Thoughts On: Persona 5

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I really am getting worse with the intervals between posts. What is it now, half a year since my last update? Oh well. Things get in the way as usual: work, play and writing. And speaking of play, I finished Persona 5.

First off, I’d just like to say: wow. What a game! It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve gone through a game so rigorous and so paced out as this – I thought it was never going to end. It’s a hell of a journey. Maybe that’s an overstatement on my end though, as I must shamefully admit now that while having played Persona 4, and the series predecessor Shin Megami Tensei III. I never actually managed to finish either – Shin Megami Tensei III because I lost the save file to it very far into the game, and Persona 4 because I got a bad ending and then proceeded to idiotically overwrite the save file with the new game plus condition, thereby forcing me to replay the game all over again (which I didn’t). I’d been pondering replaying Persona 4, but I never quite got around to it, and by the time the thought left my mind, Persona 5 was hot off the press. I say now that going into it, I knew nothing of the game beyond the one teaser trailer they showed at E3 a few years ago. The game was just something I wasn’t paying attention to – probably because of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain taking my personal hype spotlight. So, a few weeks ago I saw that it got released here in New Zealand, and I remembered the good fun I had with the series up to the point where I stuffed up and quit in self-disgust, so – after not having played a video game since the release of Dishonored 2 – I bought it for my Playstation 4. It’s safe to say the purchase went well beyond meeting my satisfaction.

Persona 5 has been getting rave reviews across the board, with 9/10s, 10/10s, 5 stars and marks of essentialmust play or buy it plastering gaming websites, magazines and videos across the net. It could be considered one of the greatest role-playing games of all time. I’m inclined to agree.

Some of the first things to hit me with this title was the sheer style of it. The art direction especially: every single function of the game is overlaid with this chaotic mish-mash of rebellious colours and displays. The user-interface is a beautiful mess, with text presented as though it came from the calling-cards used by the Phantom Thieves themselves, and the animated interaction of our main character playing with the very interface becomes a sort of hallmark – it makes the visual roguish nature Persona 5 wishes to intend an actuality. It’s a very creative way of incorporating the contents of the world with the system itself – though not an original concept, it achieves the merging of the world with the UI in a way that games like Fable 3 failed to understand; it’s fun. The music was another standout, it’s fantastic, so good that I actually downloaded the soundtrack (which is a very rare thing for me to do). It’s split between Shin Megami Tensei’s iconic epic rock performances during battles (more commonly for boss fights), but also moves away from Persona 4’s sunny and sometimes melancholy J-pop sound to a fresher, more upbeat, jazzy and funky mix of songs that give the game an even smoother vibe. However, my favourite part is how the developers have worked the music – somehow – into the gameplay with turn based battles not only becoming a game of strategy, but a chance to give flourish to your encounters by matching in the very actions of your party in time with the music: I seem to recall the countless hours I spent picking specific turns for my chance to time an all-out attack or baton pass along with the chorus to Last Surprise. It’s exhilarating; it’s fun; it’s just so cool. Persona 5 oozes style, and no matter how juvenile or questionable the game may become at times through the plot and many, many dialogue scenes, the style is always there, and you just get sucked into it.

In regards to the story, I know it’s not expected for a series like this to show off impressive writing; and it doesn’t. I suppose it fits into both cliches similar to most social simulator and Japanese role-playing type games – respectively, that of varied archetype personalities needed for more flavored interaction, and that of a plot which slowly ascends from relatively small-scale gambits to the ultimate finale: facing some form of End Being which tests the resolve of the main character’s spirit to the very last. It’s all overly dramatic in a very ‘anime’ way, and yet it works. The story keeps you wanting to know more, and the characters are there along with you to make sure the journey is that much more worthwhile: all of the additions to your circle are larger than life characters, each with their own distinct personalities that work well to clash and complement with each other as well as supporting the main character in their own unique manner. Airheaded-but-willful; Klutz-but-ferociously-loyal; pretentious-but-extravagant… The archetypes are there, and yes, they are designed in a certain ‘cut-out’ way, but for a game where pure style takes the reins over substance, it works. Yahztee Croshaw shared this sentiment too, in a rather complementary part of his usual cynically minded reviews:

I kept playing because I wanted to see what happened next. There’s a comparison to be made with Mass Effect here – both games are about forming a Scooby gang – but I like the Persona 5 Scooby gang members because they’re underdogs, they don’t open up to you straight away, and they’re expressive.

(Video here)

One thing the story did well however, was facilitate plenty of time for the battles. Underneath Persona 5’s stylish approach, the system remained as familiar to me as it was in Shin Megami Tensei III and Persona 4: that being, the gist of the system comes down to a turned based affair between your party of four and the enemy party of multiple weak or a single strong opponents – the primary Megami Tensei flare coming from taking advantages of strengths and weaknesses through skill types (similar to Pokemon, i.e. fire against ice or curse against bless) to rack up extra turns and pummel your enemy into submission. Persona 5 introduces the use of firearms though, allowing you all sorts of criticals, technicals and weak points to exploit (similar to the melee additions to your teammates based on their bond levels), and depending on the level of your confidants, access to ace moves like ambush shoot-outs or down shots – which sounds rather serious for a team of crime fighting high-schoolers, but it’s all contained within the less-visceral musicality of the game’s tone. It’s another tool and improvement in the arsenal of Persona’s battle system, which was already solid since the Playstation 2 era. My favourite part? The Demons! Though they’re called Shadows in the Persona universe, they’re basically identical to the entities from Shin Megami Tensei: a staggering amount of monsters based on real mythology from which you have all the chances of utilizing. Thanks to Megami Tensei’s bread-and-butter fusing system, you’re able to keep up the variety whilst climbing the power-levels of the game, cutting away the grind but still feeling like you accomplished the reward of the end-game Demons/Shadows available. Sorry, but what’s not awesome about being able to summon Thor, Dionysus, Metatron or the Moirae Sisters into battle with you?

Writing this soon after finishing the game, I’m left feeling a little empty. Persona 5 was a hell of a ride, it’s something I’ve not experienced since Metal Gear Solid V, and it’s something I doubt I’ll experience in a game for a very long time. I tend to say I’ve become a little distant from video games as media – what with my time being taken up by reading, writing and doing what I can to get through my final year of my degree – but every now and then, there’s a game that comes along and reminds me why I still play them. Persona 5 is that kind of game.

If you like video games and haven’t had the chance to play it, I urge you to try it, whether you rent it first or borrow it from a friend; whether you like role-playing games or Japanese games in general, it’s worth a try at least, I’m sure you wouldn’t regret it.

Plugging my book

Hi all, just a little update for any US Residents out there. My book is on Amazon and I’m doing a little giveaway!

https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/768adbf8c530c5b1

Two books are up for grabs, and it’s a 1 in 100 chance for you to win, give it a try!

For those outside the US, you may be able to get it shipped to you through a US Proxy-Address company in your country (e.g. for New Zealanders that would be YouShop) although I’m not 100% sure on that.

Giveaway will be expired after September 21,2016 11:59 PM PDT

Thoughts On: Writing a Novel

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Hello strangers. It’s been a while, again… Anyways, I supposed you might think life had whisked me away to such a place as I might never have been able to come to this blog, the truth is that I’ve been the same since my last post, and had plenty of time to write blogs, but I didn’t feel the need to. You see, the reason is because I’ve not done much beyond: university work, games, and a lot of reading. Along with these, I’ve also done some writing.

Writing a book to be exact. You might notice (if you frequent my blog, which I’m certain no one actually does) that the ‘My Creative Writing’ page has disappeared. That’s because I deleted it. I did this because it contained only four entries: one was an old high-school story called The Bus Stop at the End of Millennium, which I’m not happy with, and the other three were drafts of what now constitute chapters in my book. By the time this blog post is published, my novel should be published as well. The name of this novel is: All Besides I.

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(Forgive the low quality and artifacting, I had to optimize this for the web)

 

 

It’s a strange story, and there’s not really a genre I can place it in. Others who might come to read it might consider All Besides I a piece of Science-fiction or Fantasy. It’s a view I can see and won’t object to anyone using, but for me it’s a product of spiritual reflection. In the story, you will read the memoir of a being as he ventures the continent of another world; interacting, assimilating, fighting and breathing among its populace. There’s a pivotal aspect in the character that occurs within this chronicle, and I don’t wish to spoil it here so I won’t detail it, but it’s what I believe subverts an expectation  in most ‘discovery narratives’ of the protagonist appearing as an enlightened form on the ‘discovered’. Beyond this, in a greater sense, All Besides I acts as a form of introduction to the narrator of what will become The Tomes & The Reflections, my planned collective of independent narratives told by this same being. The idea of this is to offer a change from the standard in many Fantasy/Sci-fi narratives being but one installment in a grand series of 10+ books. All Besides I is not ‘Book 1 of the Uber Galactic Star Warrior Saga’, it is its own story, as will be any of the other books in The Tomes & The Reflections, you will be able to read each at any point – all independent of each other barring the bare reference or nod.

In regards to  size, it’s a fairly small book, totaling roughly 47k words. Wow! you might be wondering, that’s tiny! Maybe, but I didn’t want to stretch out the story longer than what was needed. I’ve written this much before. As I’ve mentioned somewhere in a previous blog, I’d written a 50k word draft in 2012 for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and it was shit. That story is still collecting dust in a vault on Google Drive, which I will one day come to cut down to the short story it is deserving of. With All Besides I however, I was very careful to craft the story as was appropriate to the development of the character in it. Everything that is written is there because it serves a purpose (yes, even the fantasy-esque name-dropping of Houses, Kingdoms and names). It took me a period of roughly three years to write the book, which  – considering the size – is very slow, but I don’t regret the pace, as it allowed me to work at my own pleasure on it. Since publishing this, my ability to write has quickened and improved, and already I have plans for three more books to write: one will be an addition to The Tomes & The Reflections; one will be a compilation of short stories; and the other will be a totally independent book which I am fairly confident will be labelled as Fantasy.

I suppose the main question to ask at the end of it all is: was it worth it?

My answer is: definitely. There’s a great pleasure in being able to transmit your innermost feelings to the written word, and to compile all of them together into a narrative that is (what I hope to be) both enjoyable for the reader and reflective of the maelstrom of experiences, reflections and feelings that constitute my own being. Writing, and creative writing especially, is one of the only ways I’ve found that can clearly present my thoughts. If any of you have talked to me personally, you might find the way I talk isn’t as ‘eloquent’ as  the way I write.

One last thing I’d like to do is share some advice, to anyone reading this, that wants to start their own journey into the novel writing world.

When you’re coming up with the conception of your novel, think first why you want to write it: what will this novel give to the reader, from you as a writer – what are you passing onto them? This doesn’t have to belong the high-school textbook definition, i.e. you don’t need to a have minimum of 3 themes to express. You’re sharing what is a part of you. In the purest of its form, this could merely be an expression of aesthetic, or emotion, that one might find in poetry. It’s not even something you have to explain, it’s just something to guide your writing, otherwise, you may find that your story about the Vampire Princess conquering the Squid People and making love to the dashing Raven Prince might in itself be a pointless exercise of pure pulp or – dare I say it – fantasy. He he, look at me, not even published my first book and I’m already acting the guru. Ignore me if you like, I’m just excited. To those who are in the midst of writing their book, good luck. I can’t help you, but I can cheer you on!

This post was written on the 9th of September, 2016

P.S.
Here are some links you can currently buy the book from:
Amazon
Amazon (eBook)
CreateSpace

Lastly, it’s also on Goodreads, if you happen to use that site. Please, feel free to rate it if you’ve read it!

Thoughts On: Graphic Novels

Long time no see! It seems a bit awkward of me to post after abandoning this little blog to be left in the dark for so long (Wow! I just checked, 8th of December was my last post). But here I am, with some free time again, so I may as well jump back in.

Graphic_Novels_Dan_Cartoon

During my period of Summer work in the holidays, I took an even keener interest in hoarding as much books as possible – partly because I was working at a book shop, but also because I thought it might be worth expanding my personal library and knowledge of fictions to help me out in my University courses. So I’d been buying all manner of books. Mostly it was science fiction and fantasy because I have a soft spot for that stuff when it’s done right. But before Christmas was due to come around I hinted towards family – who were desperate to find a present for me for Christmas – about some specifics I wanted. I ended up looking for graphic novels, because over my years I’ve been getting more interested in the visual aspects of other mediums, like that of film or video games.

So far I’ve read the following of what you could consider graphic novels (I’ll use this as a blanket term because I knew there’s the other nuances for them, like comics or mangas):

  • Fables by Bill Willingham and Lan Medina – An urban fantasy series covering the conflicted lives of the legendary folk figures of myth, as they struggle to settle in the run down inner suburbs of New York City. I’ve read up to Volume Six: Homelands of this series, and while I enjoyed the first four volumes, I felt things were going slightly downhill in regards to its quality. I also became dismayed to find it’s an ongoing series that currently has around twenty or so volumes with no plans to stop. I think this was the first time I came to find I didn’t enjoy reading such huge issues, and prefer a tighter and more compact narrative over a sprawling epic focused on retaining a fan base. However the setting is interesting, and I always enjoyed the character of Bigby Wolf. I recommend Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us video game prequel, if you’re interested in Fables but not sure you want to dive into the comics.
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins – A superhero mystery set in the 1980s, at the height of a Cold War ready to escalate due to tensions between the US and the USSR. The main plot revolves around the death of The Comedian, a member of the superhero group called the Watchmen. I loved this work, mainly because I’d always found the superhero formula seen in comics a bit boring, and – forgive me for sounding like a psuedo-intellectual eighteen year old – despite these people being in awful complex situations, the usual answer of shoot first and ask questions later approach always felt like wasted potential. With Watchmen you see quite a mature approach not otherwise seen in other superhero settings. It shows the dynamics of relationships between most of the story’s characters, how their powers, their duties and their pasts reflect in what they do and how they behave. They conflict in ideologies, beliefs and attitudes. Even the conflict of the plot leaves you feeling almost unfulfilled, as both the reader and the characters acknowledge the gravity of the situations that unfold in the plot. I seriously can not recommend this enough for anyone interested in trying out Graphic Novels as a medium, even if you don’t like superhero comics like me, it’s well worth a read. I would like to mention I’ve also read V for Vendetta and From Hell, both of which are masterpieces that I feel deserve their own posts, so I’ll leave them out of this for now, but if you get the chance, read them.
  • Lady Snowblood by Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura – Set in four parts,  it’s a revenge story focused on the main character Oyuki, “Born to be a child of hell, walking a path of vengeance for crimes committed against the family she never met.” I quite enjoyed this series, although it surprised me how graphic it was. In between stylishly framed backdrops and skillfully drawn martial art scenes, a lot of the book was very sexually charged: constant renditions of girls down on their luck having to prostitute themselves, girls kidnapped by local gangsters being forced into Brothel work, Yuki herself either avoiding rape from every male adversary she meets or seducing vulnerable girls for her own pleasure. As beautiful as she is, the story makes sure to remind you she isn’t some angelic hero of virtue, she does horrific and even despicable acts within the story. Probably the most disturbing being that she forces a servant to rape his Master’s daughter, before killing them both in order to pin the blame on him. While acts like this were quite heavy handed, the book somehow manages to retain a sense of humour in some parts. At first I felt a bit confused because of all the jumping tones – from tragic to comic, yet after the first book I’d come into the swing of things. Altogether it was a well paced, stylish and consistent story with an appropriately melancholy ending. I hope to read more of Kazuo Koike’s work, possibly the classic Lone Wolf and Cub, or a newer title like Colour of Rage.
  • Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks – The story of an entertainment journalist who travels to New Zealand, to the town of Hicksville, to discover the origin story of Dick Burger – a figure dominating the comics industry of the book. While the novel details the journalist Leonard Batts, a lot of the story is from the people of Hicksville itself, I liked this book because it felt quite elusive around most of the branching and interconnecting story lines. The novel has tons of allusions, references and odes to many famous and respected pieces and comic artists, writers and editors. The thing with Hicksville is that I will probably need to come back to it at some point in the future, to appreciate further the references established in the story and the styles. The most interesting aspect of Hicksville is that it’s both a love letter, and a critique of the comics industry – of the amazing talents and creativity that always crops up, and of the business side of things tending to milk such creativity, or leashing it to whatever keeps to more sensible practice. I’d say it’s definitely worth reading even if you’re not an avid comics or graphic novel reader.

So, these are some of the starting materials I’ve had, and I have to say I’m enjoying what I’m reading. I’ve even got a list of titles that I’m keen to dive into at some point:

Whenever I have the free time, I will hopefully find copies of these to read. Graphic Novels are a new medium for me, but I find I enjoy them quite a lot.

Feel free to share and recommendations in the comments!

 

 

Critical Analysis of Metal Gear Solid V: The Boldfaced Lie

A well thought out critical analysis of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and its ambiguity. Worth a read.

-V-S-

First, it must be said that the nature of this article is not to force the reader into another interpretation. It is merely that: an interpretation. After several days of critically thinking about the ending of Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain, a different conclusion was created as opposed to many of the more popular one’s that are abundant. This is a different perspective of what was witnessed. As with any interpretation, this one is also open to debate.

This essay will cover the relationships between the major characters, the overall storyline, and the themes. There are several elements which must be addressed in order to clarify some confusion. In time, through explicating these topics, perhaps a greater appreciation will be gained from the story and the characters. Evidence and connections will be laid out in support of these findings. Evidence and connections that would include what one would…

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Thoughts On: Employment

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Finishing your first year of Uni with good results must feel like a great achievement. Finally! You get to come home and relax over the whole Christmas and New Year holiday period, life will feel easy again: drinking, partying, hanging with friends, pursuing hobbies and all that. Some decent R&R before kicking into the next year.

But it’s then you realize… You won’t be doing a lot of that. Oh dear, it seems over the course of the entire year you’ve wracked up an awfully large sum of Student Debt, and it’s only your first year as well! You also realize as you get home, you barely have any savings left after all the money you spent on booze and take-outs. You have no money, and now is the time where you really need it. It seems like you’re going to have to go find work!

And that is precisely what I’ve been doing.

I really enjoyed my first year, things went smoothly and I gained insight into subjects I previously hadn’t paid any mind to. The trouble was, even with my tight spending, the costs of resources and other occurrences whittled away at least a grand out of my own savings. Plus now I have a pretty hefty Student Debt looming over me for the foreseeable future. I knew straight away I would be needing to find a job when I arrived home. But it had been a whole year since I was last in work, and I had gotten used to Freshman life. I grew sort of anxious at the prospect of cleaning myself up and heading out into my local area to find something. But nevertheless it had to be done.

A few weeks before arriving home, I’d already sorted out my CV and Cover Letters. I started having to search the web for work in my area, basically trying to apply where ever I could for positions that I thought would suit me. I even rung up my local book store franchise, asking if it would be okay to get my Mum to drop in a CV for me, as I was stuck in Hamilton. It was definitely one of the places I wanted to work the most out of all of my options, but I thought they would probably snub me off for not personally applying. Either way I had no choice, and hoped I’d get a response.

By the time I got home at the start of November, most of the applications I made were quiet, no responses (apart from the two Job Agencies I accidentally applied to). I carried on applying while at home, going for anything I thought viable for me. By this time my little brother had begun his first job, and was quite busy with his shifts while juggling school exams. I was left a little disheartened after the only responses left from applications were emails of polite rejection.

I saw things might turn around, when I suddenly got a phone call for an interview from one of my applications. I was all giddy and nervous, with it being my first interview in about four years. I ended up over-dressing, but the interview went well. My only trouble was that within the same afternoon I was rung up again from the same place, saying someone else had the position. What a bummer. But they wanted to keep me on to sign up for other available positions in the future. I stuck with them, did all the inductions and safety training videos. The only trouble was that it was rough looking industrial and manual labour work, at waste management sites and port warehouses. Even then, I was barely offered anything, I decided to go out for further applications elsewhere.

By now I felt I really was within the doldrums. My money was slowly whittling away as well, as I paid for car gas and groceries. Plus I could tell I was coming across as a waste of space. I had this feeling that if I didn’t get something by December, I would have to go on the dole, which I didn’t want to do. But it was an option.

Then by a miracle chance. I was rung up by the book store, almost a month after I applied. They sounded really keen to get me in for an interview. And I likewise was keen to go to it. After that, all I can say was that everything went really well. The interview was probably the most relaxed I’ve ever had, and within the next few days I was in the uniform doing my first few shifts. Suddenly the winds of opportunity had cast me out of the doldrums. I was elated.

So now I’m here, one of my days off, blabbering away on here. I realize I might come across as gloating or smug about it. And quite frankly I don’t want to offer to those still struggling to find something an empty tagline, like ‘just keep looking :)’. It’s not very helpful. I suppose all I can say is this: apply for as many places as you can; try whenever you can to personally go in or chat to the employers you’re looking to join up with; make your CV look like you’re able and keen to work; and if you can, use some good referential contacts – it doesn’t have to be job-related, just someone who knows or has seen you working hard at something.

Now the challenge is to save up what I make over the Christmas and New Year period, without spending it all before heading back to Uni. Show me the money!