The sound design lacks punch, relying on sound effects that have been in use for decades without expanding the soundscape to match the graphical fidelity of a 3D player space. The main theme song is hummable not due to its musical merits, but because it is reused and remixed in so many environments. One rendition has a guitar “wail” so embarrassing it conjures to mind parodies of Christian rock.

There is no greatness in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. There is no pulse that implies the work of great artists, but plenty of fingerprints left by corporate entities. I can more easily imagine the meetings of suits discussing what transformations to be shown in a Nintendo Direct than I can whoever drew the terrible boss designs. It feels like a project not striving to make something good, but a well-managed, well-funded project that allowed its average minds ample time to finish their tasks. I hope none of this nonsense represents KIrby in the next Super Smash Bros. game.

If I ever have to see that stupid sexy cheetah woman again and her terrible glittery eyeshadow I'll scream


Full disclosure: a few years ago I was exactly the person who’d blasted through this on freeplay, then dutifully nodded to myself, “this is the best shmup ever made,” and then proceeded to never play anything else in the genre.

I don’t know if getting a 9CC admonishes me of that, but it’s certainly forced me to see the game in ways I never had before. And I totally get why it grates on people: it’s setpiece-heavy, memorization-intensive, and each of the five stages pulls in wildly different directions- sometimes an intense bullet-hell, sometimes an infuriatingly slow crawl through the box factory.

And the scoring system! Every screen ends up being this order of operations puzzle to chain every trio of colors as quickly and precisely as possible- miss a few and you’ll lock yourself out of the chance to spawn extra groups of enemies. All this is to say, it can be maddening for the first few hours as you get a feel for the rhythm of the game, trying to keep in step with the rigid dance of the whole thing.

The feature that made me really start to love the game was the way you can play levels without firing a shot, what the game calls “Dot Eater.” While it’s cool on its own that you can play entirely as pacifist (and a daunting challenge in its own right), it’s the way this feature intersects with standard play that I’ve found really helpful; if you happen to miss one of your targets when trying to complete a combo- you can wait a bit, survive, and then re-enter the fray when you’ve regained your composure. It’s definitely made replaying the levels more enjoyable- of course going for the S++ rank requires near-perfection, but you’re given a little more flexibility as you strive for mastery, stretches where you neatly chain through everything on screen, take a moment to take a breather, and then pick the chain back up.

The bosses themselves also really open up thanks to being scored by time instead of chaining, your strategy evolving as you try to shave off just a few more seconds with each attempt. I thought the first boss, Eboshidori, was a complete slog initially, but go for the best possible time and suddenly the fight is transformed, frantically switching between polarities to get some extra energy and maximize your damage, weaving between attacks that originally seemed so harmless.

I also want to take a second to acknowledge that, with a bit more context, this is probably one of the nichest shmups I’ve played. Credit-freed through something like Dodonpachi and you’ll have a good time blasting through hordes of enemies, and likely leave with a decent sense of what the experience is like. In contrast, so much of enjoying Ikaruga only comes with time; that first playthrough shuffles you right along, no chance to prolong your survival with any sort of i-frame granting bombs or hyper-mode, missing big portions of the game as the bullet patterns reset each time you die, meaning you don’t really have a chance of getting into any sort of flow state. And as mentioned before, this is a very setpiece heavy, memorization intensive game- hard to intuit what parts of the screen are just instant-death or when some boss will materialize behind you on a first playthrough.

But maybe that’s okay, and it’s more a indication of how stellar the aesthetic and thematic qualities are that even those fumbling initial attempts end up feeling so epic- thrown into the climax of a spectacular battle that you know is vital, even if you can’t quite articulate why. Even now, the game’s focus on perseverance in the face of adversity has been strangely reinvigorating for me, a reminder to fight for the good in the world, even if reality itself seems to be pitted against you.

"Is this what we wished for?
Don't worry, we will understand each other some day.
And the life is succeeded into to the distant future."


Maybe I wasn’t totally off when I first played it.


If you ever feel like you can't accomplish anything in life, just remember that a multiplayer game with netcode as shit as Smash Ultimate's sold 24 million copies.


To put it bluntly, I have zero experience with previous Final Fantasy games. I have no nostalgia about the series at all so the premise of the game came off to me as a Chaos-killing-meme-game and nothing more at first glance. But this game was made by Team Ninja, which is one of my favorite action game developer teams.
And Nioh 2 is -despite of its diablo-like loot system which I loathe- the greatest game I've ever played.
So, my hope was kinda high. The chaos-killing shenanigans in the trailer looked like God Hand-tier comedy and the combat system they have shown looked fun enough. It could have been 9/10 for its sheer entertainment value.

The core gameplay was, -as expected- amazing. This is not an exact copy-and-paste of Nioh formula.
Instead, they introduced an interesting form of the Sekiro-parry system, Soul Shield.
Soul Shield mechanic shows a cool compromise of reactive part and proactive part of this game. To use special skills or heavy attacks, you need some mana gauge. And how do you gain your mana? Well, you can gain some mana by hitting the enemies with normal attacks but parrying the enemies' attacks with Soul Shield is more beneficial. Soul Shield is tied to the player's "posture" meter, but unlike any other just-timed parry system, you can lengthen the parry window by spending the posture points. This is great because it makes the just-timed-parry system to be more than just "just-timed".
Not only that, but there is also other normal block function that supplements the Soul Shield.
It has high posture damage resistance (I used a shield, so the resistance rate can be different) but doesn’t give you mana when you block the attacks, which can be useful if the enemy attack timings are hard-to-judge so that you can’t safely parry the upcoming attacks.
Hopefully, you get the idea that this game’s fundamental defensive options are fantastic.

The job system and the "heavy attack" swap system are -maybe not the greatest thing ever- pretty solid.
Job is like Style in DMC in the sense that it can be swapped anytime for your own playstyle benefits, although there are only two slots.
Your weapon choice and the default heavy attack change depending on the job you "equipped".
Here's an interesting thing. As you grind a bit, your job level will grow up and you can unlock new types of "heavy attacks" that can be chained from normal attacks. For example, if the normal-normal-heavy combo ends with a down-slash in the default setting, as you unlock new moves, you can change the combo to end with a more powerful spinning slash. And you can unlock a new set of jobs by max-leveling multiple jobs. So, at least in terms of a customizable combo system, this game is a blast. Although it can be grindy if you want to try out different jobs.

Speaking of grinds, unfortunately, this game has so many downfalls to becoming the great experience I was hoping for.
I played this game on the Hard setting from the start to finish. I mostly stuck to the mage+melee-based jobs and actively used the team members.
I sometimes solo’d the bosses if the boss fight seemed reasonable to do 1v1, but it happened only three times (not including the final boss).
On the hard difficulty, Jack can die in a few hits and dangerous enemies always come in a pack. So, gear management is almost mandatory for your own safety and the team members. Here’s a thing though. I don’t know if this is a tradition of FF, but the loot drops and the item management are ridiculous.
A lot of enemy drops a shit ton of items when they die, so your inventory gets cluttered with garbage weapons and useless armors when you are not looking for the inventory for like two main stages. As a crutch, the game allows an auto-management button that automatically allocates the “best” armor and the “best” weapons for each character. Here’s another issue for this though. It is only optimal in the numbers. Since there are heavy attack skills that can be allocated depending on the weapons you have, there is a chance that the auto-management button can mess with the current skill set.
This means I have to change the weapon again for my skill set. A waste of time at best.
It’s better to have the button, but I still don’t get the point of this loot/management system when you can just have none so that I don’t have to click the damn button and fix the micro-error every time.

Another problem is the general enemy design.
There are some new elements I like, such as the chain execution: You can chain the execution if the nearby enemies also have zero posture. And there are unblockable attacks that force you to move and absorbable attacks that can be absorbed with Soul Shield and become your arsenal.
Not only that, but some bosses are also really good, like Fused Elemental which provides a good multi-boss challenge that ties two enemies creatively into one battle. Behemoth and Tiamat were good too.
But on the negative side, we have enemies that are so small that you can’t actually tell the attack distance (Tonberry), A tiny bat that spawns tornado out of sight, A beholder-like creature that spams explosive magic out of sight, bosses that spin like a cheap Beyblade even though they are clearly made of a chunk of iron(Iron Giant and Cray Claw), A boss so big and yet moves so erratically that makes my head spin(Marilith), A fast humanoid boss that has good patterns and yet has the worst SFX feedback you can imagine (You’ll see him near the end part), and the god-fucking-damn mindflayer.
Now, I know that weighty animations and clear attack tells aren’t the Team Ninja’s strongest toolset, but I remember that in Nioh2, they really improved the quality of the enemy design with the clear sound telegraphs (Remember the BOOM sound when the enemy does the red aura attacks?) and reasonable animations that are redactable for most people in that combat situations.
Compared to Nioh2, FFO’s enemies’ qualities are downgraded. These are some Ninja Gaiden 1 era janks if I have to exaggerate.
I’m guessing there is a reason why the attacks feel cheap. Since the enemy attacks are mostly told by a literal signal board, the devs must have thought that the signal would do enough tells for each attack. However, I would have preferred if they didn’t include the skill board at all. Instead, they should have provided a clearer colored aura on their attacks and better animation/SFX feedback. As a simple-minded action gamer, I want to read the animation, not a skill name.

Also, it is not related to the enemy design, but for a 30~40-hour game, the enemy variety isn’t that great. Yes, the bosses are varied, but the common enemies aren’t. After the midpoint, they spam the color-swapped enemies that are more annoying to deal with than the vanilla ones. This reminded me of Nioh 1’s problem, but Nioh 1’s humanoid enemies worked dynamically with their own stamina system, much more expansive movesets, and different kinds of encounters so the issue wasn’t that glaring. This game is screaming for more enemy types, but I’m doubting that adding new enemies would fix the issue since the general enemy qualities are kinda mess.

Since I mentioned the Nioh series, let’s talk about the levels because this game is also sharing similar issues to Nioh. Or maybe even worse.
The art "style" isn't bad, but there are no noticeable landmarks in most of the dungeons, and the lighting in this game doesn’t help you at all when you are fighting enemies in the darker area. The place is clearly having sunlight and yet the shadowy places are so dark that you CAN’T see the enemy’s animation, which is not a good idea if the game’s foundation is built upon the fast action.
The gameplay element in the level design department is quite underwhelming because the level structures aren't as convoluted as any Dark Souls, or even Nioh's main levels. Even though there are some shortcuts, I wouldn't say there were many branches to explore around ignoring the obvious main path.
Enemy placements are also monotonous. From what I've experienced, there are no ambushes using the blind spots, or showing interesting behaviors. They are standing right in the arena, visibly, standing still.
Also, the level gimmicks are either half-baked or don't provide interesting exploration elements.
Maybe it is because there weren't many contents to incentivize the explorations like the hidden Kodamas, but even considering that I felt like the dungeons in this game are working like arena after corridor after arena. It's serviceable as stages for action games, but I wouldn't call this an interesting "adventure".

The story was fun, but we have to admit that as an outsider of the FF series, the “chaos killing” mumbo jumbo got old at the end. Yes, Jack was charming in the Doom Slayer way, but his merit faded away at the end when the half of the end game cutscenes were full of anime drama that stimulates my emotion like a wet fart. At the end of the day, this game is the best form of 3/5 games. There are glaring issues here and there, and yet there are hidden charms that cannot be overlooked. Some people will love this game if they are a diehard fan of combat-experiment or an old final fantasy fan. (Since many people have pointed out that this game is full of old and new FF references) But for me, It just made me wish to see Team Ninja and FROM working together and making an absolute banger game by supplementing their weaknesses.


Many many musings cuz I wanted to think about game dev shit incoming:

I had always assumed giving an arcade thing a couple paged tutorial to be kind of a wrong move in deving and sorta a demotivator in getting people to play your thing. But thinking about it now after actually playing this again, the realization hit me that...

YEAH WTF NO. I KNOW I myself would GREATLY prefer to just read the choice words and REQUIRED KNOWLEDGE of something that has definite rules to follow in order to enjoy it properly rather than just vaguely wiggle around probably be left unsatisfied. I LIKED READING THE MANUAL AND APPRECIATED ITS DETAIL is what I mean to say and am left rethinking my dev life lil bit ;)

LOVELY LITTLE GAME. Good bit of decision making and PRESSURE involved in trying to get those blocks all lined up nicely to then nail in a couple shots for mondo gaming point collecting type fun. It didn't even stop with just that being the gameplay tho, which impressed. Cuz then you gotta decide when to put the breaks on your combo collecting fun so that evil block doesn't catch up and kill you and the GAMEPLAY LOOP goes on. It was REAL elegant, I mean. I was impressed~ The map even changing a bit with the addition of those new walls that cropped up impressed too!!! What mild variety!!!

I DO kind of wish the game started with a few blocks already in immediate play tho. Losing and trying to get back into things kinda felt rough cuz I jUST WANTED TO GET BACK TO SHOOTING BLOCKS and they were JUST slow enough on the opening move to infuriate me...

Was kinda left yearning for it to feel a bit more immediate and 'tactile' in general; if you get me. Like changing a direction and not seeing my block dude quite immediately move the way I chose hurts my 'gamer in control brain' and made me sick. What I mean is that yeah maneuvering around is whats the word - extrinsically satisfying? if not 'intrinsically'? Are those the words?

It feels good because I KNOW what are gonna be the results of my actions, not because good 'game feel' or whatever, ya know? I am left imagining and longing for a hypothetical version where I felt I had more control and got more feedback outta things... Like if I moved and my bullets came out when I picked a direction over the timer thing like in a game of Snake or something but ahhhh now I'm reworking the game in my head for no reason... All the objects moving at their own sync irked me A TAD tldr and I think I prefer my games to grant meeee more immediate input on the pace? Something like that!

Anything else? Uhhhh the song selection was sick and all obviously faded into each other nicely (parked myself on the game over screen while thinking this write up; real comfy). Tho thought the title music felt a bit toO POWERFUL and miiiildy intrusive for me just tryn to read da rules...

I think that's it then! Goodbye!


For the first few years that The Beach Boys existed, they were little more than an average surf rock outfit with a couple great singles. But during the mid 60s they suddenly got wildly ambitious and took their music in a ton of new and strange directions. The 10 album long streak (or 11 if you count The Smile Sessions) from The Beach Boys Today! in 1965 all the way through Surf's Up in 1971 is a serious contender for the strongest and most diverse set of records in the history of pop music. At the core of a lot of that music is Brian Wilson. A relentless innovator, constantly toying with songwriting conventions and completely redefining the field of music production. The Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson especially, were progressive pop titans. But the world didn't really want to hear it. The further they drifted away from the sound of their early years, the less commercial success they found. It’s tragic. There’s an inescapable sadness which looms over Brian’s career. I think Patti Smith put it best when she said,

“Like the hero-dreamer of Slaughterhouse Five, we have yet another case where existence is elsewhere. For the hero it lies in the future. But for Brian Wilson the dream is trapped within the wholesome abstraction of a Jello ad. His desire is to escape into the real world.”

It breaks my heart. Probably some truth to it though. Brian's music is often defined by emotional turmoil, vague pangs of melancholy that you're trying so desperately to articulate just to see if someone else will understand. But no matter what happens the words just won't fit together. The most enduring Beach Boys record is of course Pet Sounds, which illustrates that uneasiness flawlessly. But my favorite of Brian's work is the wonderfully titled 1977 album The Beach Boys Love You. Written during a period of extreme mental instability and drug addiction, Love You marked the return of Brian as the primary creative force behind the band, after he had been absent for most of the 70s. And while his bandmates had clashed with him over the direction of their art in the years prior, this was the album where everyone caved and gave Brian complete control over songwriting, production and lyrics. The result is the most confusing album I’ve ever heard.

Towards the end of the 70s, there was a lot of commercial pressure for The Beach Boys to abandon the introspective path they had been traveling and return to their simple surf rock roots. Brian happily obliged his audience and so the first side of The Beach Boys Love You plays out like one of their early records: Songs of high school, teenage love, and cool cars. But it’s all wrong now. It wasn’t 1964 anymore. The band members were all in their 30s, and both Brian and his brother Dennis’ voices had been noticeably shot out by drug abuse. Innocence is dead. Time has ravaged their bodies and minds, and on The Beach Boys Love You, it sounds like they haven’t fully come to terms with that. There’s a clear desire to move on, but the attempts to break the mold weren’t as profitable. So here they were, doomed to play into baby boomer nostalgia for the rest of time, trying to recapture a past they held dear but were no longer suited to sing about.

What’s more, Brian’s lyricism appeared to have declined quite a bit. The truth is that he had never been a particularly gifted wordsmith, a good deal of the reason the group’s most acclaimed records, Pet Sounds and Smile, felt so poetic was because Brian had co-writers on those projects, Tony Asher and Van Dyke Parks respectively. On The Beach Boys Love You however, Brian was all on his own, and so his writing style defaulted to blunt and saccharine stream of conscious meditations on life. One of the songs literally ends with a cheerleader chant dedicated to Johnny Carson. The clash between subject matter and presentation on Love You is neck breaking, and would frequently come off as deeply uncomfortable were it not for the fact that the album is just so goofy. It’s like they didn’t even realize how fucking insane they sounded.

An even more immediately jarring aspect of it is its production. Brian employed heavy use of synthesizers throughout the record, something which was fairly forward thinking for pop music in ‘77. But these synths were not used how you’d expect them to be, where they dominate the mix and serve as lead melodies. Instead, the way that The Beach Boys Love You was constructed was by hollowing out the rhythm section, replacing the bass guitar with deep, growling synths and ludicrously sparse drum patterns. So while these songs lyrically and melodically feel like basic throwbacks to writing styles that were out of fashion even by the 70s, the rhythmic foundation is so incongruous to that style that it transforms the record into something irresistibly baffling. The track ‘Mona’ is one of my favorites. While on paper it’s a straightforward play on Phil Spector, the repetitive lyrics and inconclusive fade-out ending lend it a compelling sense of desperation and anxiety. Feelings only strengthened by those fuzzy electric tones, rumbling low like an earthquake advisory underneath the song’s Brill Building chord progression.

Understandably, Love You is massively polarizing. I’m a proud evangelist for it, but it’s certainly tempting to only focus on Brian’s more widely accepted masterpieces. One of these being the canceled album Smile, inarguably the height of the band’s ambitions during the mid 60s. The album was to be a comprehensive tour and celebration of American musical history, with each song being built out of similar motifs and ideas, recorded in a modular fashion. Creating this way highlights the common heritage between different genres of music, and unifies America and its people into one big beautiful tapestry. But of course that’s not exactly how things turned out. The Smile recording sessions collapsed, and a stripped-back version called Smiley Smile was released in its place, the ringing dejected comedown from a particularly bad acid trip. Most of the leftover highlights ended up spread out across various official albums and less official bootlegs.

So Smile was now the greatest album that never was, with fans spending decades constructing guesses as to what it would’ve sounded like. Nowadays there are not one but two official projects purporting to be the final vision of Smile. The first was Brian Wilson Presents Smile in 2004, a newly recorded album with a brand new backing band and no other Beach Boy besides Brian. The second was 2011’s The Smile Sessions, a comprehensive archival release of the original studio material, with the opening tracks following Brian’s 2004 blueprint as closely as possible.

It’s obviously satisfying to hear the album in a finished state, but the truth is that both of these versions are still a kind of fanfiction. When Brian returned to the material in the early 2000s, it was restructured into a much more elaborate and lengthy concept then what had been considered in the 60s. We’ll never really know what Smile was going to sound like, that closure isn’t possible. But I don’t say this to undermine these newer releases. I think every version of Smile is incredible, official or otherwise. The truly special thing about the project is that because its recording process was so extensive and so modular, each song can be endlessly tinkered with and still flow together in a way that feels logical. The flavor and tone of the work can vary dramatically between bootlegs because everyone has their own idea of what Smile is. It’s not just one of the greatest pop albums ever written, it’s an infinite number of them. Smile belongs to everyone, and that’s more beautiful to me than whatever would’ve happened if the album was originally released on schedule.


I UNIRONICALLY HATE ATLUS

BUT THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST GAMES I HAVE EVER PLAYED


Played for ~60 hours, SSS rank on hardest available difficulty for all levels. Runs here.

Really, really solid piece of work, especially for a game with 2/3rds of its planned content still forthcoming. Considering the game is free, there is no reason not to try it if you're an action game fan.

Magenta Horizon holds a deep reverence for two of the most fundamental pillars of action games: positioning and dynamism. Hollow Knight's influence on the movement (and the game in general) is obvious, but the addition of a diagonal dive and a hook attack that pulls you through enemies makes things significantly more interesting than simply jumping and pogoing around. DMC-like strings with various useful properties also add much-needed nuance and agency to the ground combat. The tension between safety/mobility in the air and options/damage potential on the ground informs almost every decision you make, and you'll find yourself constantly evaluating which is better suited for the moment.

A varied and volatile enemy roster puts this into context, and each disrupts you in different ways with melee attacks, speed, projectiles, or sheer size. The small helicopters are a favorite of mine: their simple attacks aren't much threat, but their spinning propellers will hit you on contact, making aerial getaways from more oppressive enemies deceptively challenging. Arenas filling up with hordes of different foes, all acting independently, gives rise to the delightful controlled chaos that so many of the action game greats are known for. Bosses are also pleasantly dynamic, with varied attack patterns and a Souls/Monster Hunter-style stagger system to keep things fresh. Once you beat the middle difficulty, give the highest a shot, it's where the game truly shines. Each encounter is completely redone, with tough enemies from the last stage suddenly appearing in the very first. Some of the best and most creative fights are found here, as the dev starts to go wild with cramped arenas, oppressive environmental hazards, enemy spawning setups, and synergistic compositions.

Each of the subweapons in the game are distinct, and have multiple situationally useful properties rather than explicitly hard countering anything. Creating the spike in midair will slam you to the ground (invaluable for movement), and the boomerang can be aimed in different trajectories to deal general damage over a wide area or stagger fliers quickly. Some even combine with each other: for example, timing your spike to skewer a boomerang creates a stationary spinning blade that deals massive DPS to anything in reach. A la Alien Soldier, each weapon can be assigned to one or more of 8 possible slots, and each slot has its own meter. The frightening levels of lethality you can achieve by maximizing this brings combat to a blistering speed, especially in later stages where tough arenas reward clean speedkilling.

Artwork and music are both obvious standouts that anyone can appreciate, and lend the game a distinct character. Pinks and purples cover otherworldly vistas, and the enemy menagerie is both delightfully creative and a treat to watch in motion. The progressive metal soundtrack is also fantastic, one of the best in recent memory.

There are definitely still some kinks to be worked out. As a new player, especially one without high-level action game experience, the initial experience is extremely overwhelming with the amount of options and movement you have. Almost nothing can be canceled out of, which works great as a design decision but feels punishing early on. UI needs some polish, and can feel cheap and awkward to navigate. Early level design is both needlessly confusing to traverse (especially since there's no map) and doesn't stand out much in terms of creative fights. Luckily, both of these improve as you get further in. Bugs pop up every so often since the game's still in heavy development, but in my experience these rarely affected gameplay. You can report any you find to the dev and he'll usually fix it quickly. The necklace system (equippables with playstyle-altering buffs) simply doesn't have enough options yet to provide meaningful tradeoffs. The game is also a bit light on content currently, as expected, but what's there is high quality.

Overall, I'm extremely impressed at the level of achievement here so far, especially in the context of a solo dev project. I can't wait to see where the project goes next, I only see things getting better from here.

TLDR just go play it, it's free. https://maddison-baek.itch.io/magenta-horizon


About halfway into this game, I made an interesting discovery - you can take any girl to the planetarium at any time and tell them that our stars are millions of years old; they no longer exist, and one day the same will be true of us, too. It will always make them really happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s the preppy girl, the nerdy girl, the clumsy girl or the punk girl - reminding someone of the pale blue dot will improve your relationship with them.

What does that mean, exactly? That people, regardless of personal status and beliefs and perceptions, find comfort in being reminded of their insignificant end? Or that you aren’t talking to people at all - you’re just stirring electrons across silicon to simulate a conversation with a girl, sending your light millions of miles away to a virtual Tokyo in 1997 that doesn’t exist? Or did the programmers just forget to account for variance in this one scenario out of thousands, and had all these digital girls react in the exact same way to your Carl Sagan impression? Who knows.

This “infinite diversity, infinite combinations” style of game-reading defines a shadow that will perpetually be cast over this game’s existence in the West by ACTION BUTTON REVIEWS Tokimeki Memorial, the video-essay that more or less lays the blueprint of many classic Backloggd reviews we’ve all grown to love. In my opinion, Tim Rogers (or at least the character of Tim Rogers that Tim Rogers presents in ACTION BUTTON REVIEWS: Season 1) is a patron saint of sorts for this site - a mortal archetype of game-liker who acts as a guiding light for the infamous reviewers here who like to compare 1994’s Game Boy port of Taz-Mania to a fond midsummer’s day, or speculate on the Gulf War-adjacent cultural implications of Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal for the PlayStation 3.

To me, these ‘deranged’ assessments of video games are the most enjoyable way to respond to what is essentially a consumable product - honestly documenting your personal reactions and mental explorations as prompted by a game and its world, eschewing even the slightest hint of constructing a GRAPHICS: 7 | REPLAYABILITY: 4 | STORY: 6 table, rejecting the need to perform a fumbled technical analysis of the ray-adjacent teralighting and polytetrahedro-counts. Years of reading games magazines and games websites has taken a dreadful toll on us, and I think we can unlearn what we have learned by dreaming of the stars while fragging pigcops in Duke Nukem 3D: Duke’s Penthouse Paradise.

This push-and-pull between souls and spreadsheets came to define my playthrough of Tokimeki Memorial: Densetsu no Ki no Shita de¹. To get it out of the way early: I don’t really approve of dating games. I think there’s something insidious and oily and ungodly about them - this idea that you can simulate a power fantasy where an entire class of schoolgirls dance in the palm of your hand, a hand that grips a cold plastic controller in place of the warm human hand of another soul. It is, in a word, pathetic. I don’t approve of dating games in much the same way I don’t enjoy the idea of the dating games we play with each other in reality. It’s not a healthy way to face our interpersonal realities. Dating sims write poems for the emasculated.

To give credit where credit is due - I think the functional bits and bytes of the gameplay here could easily transplant to a game where you are a 27 year old single person with a smartphone and an office job. Switch out Yoshio’s notepad for a Tinder contact lists and the local park for a local bar and I think you’d have a remarkable facsimile of the modern adult dating landscape. But that game doesn’t exist, and you instead find yourself trying to find meaning in a Japanese game developer’s longing for a high school experience he definitely never had. Applying this idea in reverse, does skinning the disposable round-robin experience of modern online dating with a coat of PG13+ 90s chou kawaii high school paint make it somehow more desirable to us, in much the same way we covet Japan’s urban sprawl and sakura scenery over the views of own environment?

For me, Tokimeki Memorial isn’t “the Rosetta Stone of gaming” by any meaningful stretch; I feel like Tim Rogers did a six-hour gold-panning in a dirty digital river, trying to find nuggets of meaning in an exploitative little product for lonely boys that isn’t really all that far off from the insidious pachislots that Konami are now infamously known for. Make a number go up until a girl acknowledges your existence, and then manipulate her into liking “you” by reading a strategy guide inside or outside the computer game. Roll the dice on whether your girlfriend likes blue dresses or green dresses. Got it wrong? Too bad. Perhaps you can live without regret by reloading another of your save files. Put another coin in the slot and hope the right number comes up this time. Want to form a meaningful, long-lasting bond with your oldest friend? Manage and manipulate the lives and hearts of everyone around you like a ruthless restaurant manager filling out a work schedule. And so on, until you stand under the Tree of Legends and pretend to yourself and your trophy sprite that this was all destined to be. You "love Mio"? What the fuck is Mio in relation to you? The sociopathy here is amusing to acknowledge, but can be worryingly internalised, like all bad jokes. How long before gamification inverts your digital and physical lives, and you demand that genuine girls give gratifying gamerscore?

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¹ Known as Heartthrob Memorial: Under the Tree of Legends when the English translation patch is applied.


Spoilers will follow

I think it's important to clarify my perspective on the series coming into Shin Megami Tensei V. I’ve played every single mainline game at least twice excluding Nine as it’s not in english yet. I adore I, II, III, IV, SJ, and even If. Branching out further from that, I'm a huge fan of Persona, Devil Survivor, Devil Summoner, and most anything else Atlus has done in the past 35 years, within the series and without. It would not be an understatement to say that the Megami Tensei franchise has been more impactful on my life than any other body of work. Hopefully this illustrates that, while my expectations for Shin Megami Tensei V were likely a bit too high, I also came into the game wanting to love it. After playing through the game four times, completing the compendium, beating the super bosses on the hardest difficulty, and finding all the collectibles I came away very disappointed. With that out of the way let’s get into the critique.

A majority of RPGs have their roots in Dungeons and Dragons. Even though these roots have often been obfuscated by some 40 years of iteration they still provide a lens for observing RPGs that I find compelling. Dungeons and Dragons is unique from most video games in that to play in it you must actually roleplay, that is to say, you must be willing to partake in the fantasy of the game. The compellingness of this fantasy is, of course, the primary driving factor for your willingness to partake and, as such, is critical to the integrity of the work as whole. While traditional narrative driven video games are inherently quite different from Dungeons and Dragons, the agency of the player over a character who is part of a fictional world offers much the same kind of enjoyment and, as such, the fantasy of these games is integral to engaging with the work as a whole. You need look no further than the most popular JRPG of all time, Pokemon, to see this in action. In an interview with Satoshi Tajiri, the man behind the original concept of Pokemon, he attributes the success of the series to the universal nature of its fantasy, stating that (roughly translated from Japanese) “Even though the presentation was limited by the console (the original gameboy) the idea of exploring the natural world and forming bonds with the creatures around you is something most people can relate to passionately. The dream of an ideal world for exploration is the core of Pokemon.” So, what is Shin Megami Tensei V’s fantasy? What core of the human psyche is it trying to evoke? Luckily for me, Atlus was pretty transparent about what they were aiming for. It is very clear to me that the fantasy they were trying to sell this game with is based off of the one present in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. In both games the player is dropped in a desertified, ruined, hellscape version of Tokyo and must use the power they gain while fighting their way through this world to shape its rebirth into one they consider to be more righteous. The appeals of this setup are many. The fear of isolation, the tension of struggle, the agency of being able to change the world. It’s a setup with the potential for absurd amounts of catharsis. While Nocturne does fall short of its lofty ideas in some ways, that just means Shin Megami Tensei V had the potential to actualize them similarly to how Shin Megami Tensei IV did for the first two games in the series. Knowing a developer’s intent can be a poisonous thing when it comes to actually being able to observe a work as it exists instead of how it was intended to be. It is possible that I have somehow simply overlooked the fantasy Shin Megami Tensei V was trying to evoke because of my familiarity with its predecessors. However, assuming that Atlus was trying to invoke similar ideas here, this game shows a jarring lack of commitment and focus to them in comparison to its predecessors. This lack of commitment, more than any individual failing of the design is ultimately what damns the game to mediocrity for me. Let’s start with how the mechanics fail this game as this series has quite the reputation for its intense gameplay focus that is atypical for JRPGs.

When discussing the mechanics and, more specifically, the combat mechanics of Shin Megami Tensei V one thing sticks out to me as particularly garish in how it undercuts the players agency. This is the fact that the level difference between the attacker and defender in any given combat scenario applies a modifier to the damage outside of stat differences. Put more plainly, if the attacker is lower level than the defender then the attack will do less damage regardless of stat differences. This may seem like a sensible choice at first. “If the player notices this then they can use the enemies levels to gauge what level they should be at which will keep them on the difficulty curve.” I question the necessity of this as levels serve this function in most RPGs even when they lack a damage modifier mechanic like this. Players will naturally appraise themselves against their enemies based on their level and will decide for themselves the range where they feel comfortable fighting enemies. More skilled players don’t look at an enemy that is five levels above them the same way as new players. While it is true that if your level is on par with the enemies in Shin Megami Tensei V they will be more tightly balanced around your capabilities, it is also true that this turns the few levels on either side of the enemies into much steeper drop offs in enjoyment than they would be normally. You either outlevel the enemy and they can barely touch you, or they outlevel you and every encounter feels like a boss fight. This effectively narrows the range of experiences the player can have that are engaging and fun.​​ While it is true that challenge runs or playing below the level curve is still possible in Shin Megami Tensei V this mechanic pushes them out of reach for a larger portion of the player base and will often force players who aren’t actively doing the games many below average side quests into grinding. This is further compounded by the baffling ways Atlus has chosen to diversify the pool of demons.

A commonly cited issue with Shin Megami Tensei IV was that demons felt too similar. The freedom of being able to select any skill from the demons being fused to give to the resulting demon allowed players to optimize most demons into one or two generic builds based on whether they were physical or magical attackers. While it could be argued that the freedom for players to do that is a point in the game's favor, I agree that some diversification of the demons would only be a good thing. Shin Megami Tensei V (and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse) attempted this diversification in two major ways. The first was by expanding the number of skills that are exclusive to specific demons. Only seven demons had unique skills in Shin Megami Tensei IV, five of which are DLC bosses. Meanwhile Shin Megami Tensei V has almost seventy unique skills split across its roster despite having half as many demons to spread them to when compared with Shin Megami Tensei IV. Their other method for giving the demons more variety was to introduce an affinity system. Starting in Apocalypse, demons have values intrinsic to them that dictate what types of spells they are good at using. Both of these ideas sound good on paper but are once again, critically flawed. The demon affinity system only introduces the most surface level difference to demons optimal builds while directly harming the players ability to come up with interesting viable skill sets for their favorites. An optimized electric demon still looks the same as an optimized ice demon in terms of its skillset. The only difference is which flavor of damage they do which also becomes a more meaningless distinction in the late game when bosses have less weaknesses and you are adding a pierce effect to your attacks anyways. Unique skills are a much more appealing system on the face of it and that’s probably why they have been around in all parts of Megami Tensei since the first mainline game. The major issue being that it once again limits any player trying to optimize their party into a select few demons of any given type. Give up on making your favorite demon your healer if they aren’t Demeter or Idun because they will never be able to cast Elusinian Harvest or Golden Apple. With both combat and demon fusion the game sees fit to limit a player's agency in some vague pursuit of balance.

JRPG players often seem to forget that combat is only one part of the gameplay experience. For the mainline series' big return to home consoles for the first time in around two decades Atlus decided to supplement the combat sections with the largest freely explorable areas in the series so far. By my estimation this just above mediocre exploration gameplay makes up the largest share of the games runtime and is where I was most personally disappointed with the game mechanically. This is because, beyond the fact that the set dressing is apocalyptic and demons are present, nothing is done to sell you on the experience of being a human (or technically a Nahobino I guess) exploring this foreign dangerous world. Enemies move much too slowly and simply to ever be considered threatening outside of the very rare few instances where the level design funnels you into them. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the overworld enemies were not all functionally identical to the glitchy blobs present in Shin Megami Tensei IV. Enemies can fly, fire projectiles, vary in size and movement speed and a few late game demons even have some unique tricks. That being said, all this effort is effectively wasted when you can easily outrun enemies in almost any situation and even when they maybe catch you off guard you can still instantly warp yourself back to the last save point with no down side thanks to how frequently they are placed. There is pretty much never any tension in the exploration segments of Shin Megami Tensei V. You never have to consider the journey you’re about to make mechanically beyond remembering to hit the heal button before you leave the save point. There is also pretty much nothing to actually “discover” in these segments. Pretty much all possible rewards for exploration are clearly shown within the first couple hours of gameplay and the surprisingly good level design can only do so much to make you feel like you’re actually exploring when the only thing waiting for you at the end is a Miman. The decision to hide portions of the map behind the abscess fights is shockingly clever as it forces the player to really observe the surroundings to find a way to these blights. This is undermined by the fact that 80% of them by my estimation are just placed out in the open to be combat tests. I would have loved to have seen Atlus solve two problems at once by allowing the demons in your position to interact with the environment in some way unique to them. This would at once introduce a new way to vary demons and also maybe require the player to be a little more thoughtful during their preparations for a trip into the Da’at. If this very vapid gameplay was constructed in service of some narrative component of the setting I could understand it but sadly the setting falls flat there as well.

The setting is the aspect where this game is most directly comparable to Nocturne and anywhere the setting does differ it does so in a way that detracts from the game. Shin Megami Tensei IV saw no shortage of deserved praise for how it used its dozens of characters to really bring the worlds of Mikado and Tokyo to life. Nocturne similarly saw praise for the way its sparse storytelling and barren wasteland of a world imparted a sense of epicness and isolation. Shin Megami Tensei V manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and draw on the worst aspects of both of these approaches while reaping none of the benefits. It is both too lacking in compelling dialogue or characters to characterize its world while also being too full of shallow characters for the player to feel isolated. The non plot critical humans all exist mostly unaware of the Da’at and as such have very little to say beyond “Oh man the world sure is scary huh.” Meanwhile the non plot critical demons are mostly delegated to very mediocre sidequests. There are some standouts in this group. Khonsu, Fionn, and Shiva are all tangentially related to the plot in a way that makes their quests feel more impactful. A few others like the succubus quest stick out for how you engage with them but the vast majority are MMO level fetch quests or the most reductive law/chaos choices of all time that the discussion around this game seems to hype up for some reason. I think this largely stems from the fact that the demons haven’t really formed communities or social hierarchies with the humans the way they have in Shin Megami Tensei IV. There’s nothing really unique to observe here in the characters or the way they interact beyond the group of Egyptian Deities that forms towards the end of the game. Even the fairy forest, which may at first seem to be exactly what I’m looking for, is incredibly minor and entirely derivative of prior mainline games. Every single mainline game barring If… to my memory has the fairies establish a community that serves as a uniquely peaceful place amidst the apocalypse. None of this is helped by the games lackluster aesthetic design.

Much has already been said about the games liberal palette swapping of the four major areas even by avid fans of the game so I trust I don’t need to reiterate that here, but even beyond that this game desperately needs some visual variety. When speaking about Shin Megami Tensei IV art director Eiji Ishida said “If we’d applied the ‘infernal’ design to the whole game, though, it would start to resemble one of those trite Western games with their overused post-apocalyptic motifs.” Sadly, it seems Ishida was not involved with Shin Megami Tensei V and as such the entirety of the Da’at is the trite apocalypse he was referring to. No room for interesting communities and cultures to form in this world. All we have is blasted out toppled over buildings and Miman. Not to mention the almost complete lack of any iconic Tokyo architecture which makes this apocalypse seem even more generic. Unfortunately the lackluster visual design extends beyond the environments themselves.

I consider myself quite the fan of both Masayuki Doi and Kazuma Kaneko. I have quite a few of their works framed on my walls and think that their work, more than any other individuals’, is what shapes mainline Shin Megami Tensei into something I love. That isn’t to discount creatives like Okada, Ishida, Yamai, or Kozuka of course. I just find an incredible amount of meaning in the art of this series. That being said I don’t feel like either artist's work is used to its full potential here. It is cool to see a lot of Kaneko’s iconic demon designs rendered in 3D but with the man himself long since gone from Atlus there is a notable lack of cohesion amongst his demons in V. One of the greatest strengths of Nocturne is the way the entire world felt blended together in the style of his art. His and Shiraishi’s oversight in the modeling process no doubt contributed to this. In IV Kaneko had already passed on the mantle of the demon painter and as such cohesion is lacking there as well. That being said IV used this to its advantage and had over 400 demons present in the game and invited a plethora of guest artists to design major demons. While it is true that not all of these were hits it led to some absolute standouts such as the four archangels and chemtrail. You could say that the absolute chaos of IV’s bestiary is what made it stand out in a good way. V once again threads the needle into an unsatisfying middle ground. The pool of demons is understandably smaller given the game's scope but the game splits this small pool between old Kaneko designs, more modern ones, and Doi’s designs. Doi’s demon designs this time also seem to vary wildly in quality. He was given more demons to design than ever and was even allowed to handle random encounter demons, which he had historically stayed away from. Two things stick out as garish in this set of demons. Legs and tokusatsu. As if mandated by some marketing executives, most of Shin Megami Tensei V’s new female demon designs are constantly showing off their legs and seem designed primarily as cute anime girls with light mythological theming as opposed to actually being those myths. I’m not a prude or anything; I’m even a fan of Kaneko’s famous bondage angel design and his many literal gential demons. The problem here is they feel so pandery. Abdiel for example is not served as a character or mythological figure in any way by her skimpy outfit. Beyond this issue (which could totally be a symptom of marketing focused direction or something) one of Doi’s eccentricities as an artist works its way into this game in a way that clashes horribly. This being the aforementioned tokusatsu influence. Aogami, the Nahobino, Tsukuyomi, Odin and even Lucifer stick out like they’re entirely different categories of creatures from the rest of the demons. Honestly it isn’t even an aesthetic I’m entirely negative on but I question its haphazard implementation here as it only serves to undermine any sort of focus the art direction may have had. For a future mainline game I would prefer to see Doi keep his stuff more in line with the Kaneko designs they seem intent on using for the rest of eternity, or for Doi to be fully unchained and Atlus allow the game to take shape around his unique aesthetic identity. Ultimately, the visuals fracture the setting in a way that makes it impossible for you to ground yourself in the setting while never quite reaching the surreal heights of other games in the franchise.

Visuals are only one portion of the iconic Shin Megami Tensei aesthetic and thankfully the music fared much better in this outing. Kozuka returns as lead composer for this entry and after his beyond stellar work for IV and IV: Apocalypse I wouldn’t have anyone else. His crunchy, distorted synths and pained, furious guitars capture similar emotions to tracks in IV but feel like they’ve been turned up to eleven here. Tracks like Humans, Demons, and… are absolutely electrifying and haunting at the same time. Compensating for this more blasted depiction of Tokyo a lot of the funkier tracks have been sidelined in favor of a huge amount of sparse, industrial influenced, sandblasted ones. The theme of the Tokyo Diet Building shows off this new sound incredibly well alongside the instrument at the core of a huge portion of this game's soundtrack, a feminine voice that is absolutely haunting in an almost religious way. A perfect fit for the franchise if you ask me. Of course Kozuka’s famous bells make a return in the level up theme and even the game's credits and they sound even better than before. Apparently Kozuka didn’t do all the tracks on this soundtrack (and I have my suspicions about which tracks may have been done by Atlus Sound Team) but ultimately the music is one aspect where Shin Megami Tensei V does not disappoint. It feels like this is the score to the ideal game SMTV fell short of. (Just as an aside about the sound design though: Can we stop with the atrocious voice filters that all the demons use? They rob their lines of any sort of weight every single time. Oh and play the game with Japanese audio.)

Earlier I mentioned how non plot critical characters hamstring the setting but unfortunately the plot critical ones, along with the plot itself hamstring not just the setting but player agency as a concept. The player spends the bulk of the game pushed around by forces greater than him that they may not even agree with. I cannot stress enough how just the concept of Bethel is entirely antithetical to anything this game had going for it. Working for an organization whose goals you only kind of understand removes your agency. Working with other people makes sure you never feel properly isolated and accountable for your decisions. Exploring the Da’at isn’t your adventure, it's your 9-5 job. You spend so much time doing meaningless work for Bethel that the game retreading Nocturne’s climax of the opposing parties fighting for the right to literally recreate the world came as a surprise to me just by sheer virtue of how poorly it was built up. Of course most Megami Tensei games end like that in some way or another but this game's pacing seriously just does not build to that at all. The first quarter of the game is spent confused as to the nature of the world. The second is a monster of the week story. The third is suddenly an assault on the final bastion of the forces of chaos which is pretty confusing in and of itself because last I checked we were getting smoked. Then, all of a sudden, in one of the games like hour long exposition dumps, the final act is set up to essentially be Nocturne’s Tower of Kagutsuchi. It might sound like I’m paraphrasing but I promise you it feels exactly like that as you play it. An entire half of the game is dedicated to telling you what a Nahobino is and then like 3 finales are crammed into the back half. You have no ability to decide what you do, you have no real stake in the story other than the fact that you want to live, why should you care about anything happening in the narrative? Oh and of course the one area Atlus decides to give the player total control of the story they do so in the worst way possible. In an utterly baffling move for the series, the player's ending is no longer determined by the summation of their decisions throughout their journey but a literal ending select screen. This is some of the worst streamlining I’ve ever seen in a video game. It cheapens every single decision the player makes throughout the game retroactively. You no longer have to roleplay in Shin Megami Tensei V because that’s not what this series is about anymore apparently. The cultural zeitgeist has turned this series into every vapid, reductive, twitter generalization you have ever heard about it. Shin Megami Tensei is a series with cRaZy hard gameplay and penis demons where you kill your friends now. Nothing more.

Thanks for reading. I honestly could talk for another 3000 words about this game probably but outside of the context of a review. Hope y’all have a nice day <3


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