This week saw the long overdue release of Suikoden and Suikoden II on PSN in all remaining territories, bringing to a close a 15-year availability drought for these games throughout most of the world.
Suikoden has been mostly inactive for several years having not seen a new installment since 2012’s tepid Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki, which was relegated to the ailing PSP and never even left Japan. [ref]CF’s own John Layfield took this bullet for us with his import review, here.[/ref] The last central game in the series was 2006’s Suikoden V. It’s been a pretty rough road since then.
One big reason why we’re all still pretty bummed about the conspicuous absence of fresh Suikoden falls squarely on the strength of those first two games. [ref]More reasons include too many loose ends to count, but that’s a subject for another day.[/ref] Suikoden, while sporting more than a few frayed edges 20 years later both visual and mechanical, is still far better paced compared to most modern RPGs and is still well worth the five dollars and couple dozen hours necessary to play it to completion.
Suikoden II is the real gem in this conversation, however. Most of the biggest problems with the original game were resolved and the rest improved upon greatly, to the point where jumping back to play the first Suikoden after Suikoden II is a rather painful transition, despite how similar the two games appear on the surface. Suikoden II’s streamlines, speeds up, nips and tucks its way to greatness, even before you factor in its genre-leading storytelling. [ref]This combination of quality, rarity, and relative obscurity, kept eBay prices for physical copies well above $200 for most of the last decade or more.[/ref]
Developer/publisher Konami has been notoriously cagey about the current state and future of Suikoden for the last few years until some fairly recent developments tipped the scales a little, such as their frequent livestreams on Twitch. Even more props might be due for the Suikoden Revival Movement; without their efforts, it’s entirely possible that these releases wouldn’t have happened at all. A rare success story in an era of countless online petitions that tend to go nowhere.
Simple! Just give these games a shot. One, or both, in whatever order you feel like. Release order is of course preferable if you intend on giving Suikoden your full attention, but for the uninitiated or the uncertain, Suikoden II is probably where the franchise really begins to put its best foot forward and so it carries my strongest recommendation for that reason. [ref]And this is despite several very noticeable bugs, too. Be sure to push all the gates you see.[/ref]
Want some bonus credit? Go drop a Like on the SRM page linked above. Maybe tell a friend or two. Read an LP of the PS2 games that aren’t on PSN yet. Write some fanfiction about Gengen’s debilitating chocolate milk addiction. Cosplay as one of the flying squirrels. Y’know, ordinary fan stuff.
In case you missed it the first time around, Persona 4 was an RPG for the Playstation 2 in which you followed a year in the life of Souji SetaYu NarukamiCharlie Tunoku, a Japanese high school student sent to live in the tiny mountain town of Inaba while his parents worked abroad. A series of paranormal murders began upon his arrival, pushing Charlie and his new friends into forming their own “investigation team” – one that involved physically entering television sets and fighting the shadowy aspects of mankind’s collective unconscious.
It was perhaps the biggest hit for Japanese developer Atlus ever, one that has seen its story retold in an array of different media since then, including its own anime series. Now, the remastered Persona 4 Golden has arrived for the Playstation Vita, becoming simultaneously the definitive version of Persona 4 and also the only truly compelling reason to purchase Sony’s troubled handheld aside from the recent expansion of their Playstation Plus service.
Having read those introductory paragraphs, you’ve most likely (and very correctly) guessed that our review for Persona 4 Golden will be almost entirely positive. Congratulations, your Understanding has greatly increased. So with that in mind, let’s focus mainly on Golden’s changes and additions from here on out.
First, the big stuff. There are two new Social Links for players to indulge in. The first is with Marie (pictured above) who falls somewhere between Elizabeth and Margaret on the Persona scale; an outsider who, while naive, isn’t completely removed from the real world. Marie is thankfully the beneficiary of some very strong voice work. The second is Adachi, a familiar face for P4 veterans. Both are important to the overall story rather than being mere side characters.
Both Chie and Teddie have retained their new voices as introduced by Persona 4 Arena and the anime’s English dub. This is a good thing, as both those products are still very recent and switching up the actors any further would be an awkward blow to continuity. That said, I will always prefer the somewhat more mature portrayal of Chie in the original Persona 4, though I do realize that recasting her was a necessity which also opened up new dialogue opportunities with Golden that would’ve been impossible otherwise.
Online functionality has also been added in the form of the Voice and SOS options. It’s not true multiplayer – which is a good thing as such a mode would never fit into Persona 4’s existing structure – but something more akin to Dark Souls and its predecessor. Tapping the Voice button will fill your screen with speech bubbles that indicate what other players did in your current position, which can be useful for weighing your daily options at a glance instead of wandering around town looking for something to do. However, as different players progress through the social aspect of Persona 4 Golden in different ways, there will usually be a few bubbles that won’t reflect your own situation, and you’ll likely have avenues of your own that aren’t shown either.
Touching the SOS button while in a dungeon will send a distress signal over the Playstation Network, which will provide HP and SP regeneration at the beginning of your next battle if responded to by another player. This works basically the same way as the Invigorate skills already in the game, but depending on how many players respond it can be dramatically more effective. If used liberally, SOS could allow your party to remain in the TV world indefinitely without spending any yen or items on healing, depending on your play style. It could also be a huge boon to players using the Very Hard difficulty setting.
Unfortunately, SOS pauses the game for a moment while the signal is going out, which delivers a slight hit to immersion. This naturally becomes more of an issue if your Wi-Fi network is prone to interruptions or if PSN is on one of its little sabbaticals. Of course, Voice and SOS can both be disabled entirely at any point and the game prompts you to make this decision on every startup.
Voice and SOS are also Persona 4 Golden’s only use of the Vita’s touch capabilities, which could be good or bad depending on your outlook. No one likes control gimmicks that feel tacked on, yet minor uses of such functionality often feel like missed opportunites or wasted potential. Personally, I just dislike getting fingerprints on the screen. It’s for that reason that I wonder if this feature could’ve been mapped to the rear touchpad instead, which like most Vita titles, sees no action at all in Persona 4 Golden.
Tweaks to Persona 4’s existing mechanics are almost too numerous to mention although several stand out from the pack as critical. Chief among them is the ability to cherry-pick your new Persona’s skills before fusion, rather than “The Nose” giving you a random assortment of inherited abilities as he did before. This means that the days of backing in and out of the fusion screen until you get the skills you want, a frustrating limitation of this system since its introduction in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, are finally at an end.
Another welcome addition to the fusion system is the Fusion Search screen, wherein a list of all the Personas you can create with your current stock are given to you straight up. You can still select two or more of your Personas blindly the old-fashioned way, but with Search, there isn’t much reason to unless you’re intentionally going for a huge multi-Persona fusion job. This isn’t as big a deal as the skill picker, which had me jumping out of my chair and DX crotch-chopping when I first read about it, but it is nonetheless very nice to have.
Skill cards have also been added to the mix. Obtained via the revamped Shuffle Time minigame, you can register skill cards in the Velvet Room in the same manner as Personas which allows you to purchase them later and apply them to any Persona on your active roster. These cards contain skills ranging from the expected staples to exotics that I don’t recognize at all, some of which could be new to Golden.
In battle, Persona-based combination attacks can now be triggered by All-Out attacks, forming a one-two punch capable of laying-out most basic enemies. Furthermore, S-Link progression now unlocks new skills for your party member’s Personas; for instance, Yukiko’s Persona can now learn Mudo fairly early on, which only helps the never-ending search for enemy affinities and weaknesses. However, a lot of rebalancing has also been done to prevent the player from steamrolling over everything, particularly in the case of bosses, though rest easy knowing that Chie is still perfectly capable of punting a mid-boss into orbit.
A balance pass has also been made over the non-combat gameplay to account for all the new timesinks. New books, new jobs, and new side activities have all been added, many of which can raise more than one social characteristic at once, and the options in this area which already existed have also been improved. Finish reading that Knowledge-boosting manual early on and every subsequent study session will be doubled. Being able to explore the town at night also grants new methods for boosting stats like Diligence and Courage, as does taking a ride on the scooter to neighbouring Okina City.
With so many enhancements made to Persona 4’s already winning marriage of story and mechanics and with nary a strike to be made against it, Persona 4 Golden becomes the definitive edition of P4 – and the strongest weapon in the Playstation Vita’s wanting arsenal – pretty much by default. Fans of Persona in particular and RPGs in general, with a “J” or otherwise, should consider this a no-brainer addition to your library if you happen to own a Vita already. If not, it’s your best justification yet to grab that new chunk of hardware.
For non-fans or the unfamiliar, consider the following words and phrases: steak; TV world; the Meat Dimension; luchador masks; Mysterious Fox and Funky Student; “the secret animal cracker.” There are so many more, and so much depth beyond just the comical aspects. If you want to discover what any of that means for yourself, Persona 4 Golden the best way to do so.
Take that, Total Recall. Take that, Barney Stinson.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Vita hardware, it has touch control functionality not dissimilar from recent Apple products, with the added attraction of an auxiliary touch pad on the rear of the device. So that’s what this ad is trying to get across, in a roundabout and rather creepy fashion.
Yes, I understand that the point of this style of advertising is to get people talking, and since I’m sitting here writing about it now, obviously it worked. To retort: getting people talking is just half the battle, the low-hanging fruit; the bigger victory is in getting people talking positively, and regarding the product that’s being advertised, as opposed to “hey, look at this crazy ad.”
Look, let’s just skip the whole discussion about the Playstation Vita’s sales performance because this has nothing to do with that. Sony has a long, well-documented history of weird marketing choices, in and out of the Playstation division, and this is just another example in that progression.
I’ll say this for the Vita: it deserves better. It’s a quality machine that its creator has mishandled from the start with anemic launch support and a labyrinthine backwards-compatibility scheme. It doesn’t need another round of Sony’s baffling advertising on top of that.
Oh, almost forgot: David Lynch once did a Playstation commercial.
Still no Agent Cooper references. I could’ve given it a pass in that case.
Earlier today the news came down about Sony’s closure of Studio Liverpool, formerly Psygnosis, and the potential end of the storied WipEout franchise. I already spoke my piece on the subject, but obviously I’m not quite done with this yet. These things happen when significant personal influences vanish unexpectedly.
As I touched on in that previous article, one of WipEout‘s defining characteristics was its pioneering use of “real world” electronic music. Long before dubstep wub-wubbed its way into everything from SSX to trailers for Sega & Sonic All-Stars Goddamned Racing, WipEout was one of the first video game franchises to sign major recording artists, a big accomplishment in an age when game soundtracks were often mocked for their “beeps and bloops”.
So with the preamble out of the way, here’s my favourite track from each of the WipEout games, 1995 – 2012. With a possible extra at the end…
WipEout (1995): CoLD SToRAGE – Cold Comfort
WipEout 2097/XL (1996): Fluke – Atom Bomb
Wip3out (1999): Sasha – Xpander
WipEout Fusion (2002): Cut La Roc – Bassheads
WipEout Pure (2005): Photek – C Note
WipEout Pulse (2007): Noisia – Seven Stitches
WipEout HD/Fury (2008): The Crystal Method – Acetone
WipEout 2048 (2012): The Future Sound of London – We Have Explosive (2011 Rebuild)
Finally, here’s a quick pick from Colony Wars: Vengeance, stuck in my head for over a decade now. If I remember correctly, it was composed by Tim Wright, AKA CoLD SToRAGE, in a dramatic departure from his WipEout style.
WipEout developer Studio Liverpool has been closed and all of its projects cancelled, Sony has confirmed. Sony has also issued a statement explaining the outfit’s closure, and has cancelled all of the studio’s projects including – according to fresh rumours – a next-gen WipEout game for PS4.
“Liverpool Studio has been an important part of SCE Worldwide Studios since the outset of PlayStation, and have contributed greatly to PlayStation over the years. Everyone connected with Liverpool Studio, past and present, can be very proud of their achievements.”
Liverpool, formerly known as Psygnosis during the halcyon days of the original Playstation, has always been my favourite of Sony’s internal developers. Regardless of whether or not The Designer’s Republic and other hangers-on were involved, Psygnosis/Liverpool had style, perhaps even swagger, innovated in every area, put forward a rare aesthetic sense across the board, and were typically the only first-party team under the Sony aegis whose projects didn’t bore me to tears on a regular basis.
The biggest part of that was WipEout, which remains one of my biggest influences in the video game space. I never cared about racing games until WipEout and to this day it remains the only futuristic racer of any relevance whatsoever. Its heavy use of licensed electronic music was more than just a unique feature, it was a formative experience for me; playing those first few games with the likes of The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy pounding out from underneath completely changed the trajectory of my musical interests, the effects of which are still strongly felt today.
Beyond the WipEout franchise, Psygnosis/Liverpool also had several other important hits: Destruction Derby, G-Police, and Colony Wars come to mind immediately. Colony Wars in particular was a huge high watermark for its time, hamstrung only by the ultimate fate of the space combat genre at large, which not even Freespace 2 and a bunch of quality Star Wars-licensed games could save. Even now, it remains very high on my list of missed franchises that I’d love to see refreshed the most.
So now I’m left wondering what’s next. The official Sony company line on the matter is full of rote PRspeak and no real answers to my most pressing questions, namely “what happens to WipEout now?” It’s still one of the strongest Playstation brands out there with nearly twenty years of history. It’s the king of its genre that not even Nintendo’s F-Zero could dethrone. At a time when Sony desperately needs all the marquee franchises it can muster, I can’t image that they’ll just sit on WipEout as they have so many other forgotten IPs of yesteryear.
If I’m wrong and Sony does toss WipEout into the vault alongside far less iconic properties like Medieval, then congratulations guys: you really didn’t know what you had. You have become Sega #2. Take a bow!