Persona 4 Golden: 40 hours in


Discovering the doorway to another world

I love RPGs, but I’m basically horrible at playing them. A former colleague asked on Facebook the other day what percentage of role-playing games people finish. I’d say under 10% for me. It’s not a matter of difficulty, mind you. So often start them, then just stop around 6, 9, or 20 hours, never to return again. 

There’s myriad excuses why; things just happen when you’re gaming. But as a result, I’ve only beaten 2 of the 10 numbered Final Fantasy games I played (including 13, which is probably the most-hated). I’ve completed 1 Disgaea, 1 Breath of Fire, 1 Fire Emblem, 1 Suikoden, and zero Persona games. I was playing and digging PS2’s Persona 3: FES when my launch-unit Playstation 3 shit the bed, around the 9-hour mark.

But now, I’m playing Persona 4 Golden on my Vita. And I’m loving it. I’m loving it so much, I decided to write about how great it is despite the fact that either people already know or don’t care about it.

Persona 4, like the others in the series, follows a group of high-school students in modern-day Japan. This setting has always appealed to me, and stood out in a genre so stuck on the medieval. Your characters rely on their Personas to do much of the fighting – demons they come to fuse with in one way or another. Not terribly dissimilar to Pokemon though predating it. And more recently, Persona installment stories entail going to a special netherworld – in P4’s case, by entering the TV with the help of a hollow bear named Teddy.  Continue reading

Super Mario 3D Land’s Lost Levels are Included

I bought a 3DS right around the price drop – late enough to get the better price, but soon enough to qualify for the bad-ass Ambassador Program. Since then, I’ve beaten several games on the handheld: Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, Mario’s Picross, Legend of Zelda, Zelda 2: Adventure of Link, Metroid Fusion… As you may notice, those are all virtual console (or Ambassador) games. Before this week, I had only beaten one 3DS exclusive: The awesome puzzle game Pushmo (in my opinion, the sequel Crashmo – which I broke my no-game-buying ban to pick up – is not nearly as good).

Honestly, I’ve barely touched any of the physical game cards I own. Super Mario Land 3D (buy here) is the only one I’d spent more than a couple hours on. And I really like it. I admittedly haven’t been drawn in by any of the 3D Mario games – sacrilege I know – but this one is a great blend of 2D and 3D with bite-size levels perfect for a portable. Even still, it sat unplayed for over a year.

I recently went back to it, only to find that I was already on World 7. Though it had been long enough that I was pretty rusty – especially since the button config doesn’t match old Marios – I was still able to get through the rest of the game in maybe an hour, to see Bowser defeated and Peach saved once again (spoiler? Yeah right).

Mario Land 3D is definitely built to cater to less-experienced players. It does this thing where, if you die repeatedly on a level, it gives you a pity white tanooki suit that is even immune to attacks. Die more still, and you’ll get the beloved P-Wing from Mario 3. While I see how these could be helpful, I was a little miffed. Sure, I could decide not to use them, but it’s very tempting. I didn’t touch that P-Wing, though; that’s cheating! It’s not as bad as Ninja Gaiden asking to bump you down to Ninja Dog difficulty, but it’s still demeaning.

I felt like I saw everything the game had to offer, which was not unsubstantial even though I only logged 5 hours and 11 minutes by the time the credits rolled. The level design is very creative, not just utilizing the 3D as more than a simple gimmick, but also having fun with Mario tropes throughout the series. I did not get all the Yoshi coins, which show up 3 per level. You need some to unlock nonessential worlds and even some boss sections, but I always had more than enough on hand.

The game alludes to “special” stages post-completion, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to bother. A look at howlongtobeat, however, showed that my 5:11 completion time is an hour below the average, even for just completing the main story. I’m usually a very slow, methodical player. And if you look at those who beat the main game plus did more, there seems to be 4 1/2 hours of extra content. So I decided to check it out.

I’m quite glad I did. Gone is the babying of gifted items and other hand-holding aspects. The all-new special stages – there are at least 40 of them – are more difficult, more clever, and just plain more special than the original levels. For example, there are levels when you have a very short time limit, and have to grab clock power-ups to avoid timing out. It’s almost like that first 5 hours and 11 minutes was a tutorial.

Now, I’m getting my ass handed to me in part because I’m still a little rusty and also because I’m drawn to Yoshi coins. Falling to my death is the norm, and I’m down about 20 lives after getting through the first baker’s dozen of special stages (that just means I have a stockpile of 75 now instead of 95). Sure, I’ve uttered some swears – or alternates to swears like “fut nuckers,” which I literally actually said – but I’m having more fun. Perhaps I just like the challenge after the lack of it for the first Act.

It reminds me of the original Super Mario Bros. That game presented a modest challenge, in part because it was something we’d never played before. When I say “we,” I mean those of us old enough to have been kids when the NES came out and either had one or had a friend with one. I initially fit in the latter category, so my friend Daniel and I would join Bobby in his basement every day after school to play Mario. We’d slowly but surely get further every time; of course, there was no saving, so we’d have to start from 1-1 each day. It wasn’t until we found the 3-1 infinite life loop that we were able to triumph.

A few years later, Super Mario 2 came out. While I love that game to this day, it was not the actual sequel to Mario 1. That was a game that we wouldn’t see here in the US until Super Mario All-Stars for SNES, under the title “The Lost Levels.” It was essentially Super Mario 1 part II, only much harder. Stereotype says Japanese gamers are more hardcore than us, so they got it and we didn’t.

But in the case of Super Mario 3D Land, its “Lost Levels” are included right along with the regular game! The Reddit nation would probably call that move Good Guy Nintendo. I just call it more time with an old friend, and I don’t mean Daniel and Bobby.

— Justin Leeper (@StillManFights)

Genre Awards: Turn-Based Strategy

In my last post, I started my series of “Genre Awards,” where I herald the all-time best games in various genres. My first awards went to my picks for the best fighting games. I went back and played a couple hours of Street Fighter Alpha 3 after writing that, by the way.
That genre represented the brawn; this is the brains. I’ve been a fan of turn-based strategy games for a very long time. RTS can suck it as far as I’m concerned, but getting to plot out your moves in as much time as you want for maximum benefit really resonates with me. It’s an extension of chess and checkers. One of my favorite early gaming memories was playing Tunnels of Doom on the family Texas Instruments computer. On almost every console, there has been a tactical killer app: Military Madness on TurboGrafx, Shining Force on Genesis, Fire Emblem on GBA. Speaking of Fire Emblem, a new installment just released on 3DS, Fire Emblem: Awakening – which is testing my no-game-buying vow something fierce. Here are my personal overall picks for the 3 Best Turn-Based Strategy Games!

BRONZE: King’s Bounty: A Conqueror’s Quest (1991, EA, Genesis)
I was still a tactical n00b when I grabbed this game from the packed shelves at Sunset Video. I took it home, and was thrust into a world full of minions and monsters, large areas to explore, and the equivalent of digital dodgeball: my team of dudes on one side, the enemy’s squads on the other. I rented that game many more times, until I finally talked the proprietor into selling it to me. I still have it.
Usually, I don’t like when these kind of games give you disposable units that don’t level up (see Advance Wars). However, in King’s Bounty, you’re free to recruit as many Dragons, Druids, or Orcs as are available. Whether they listen to your commands is another matter. Have your Ghosts lay waste to a bunch of Peasants – their numbers go up one for each kill – and they may mutiny against you.
The overworld aspects were sweet, too. Every game has randomized treasure placement, and the overall quest has a different location every time you play. It’s those type of replay elements that made it so great for me. I know that it was on Apple and PC first, and few realize 3DO’s PS2 game, Heroes of Might & Magic: Quest for the Dragon Bone Staff was literally the same game as King’s Bounty, but given a fresh coat of paint. Additionally, King’s Bounty: The Legend is in my collection; I just haven’t bothered to install it on my PC. It’s going to be tough to topple the 16-bit classic.

SILVER: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012, 2K Games, Xbox 360)
If you’ve read this blog much, you aren’t surprised to see XCOM make the list – though you may be surprised to see it didn’t take the gold. After all, I declared it my Game of the Year for 2012.
Because I’ve extolled its virtues so much, I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice to say this is an amazing strategy game which gives you a lot of ways to play, an emotional connection to your soldiers, and a perfect balance of gameplay. Also, I recommend reading Polygon’s excellent story on one designer’s quest to revitalize this franchise. I really need to check out the early XCOM games – which, of course, I own thanks to a couldn’t-pass-up bundle for like $5.

GOLD: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (2003, Atlus, PlayStation 2)
This game was placed upon my desk very near the end of my 4-year career at Game Informer magazine. It was easily one of the best games I ever got to review in that mag’s pages. I wanted to give it a 9 – it definitely deserved it – but my editor-in-chief told me a game with that poor of graphics could not score so high. I wonder if he ever played it.
Anyway, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is hilarious. A child demon overlord wakes up and finds his father dead and his kingdom made up of slackers. He’s pissed! His one remaining vassal is only out for herself, a meek angel is out to kill him, and nobody takes him seriously. The writing and voice-acting is top-notch – a feather in the cap of niche-game importer extraordinaire, Atlus.
But this isn’t Best Story, is it? The gameplay here is so good, I struggle to accurately describe it. Everyone and everything has depth and can be upgraded. Heck, every item has a 100-floor dungeon inside of it, should you feel so inclined. You can throw minions for better positioning, gang-up attacks are awesome, and new elements are constantly rolled out.
I played over 100 hours of Disgaea. That’s more than I played every other NIS-developed strategy game combined – including Disgaea 2 and Disgaea 3. So yeah, I think it was worthy of a 9 out of 10.

I Played 110 Games This Year (A List)

I like to track things in my life: weights lifted, events experienced, and just about everything related to my video game collection. Last year, I added a listing of every game I played that year. Of course, I made one again this year. On the off chance someone cares, I’m publishing the list, along with (exactly) 8 words on each one. Enjoy, and have a happy and safe New Year!

1. Mega Man 2 (NES) – An NES fave played for music video footage
2. Super Paper Mario (WII) – Played last in ’07, came back to beat
3. Mario Kart Wii – Another lost relic I dusted off and replayed
4. Def Jam Rapstar (360) – I was ranked #5 on “Can’t Truss It”
5. 1000 Heroz (iPhone) – I literally played this iPhone platformer every day
6. Bastion (360) – I like indie games that you can download
7. Batman: Arkham City (360) – Not quite Asylum, but darn good. Excellent story
8. Binding of Isaac (PC) – I’m a naked baby, armed only with tears.
9. Dead Space HD (iPad) – High hopes for my first iPad exclusive. Nope
10. Dungeon Raid (iPhone) – My favorite match-3 game ever. Still a go-to

11. Flight Control HD (iPad) – Another iPad exclusive I didn’t play too much
12. Jetpack Joyride (iOS) – Played on both iPhone, iPad for great fun
13. Kirby Epic Yarn (Wii) – Still haven’t beaten this adorable platform game yet
14. Mario vs. Donkey Kong (GBA) – Thanks, 3DS Ambassador program, for this 22 minutes!
15. Portal 2 (PS3) – If only Kate would finish co-op with me
16. Puzzle Agent (iPhone) – It’s Professor Layton meets Fargo. I beat it
17. Skyrim (360) – On 02.06.12, my epic 280 hour quest ended
18. Super Mario Land 3D (3DS) – Deserves more than the 5 hours I’ve played
19. Uncharted 3 (PS3) – You ever beat a game out of spite?
20. WELDER (iOS) – I like word games; just not this one

21. Angry Birds: Space HD (iPad) – This definitely rikindled my love of Finnish fowl
22. Aces Cribbage (iPad) – I like cribbage. Got a problem with that?
23. Bioshock (PC) – Crapped out on 360, gave PC a try
24. bit.trip Complete (Wii) – Man, was I NOT into this game collection!
25. Chu Chu Rocket (iPhone) – Ended up really liking this Dreamcast puzzle game
26. Don’t Run With A Plasma Sword (iOS) – Another “runner” style game. Okay but not memorable
27. Dungeon Village (iOS) – Kairosoft makes awesome titles, including this one here
28. Fairway Solitaire (iPad) – Of course golf and solitaire would mix, silly
29. GP Story (iPhone) – More Kairosoft. I like cars that go vroom
30. Homefront (360) – Only military console FPS I played in 2012

31. Journey (PS3) – Beautiful. Innovative. Short. Kind of like my wife.
32. Infinity Blade 2 (iOS) – I decided I don’t like Infinity Blade much
33. Mahjong Towers Touch (iPad) – Shanghai. Nabisco World. I dig these tile pushers
34. Mass Effect: Infiltrator (iPad) – Liked this way better than Dead Space iPad
35. Metroid Fusion (3DS) – Loved on GBA, played again on Ambassador Program
36. Pac-Chomp! (iOS) – A fun twist on Tetris Attack style puzzlers
37. Persona 3 FES (PS2) – First Persona I played since original on PSone
38. Rock Band Blitz (360) – Harmonix relives the majesty of my beloved Amplitude
39. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins (3DS) – Mario Land 1 didn’t really feel like Mario
40. Swordigo (iOS) – Played a couple minutes; only remember it’s ugly

41. Jamestown (PC) – I love shmups. This one isn’t crazy difficult
42. Temple Run (iOS) – I recall LeBron James loves it. I’m ambivalent
43. NFL Flick Quarterback (iPad) – Cool concept to get behind the QB’s helmet
44. Portal (PC) – Loved it on console and tried on Steam
45. Real Racing 2 HD (iPad) – There’s a theme here, with meh iPad games
46. Rock Band Reloaded (iPhone) – Rock Band is pretty decent on iPhone, too
47. Catherine (PS3) – Sexy, mature game about climbing towers in briefs
48. Katawa Shoujo (PC) – Visual novel about dating handicapped schoolgirls. It’s true
49. Russian Dancing Men (iOS) – Rhythm game which features the infectious “Amazing Horse”
50. Contra Rebirth (Wii) – Sure, I’ll try a cheap, easier Contra game

51. Pushmo (3DS) – Probably my favorite 3DS game. Haven’t bought sequel.
52. Wooords (iOS) – Make many words with colorful fridge magnet letters
53. Rayman Origins (PS3) – Beautiful and intuitive. Only played a short while
54. Antrim Escape 3 (iOS) – One of those “escape the room” puzzle games
55. Bugdom 2 (iOS) – A very poor knockoff of Banjo Kazooie type
56. Falling Fred (iOS) – You fall. As Fred. Until you kill him
57. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) – This formula has yet to get old yo
58. Mole Cart (iOS) – Let’s rip off Mario Kart cuz we’re China!
59. Starfox 64 3D (3DS) – Sadly, I have only played a couple minutes
60. League of Evil (iOS) – Fun Meat Boy style platformer on iPhone/iPad

61. Mass Effect 3 (360) – Ended with a wimper, but what a series!
62. NBA 2K12 (360) – Love me some Visual Concepts hoops, says I
63. Dark Souls (PS3) – Games don’t get much better than this one
64. Epic Mickey (Wii) – Kinda disappointed by the filler in this one
65. Parasite Eve (PSP) – Didn’t play on PSone, but it’s darn good
66. Final Fantasy VII (PSP) – I still have yet to beat this classic
67. Mega Mall Story (iPhone) – Another fine Kairosoft effort. Build your mall, y’all
68. 10000000 (iPad) – Puzzle and RPG join with hip retro graphics
69. Batman: Arkham City Lockdown (iPad) – Infinity Blade knockoff. I’m burnt on Infinity Blade
70. Dynamite Jack (iOS) – Overhead stealth. Gotta go back to this one

71. Lollipop Chainsaw (360) – Not as endeering as it should have been
72. Pizza vs. Skeleton (iOS) – Roll over bony bastards as a large pizza
73. Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones (GBA) – No game was played more on my 3DS
74. Bad Piggies HD (iPad) – Creating suicide machines didn’t do much for me
75. He-Man: The Most Powerful Man in the Universe (iOS) – Dripping nostalgia, trace elements of fun. It’s okay
76. The Room (iPad) – Solve your way through a giant safe. Maybe
77. Twist Pilot (iOS) – Console dev superstars: Don’t phone in iOS games
78. Driver: San Francisco (PS3) – Very creative driving game with some design issues
79. Puzzle Craft (iPhone) – Close to a Facebook game, I completed anyway
80. Terraria (PC) – Sorry, but video games need more than digging

81. Dishonored (360) – The muse for this entire blog. Hells yeah
82. Spelunky (PC) – Instead of buying on XBLA, free PC download
83. Punch Quest (iOS) – Really like this runner with a brawler soul
84. Street Fighter X Tekken (iPad) – Not a bad fighter for being on iPad
85. Quantum Conundrum (360) – Gal behind Portal does something Disney-esque. Still playing
86. The Walking Dead (PC) – Yes, I bought this on Steam’s Black Friday
87. Sonic Generations (360) – Mixes 2D and 3D Sonic, and mostly succeeds
88. Asura’s Wrath (PS3) – This dude is pissed! It’s like we’re twins
89. Quiet, Please! (360) – Endearing little indie adventure game on Xbox 360
90. Rayman: Jungle Run (iOS) – Pretty, playable and perfectly suited for portable pleasure

91. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (360) – Jumped off wagon with this, but so good!
92. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (iOS) – Freaking Vice City! The whole game! On iOS!
93. Extinction Squad (iOS) – Like those old Nintendo LCD games, but funny
94. Super Mole Escape (iOS) – Like Doodle Jump, but in reverse. Make sense?
95. Robot Wants Kitty (iPhone) – Metroidvania game where a robot wants the kitty
96. Waking Mars (iPad) – Intriguing, attractive game. A bit bland so far.
97. Angry Birds Star Wars HD (iPad) – 2 played out properties, but still really fun
98. Party Wave (iOS) – Surfing game by the dude behind Final Fantasy
99. Fast Fast Laser Laser (360) – Indie game blending Bomberman with guns and swords
100. NBA 2K13 (iPad) – Don’t own it on console, just iOS. Decent

101. Karoshi (iPhone) – This platformer/puzzler’s goal is to kill yourself
102. Slydris (iOS) – Tetris or Lumines, but without needing to hurry
103. Tiger Woods 2012 (iPad) – Robust golf game to take with you anywhere
104. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (iPhone) – Oh FPS and iPhone. You shouldn’t be together
105. The Curse (iOS) – Variety of puzzles and a creepy villain’s taunting
106. Penny Arcade: Rain-Slick Precipice 3 (iPad) – Impressive old-school RPG that I’m definitely hooked on
107. Beat Sneak Bandit (iPad) – Rhythm based sneaking is a pretty neat concept
108. Sonic Jump (iPhone) – Elevates the Doodle Jump genre immensely. Free now
109. Wordament (iPhone) – Boggle with a leaderboard and Xbox achievement tie-in
110. Mutant Mudds (iPhone) – The 3DS action/platformer is now smaller and cheaper

What, me jealous?

Maybe my no-buying vow has colored my impression of new releases. Perhaps it’s a self-defense mechanism to keep me from being too envious. But really, there hasn’t been a new release this month that has really left me wanting. Assassin’s Creed III apparently takes out all the assassinating. Super Mario Wii U has a cool overworld, but I didn’t *love* New Super Mario Wii nor have I completed either Mario Galaxy. Halo 4 is even a mixed bag in terms of reviews – many knocking its campaign as samey with a Tron overlay. FarCry 2 pissed me off far too much for me to have any interest in FarCry 3, and the talk of its story elements being shock for shock’s sake isn’t going to turn me around. mind you, all these games are getting at least an 80 Metacritic score.

I’m on the last stage of Fire Emblem 2. It’s kicked my ass a couple times, to the point where I consulted GameFaqs. They keep talking about these magic spells that I’ve never seen much less have access to, so it may be tough for me to come out victorious.

I’m also struggling a bit with Persona 3, which I’m waiting to take a big step in the excitement department. Currently, my character is in the week before high-school finals, so my cohorts keep jumping ship and all I can really do is go to the library to study. That’s as exciting as it sounds. At least the soundtrack is dope.

I started Driver: San Francisco a while back, and it’s been fun. It’s a with-Kate game. I worried that she’d bore of the open world and race/stunt challenges, but she’s enjoyed it. I think the strange-and-intriguing story helps, as does the San Francisco setting – a city of which she’s very fond. Sticking with the car theme, we played a little Mario Kart Wii. I spent the time to unlock a few extra cups, but there are still 8 tracks we can’t yet access.

Everyone enjoy your Black Friday buying. Amazon, Steam, and even Capcom’s own store have already posted some great deals. Just remember to buy stuff for other people, and make sure to actually play the things you buy at some point.

XCOM? Fire Emblem!

I’m glad Dishonored was my final game purchase for the next year. I was able to get in several hours with it this weekend. I’ve given up attempting to just KO or avoid enemies. I like exploring too much, which means contending with more bad guys. But now that I have a special power where assassinated people turn to ash, at least I don’t have to worry about hiding bodies.

With the XCOM hype, I find myself wanting some tactical strategy goodness. Enter Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. I reviewed this for X-Play back in the day – which is apparently no longer on their site – and I really enjoyed it. It was one of the Ambassador games on 3DS, which means I don’t even have to dig it out of the big box o’ GBA games to play! And playing this gets me off of my iPad and Angry Birds Space HD, which I’d developed a not-too-healthy obsession with as of late.

Fire Emblem is a rather traditional turn-based tactical RPG. Its main gimmick is that once someone dies, they’re gone for good. This adds weight to every loss. For example, I met up with a former knight, long retired to raise his son. The son talks him into having them join us. Two battles later, the kid gets hacked in half by an enemy. Oops. Maybe Dad was right after all…

Now, technically, I could probably close out the game, and restart the chapter. But battles are pretty darn long. Instead, I just… uh, avenge his death. Yeah, that’s it. And there’s usually enough characters that you’re leaving a few in the tent before you fight. At least so far.

Now, Best Buy has a great deal for those of you who aren’t on a game-buying ban: Buy 2 games, get 1 free! This means if you buy XCOM and NBA 2K13, for example, you can get Max Payne 3 for free! Those are all games I don’t own, which are on my wishlist Excel. You all keep an Excel spreadsheet of your games wishlist, right? With priority rankings and a desired price for each one? Of course you do!