I, Prompto: Discovering The Truth in a Winter Wonderland

I glide through the blinding white landscape on a sleek and powerful snowmobile. The engine whines as I accelerate, hit a jump – then silence as I fly through the air for an eternally brief moment. I land back on the ground – hard – and correct my course, narrowly dodging a rock formation protruding from the matted down snow and ice. The wind tosses my blonde hair as I steal a glance back towards my female companion behind me. Arms round my waist, she smiles confidently as we near our destination. I ease off the throttle as we reach the top of a majestic overlook of a winding slope. I hop off the snowmobile to take in the vista. Ah. This is going to be fun.

 

I mount the snow-cruising craft, ready to race down the mountain in a challenging test of control and speed…

 

… And it doesn’t start. Or rather, it starts, but it won’t budge. It is stuck in an invisible wall. I have no choice but to reload to my last save and make the climb all over again. Even Aranea looks pissed off.

 

I, Doctor Doomcliff, have no shame in admitting I was an avid and passionate player of Final Fantasy XV. Just the concept of it was, to me, brave and limitless in potential. A cast of four friends who spend every minute together in an epic road-trip journey across a sprawling open world, with seamless combat? I was sold as soon as I read early material on the game, and last year, I was extremely satisfied with the final product. I was also excited for their DLC plans – building on the centerpiece storytelling of the main game by giving each of the additional characters their own episode. The first of this series, Episode Gladiolus, was a fun and innovative, at times limited, combat experience.

 

So needing to fill big shoes is the small-statured and big-mouthed character Prompto. This episode takes place after Prompto is (to avoid spoilers) separated from his team due to a “misunderstanding,” and finds himself abandoned in a tundra wasteland. Prompto has to make it back to his friends Noctis, Gladiolus, and Ignis while also discovering an unpleasant truth about his identity.

 

Sounds pretty intriguing so far. So where did this go wrong? To be fair, I found some of the elements of this between 1 and 3 hour adventure quite charming. The backstory here is engaging, especially if you’ve invested a lot of time into the characters. The mainstay voice actors for Prompto, Ardyn, and Aranea are back and give outstanding performances. And the visuals are quite beautiful – this snowy, open sandbox, although small, has some novelty just because of how different it looks from any location in the main game.

 

But the execution is just not there. Of all the glitches and bugs I experienced, the above mentioned snowmobile incident was the most infuriating. But it’s really all of the little things that seep out through this game’s many cracks that left a bad taste in my mouth. Little things like completing a side quest, but not having the “quest complete” marker register, so you have to reload and re-do the quest. Or when you leave the radius of a side quest accidentally, and it forfeits the whole mission. You have to wait for the quest to spawn again or reload your save. Even in the cutscenes, the dialogue often overlaps itself, ruining the only good thing in this experience, the storytelling, by janking up the pacing and weight of dialogue. And the snowmobile handling and physics are another story entirely, which is already accounted for by intense grumbling online.

FINAL FANTASY XV_20170719213630
I believe I can fly.

This was an ambitious effort by the Final Fantasy XV team, and Sir Doomcliff, as a knight of justice, appreciates that courage. To put out an entire open-world sandbox as side content, and turn the core gameplay 180 degrees into a third-person shooter, cannot be easy. But on a technical level, Episode Prompto completely missed the mark. I still love Final Fantasy XV and I still want more story-based content from it (spoiler: the trailer for Episode Ignis was pretty dull), but this experience left me very sour. On the scales of justice, Prompto’s content is weighted at a light 5 out of 10. I can do without seeing another snowmobile for a very, very long time.

Aren’t You Tired? How Persona 5 Stole my Heart and All My Sleep

I stand opposite my opponent, our eyes locked, our bodies tense. He’s watching me – I have to be careful. I strafe around him, careful and slow, trying not to make any sudden movements.

 

Then I make a break for it. Without a word, I sprint by him. But his words halt me on the stairs, like an invisible wall.

 

“Aren’t you tired? Let’s call it a day and get some sleep.”

 

NO! I sprint to the workshop desk in the corner, hoping to sneakily craft a means of escape.

 

“Let’s not do that today.”

 

I grab at the chair in the corner, desperate to throw it at the meddlesome cat.

 

“You must be tired after today.”

 

Damn it.

 

“Let’s get some sleep.”

 

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Damn you, talking cat.

What I have only slightly dramatized is the showdown that punctually faces players at the end of each day spent in Atlus’ Persona 5. In the game, you can only partake in so many activities per day before the game forces you to go to sleep, ushering in a new day of decisions and choices. However, this highly addicting game makes sleep the bane of the player’s existence. The oppressor of this forced drowsiness, a cat named Morgana, sits in your room and smiles while you beg to stay up. Morgana’s warnings have become so ludicrous to players that he has become something of a meme to P5 players.

 

Dr. Doomcliff is a newcomer when it comes to Persona. Having never played an entry in the series, I by chance read a review for this strange little Japanese game and decided to throw my copy of Mass Effect: Andromeda out of my castle window. Let’s give P5 a go, I said. That was nearly three months ago, and I still haven’t returned to Mass Effect, nor have I fished it out of my shark-infested moat.

 

Persona 5 is the fifth *official* entry in a series that has been running for twenty years. I say official because there are many spinoffs – some even include “dancing”, to my understanding. But the Persona series, in essence, thrusts you into the dual life of a high school student/supernatural explorer. During the day you go to class, hang out with your juvenile delinquent friends, or consume copious amounts of beef at the local burger joint. At night, you enter another dimension where you battle demons using your bestowed demon-wielding/capturing power.

 

The story goes like this: you move to Tokyo after being kicked out your old school for a crime you didn’t commit. You discover that you and some new friends have the ability to enter a bad guy’s cognition, which manifests itself into a labyrinthine dungeon called a “Palace,” and fighting through the Palace you change the hearts of criminals from pure evil to whimpering repentance. You and your friends gain popularity as the “Phantom Thieves,” stealing hearts and changing society for the better, while persued by those who believe your unconscious meddling with the heart is unjust.

 

As far as Japanese stories go, believe me, it’s actually one of the easier ones to follow. You want some truly muddled shit, try on Kingdom Hearts 2.

 

So what’s so great about this psychoanalytical life simulation where a talking cat holds your bedtime over you like a guillotine? The game rolls effortlessly – days pass, decisions are made, new missions are introduced. Rinse and repeat. Time is finite, though, and missions have deadlines. Every single day is a calculation of how to most efficiently use your time. You start to plan in advance in your head – tonight I’ll hang back and read this book that builds my courage, so that tomorrow night I have enough guts accumulated to hang out with my ex-Yakuza confidant. Or, I could spend the same time on a different path, and still impact the gains for my character and my story.

 

The characters in this game are real achievements because I wanted to hang out with them even after I maxed out our bonds. I looked forward to taking time out of my days to go to new places with them, to see movies with them, or to in some special cases, go on dates with them. Many complain that these characters are just different anime tropes, but I disagree – thanks to the committed and vibrant voice acting and the sometimes-cheesy, often hilarious writing, these characters shine in what’s already a compelling story.

 

But aside from the narrative elements and the high-school nostalgia, there’s a whole other side to this game that shines like a jewel in the moonlight. And that side is the battle system, and the dungeon-crawling gameplay in the “otherworld” that parallels the “real world”. Just as addictive as any daytime activity, the battling in this game is a fun blend of Pokemon style monster taming and Final Fantasy like turn based strategy. You wield a demon-like “Persona,” using skills your opponent has a weakness to in order to down them. Once you down all of your enemies, you unleash a stylized, “All Out Attack” where you deliciously pummel the hopeless fiend(s), dealing massive damage and nearly always killing your foe. It’s a lot of fucking fun.

 

As many praises as I can sing for this strange, amazing, beautiful game, there are a few downsides to it that any fair purveyor of justice such as myself cannot ignore. One of these weaknesses is that the game is LONG. Expect more than 100 hours – and that’s just to finish ONE playthrough. And while the long sections of story cutscenes are usually fine thanks to the peppy writing and acting, some of the voice acting in the game, usually from secondary characters, doesn’t meet the bar that the rest of the cast sets. And some of the lines are pretty cringe-worthy. I’m looking at you, Junya Kaneshiro’s bug-form, yo.

 

Overall, the Scales of Justice indicate a lot of weight on the positive side. The style, gameplay, and story in this game are delicious. All of the components of this game come together to synergize what is definitely one of my favorite games of all time. And – as gentleman, I should mention that while it is possible to date all of the female confidants at the same time, in my first playthrough I stayed faithful to Makoto until the end. Ahh, Makoto – a vision of the perfect girl; brains, brawn, and body. Doomcliff doubts he will find another love as true as Makoto as long as he games – or anyone else who looks so good in a black leather body suit. I rate Persona 5 forty-six out of fifty on the Scales of Justice.

Justice Keeps Falling On My Head: A Year of Ups and (Mostly) Downs with Overwatch

Dr. Doomcliff has had enough of your shit, Genji.

 

Bouncing off the walls like a rubber testicle, spamming shurikens into my asshole, then flashing through my bowels with a blink of his sword strike — Genji is one nasty motherfucker. As a master player of Overwatch, I unglue myself from the corner I’ve been stuck in for eleven seconds and exit the building, finding cover outside. I post up, crosshair trained on the doorway. Genji’s miniscule, dingleberry of a head pops smack into the middle of my field of view. I’ve got you now, you half-cyborg, half-ninja dirtbag. I unload my hot, spinning cannon of justice–

 

–only for my burning ammunition to be swiftly redirected into my own face by Genji’s reflect ability. I promptly fall apart, and my corpse is defiled by the little green pervert. A bit cruel, I suppose – but perhaps that’s what I get for picking Bastion. *Insert sad beep boop here*

 

Usually a man of more intellectual pursuits, I normally pass on first person shooters — particularly online competitive ones — faster than you can say “RyUu-gA Wa-gA-Te ki WeNIs KILL ME NOW!” So why Overwatch, and why Overwatch still, a year into it’s undoubtedly long foreseeable future?

 

The answer, at least in part, lies in the heroes. As a hero of great stature myself, I am attracted to the variety of fascinating personalities, looks, and abilities of these virtual colleagues. And in some cases, the attraction is quite literal – but don’t tell Mrs. Doomcliff. And each of these heroes are not only cosmetically different, but have completely different roles and uses. Playing as the sharp-shooting Widowmaker, for example, offers a completely different toolkit and play style than Reinhardt, who deals and receives massive damage for his team with a hammer and a shield.

 

Learning the little intricacies of each of these twenty-something heroes is a grand task, but a rewarding one. Especially when you find that one hero that speaks to your play style and ability. Those passionate for pestilent insects will pick up Genji because of his extremely mobile yet ubiquitous presence on the battle map. More conservative, strategic players may opt for a defensive hero such as Mei, who can be equally infuriating as a foe. The point is, no matter who you are, what your moral background is, or how prolific your FPS background is, there is a hero you will enjoy playing as. But that doesn’t always mean you will do well.

This will almost never happen.

Overwatch is a competitive online multiplayer game, meaning that there is scripted exploration of levels or worlds, no personal interaction with a story, no dialogue choices (in the conventional sense at least; Overwatch still has some pretty talented voice actors and great voice lines. Young punks… get off my lawn!) Your experience of Overwatch will generally be the same as everyone else’s. You get loaded into a map, you pick who you want to kill and be killed as, and then you try to kill the other guys more than you kill them.

 

Granted, this is not a strict deathmatch/bloodbath/orgy-of-slaughtering-and-teabagging. Instead of homicide being the main goal, there are objectives in each game mode to encourage teamwork amongst you and your five teammates. Move this payload from point A to point B; capture point A or defend point B. This teamwork, however, is what makes or breaks your game experience. If you have a good team that communicates constantly, groups together, moves swiftly and confidently, you can crush an unorganized team. Even if the other team is on an equal field in terms of skill level, you can still stand a pretty good chance and have an epic, nail-biter of a game with a coordinated team.

 

But if you are the unorganized team? Forget it. You will spawn, die, repeat, each life amounting to less and less as the opponent pushes you further back. You watch as your payload that you’ve spent the last 10 minutes pushing sails backwards towards you after the enemy gets a lucky triple kill and offsets the spawning times of your teammates for the rest of your match. Dr. Doomcliff, as a defender of Justice, never gives up – but playing Overwatch on a losing team is one of the most hopeless feelings you can have in a videogame.

 

Yet I can’t resist coming back to Overwatch. I have a desire within me to return to these characters, to experience the new content, to unlock purely cosmetic and otherwise useless customizations for my favorite heroes. Why?

 

More than anything, I credit my love for this game to the character designers. Yes, the gameplay is incredibly tight and balanced, yes, the physics keep the game from exploding into wonky mess, and yes, the maps are detailed, beautiful and tactical at the same time. But these characters, man. They are so cool. And then there’s Mercy.

 

Ahem. Weighted on the scales of Justice, Dr. Doomcliff acknowledges that because this game is a year old, and is still relevant, it automatically is boosted significantly. Overwatch is like a best friend – sometimes too cheeky for your liking, but in the end, reliable. The design of the game is immaculate, and if there was ever any doubt that Blizzard is borderline perfectionist with their releases — this game is evidence of their top quality production. Continuous support from the developers over time has been amazing, adding frequent events, XP weekends, new characters, and maps. Blizzard is not afraid to put themselves out there with seemingly ridiculous new ways to play the game, such as the excellent Lucioball.

 

All of this taken into consideration – the Doctor is extremely satisfied with Overwatch. The on the scale of Justice, it performs at a solid 9/10. 5 of those 9 points, however, are solely for Mercy. She gets a 10 in Dr. Doomcliff’s book, especially in her Valkyrie skin. She can pillage my village any time. Ahem.