[Review] Persona 5

5/8

Persona 5 felt like it could’ve been a masterpiece at more points than one, and simply ran out of fuel on everything almost before it started. Quality lasted longer in some areas than others, in ways that only highlighted how unfortunate the other pieces became. I really think I should give it a 3 for how glaring the holes are. But for most of the game itself I didn’t notice them, and I was just happily chugging along, thanks to a great overall feel created by a handful of exceedingly well-crafted elements.

I picked up this game because of the waifus and knew nothing about it going in other than that it had waifus, one which said “Let’s do it in the student council room”, and a character named after Mishima. I’ve never played a Persona or a Shin Megami Tensei game before, and in recent memory the only game of this “JRPG” genre I’ve played in recent memory was Neptunia Rebirth 1, which I am not going to complete. I used JP dub and EN sub and played on the PS3, final playtime was ~120 hours. HowLongToBeat average is currently a little north of 105, a number I believe is too low.

Persona 5 didn’t need to be 120 hours. Among other things videogames are unique in that they can provide such a long experience, allowing so much time and space to get invested into its world and story. Persona 5 did amazing in the first 1/8, then cruised fine until about the 2/3 mark, after which the quality disappeared conspicuously disappeared in huge chunks, only getting worse until the game finally ended. There were still a few shining bits, but they no longer made sense in light of everything else.

If you do plan to play Persona 5:

  • Read the manual, or if it’s no longer online by time of reading, search for “persona fusion chart”. That’s the important bit and it’s not explained ever in-game.
  • Dungeons, or “Palaces”, are completable in a single in-game day, and it’s important to do this to free up the other days to spend time with people.
  • The doctor gives a discount after a certain point, the fortune teller and shogi player have good abilities, and the maid will do your laundry and some other things to give more time.
  • It’s basically impossible to max relationship with everyone on a blind run. It might be possible with a guide, but even then it’d have to be really tight and even less freedom to do anything at all.
  • Maxing a relationship gives a little extra story per character at the end of the game, so go for 10s with your favorite characters over a few more 9s.
  • Upgrading to maximum armor isn’t the most important thing in the world.
  • Upgrading guns is not important at all.
  • It is better to capture lower level personas and merge them into something your level than to capture personas your level. This will always be the case.
  • Don’t read the rest of this review. You will enjoy it more if you don’t know how it works. This is true of most things, but for Persona 5 it crosses the border between barely being worth the time to arguably not at all. Arguments which I will make.

I learned a lot on how characters and ideas can be written, enjoyed the art and music immensely, and picked up a few waifus, and upon completion I thought for sure it was on the thumbs up side rather than not. But the more I thought about it the worse it got.

If it didn’t have perfectly voices with gorgeous characters, funny banter, generally fun music, and an amazing user interface – that is to say, if it didn’t have its production quality – it’d be a 3 for sure. It did have those though, and I can’t say they don’t count. Unfourtunately there’s not much I have to say about those, other than the user interface. I’m not aware enough about the implications or differences of using one voice actor over another, or a certain costume or shape for a character over another. They’re all perfect as far as I can tell. If you’re just looking to spend time with pretty voiced waifus, this game is not a bad choice at all.

What I can talk about is the writing and how time was distributed and spent.

And boy oh boy does Persona 5 have things to talk about.

> USER INTERFACE
> FLOW AND BALANCE
> — (Timeslots)
> — (Story Across Gameplay Loop)
> — (Real Time Quantified)
> — (Grinding)
> — (Combat Progression in SMT Games)
> WRITING
> — (Theme and Motivation)
> — (Plot Progression)
> — What was the story intended to convey?
> — (The Bad Ending)
> — (Characters, specifically Morgana)
> — (Characters: Akechi Goro)
> CONCLUSION

Continue reading

[Reviews] (various)

There’s a few things I’ve seen and played that I’d like to write about just a bit on my experience with them. Some are more recent, some not so much, some I’ve even written about at some length before, but for one reason or another I don’t think they’re worth posting about at length in individual writeups, at least at this time.

Especially considering how it’s been a month and I still haven’t written the one on Nier:Automata.

Currently I don’t have many reviews up so data points are overall lacking. These should give a clearer view on what the value of my opinion is.

Anime


Angel Beats: 6/8
Memorable characters. Gets a bit melodramatic at times, but it completes the job successfully, and no problems can be found with its overall presentation quality. (range: 5~8)

Amagi Brilliant Park: 5/8
The initial premise setup and its sense of urgency was done well, but for most of its runtime it felt like a mediocre variety show. Unlike its superb visuals, tonally it’s just all over the place. Maybe the original was better? I don’t remember much other than air fairy’s luscious back, the pervert pink mascot, and Sento’s sentos. (range: 4~7)

Code Geass: 8/8
Boy gains superpower and fights against the world. (range: 6~8)

Code Geass R2: 6/8
My powerlevel is greater than your powerlevel. Also not a cohesive story. It was an incredulous trainwreck which was fun enough to watch the first time, but the overall quality outside the animation was a downgrade from the original. (range: 4~8)

Cross Ange: 5/8
First half is simple but shows signs of good direction and writing every now and again. Second half is terrible no matter which way you spin it and a chore, but the character of Ange is enough to carry it… once. This is only worth watching because Ange is an interesting character type and it’d be interesting to see someone like her in a world which doesn’t simply bend over to whatever she or the plot wants her to do. (range: 1~7)

Fate/Zero: 7/8
Just like the original VN, this story is largely carried by amazing standalone scenes which make the rest of the “actual story” pale in comparison – but this time, “the rest” is also pretty good. The second half feels rushed compared to what feels like a very carefully planned and arrange first half, but other than that it’s a good experience. (range: 6~8)

Gabriel Dropout: 4/8
Great ED, terrific characters, good animation, plenty of funny reaction faces, but in the end, there’s no reason to watch this over something else. In the end, in any media, the writing cannot be allowed to be the poorest contributor. It feels like something made just to make ends meet, for an audience that just wants something to watch. Which is okay. But for me it missed the cut. (range: 3~6)

Heroic Age: 7/8
Generic story with a generic premise, filled with generic characters using generic writing. A couple of the music pieces aren’t so generic. Overall consistency in direction, though, is not generic at all. (range: 4~8)

Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon: 5/8
Ravioli Ravioli Dragon Loli. Largely a visual experience, KyoAni really knows what to animate and how to color a scene. First ~third move things along, but the rest of it feels like disjointed filler, and the final episode had people out of character for the sake of wrapping things up. (range 3~7)

Madoka: 6/8
Madoka was really annoying and I only put up with because everyone was talking about how it was that decade’s Evangelion. Madoka both the show and the character; as far as I’m concerned all she did for the first 9 episodes was cry. Episode 10 was great, and definitely it wouldn’t have had as much impact if not for the first 9, but couldn’t we have done just a bit more with ~180 minutes worth of time? And how am I supposed to accept that conclusion? There’s some pretty strict logic explicitly established about magic, and as far as I can tell it’s contradicted. I can imagine how it was a groundbreaking anime, but even as of today I haven’t watched another magical girl anime so I don’t know. Perhaps one day I’ll rewatch it and see why it’s so great. Maybe I judged too much too early. But for now, from what I remember, not so much. (range: 2~8)

Infinite Ryvius: 8/8
Lord of the Flies in Space, except this time, there’s more than one lord, there’s an overarching plot and world tying it all together, and there’s as conclusive an ending as can realistically be, with fantastic music and voice acting. (range: 7~8)

No.6: 1/8, incomplete
I wanted to see something about utopias and societal structures’ effects on individuals and cultures. I got homosexuals wasting my time. (range: 1~4)

Psycho-Pass: 8/8
I wanted to see something about utopias and societal structures’ effects on individuals and cultures. And that’s exactly what I got. (range: 7~8)

Shirobako: 7/8
It could’ve had a better series-spanning story. The main character got less development and focus than the other supporting characters introduced in the beginning. That being said, everything else about it was perfect. (range: 6~8)

Steins;Gate: 8/8
This is the only anime which I don’t remember a single dull episode. Every episode had enough to keep me on the edge of my seat for the next. Its story has parts which don’t make sense, its art is undeniably terrible, but the writing, visual composition, timings, and music worked. Things kept moving, and they didn’t stop moving. Common wisdom says things should be changed up every now and then to keep everything fresh, that’s why fighting games have slow simple puzzles in them. Perhaps there were slow periods in Steins;Gate? If I really slowed down and thought about it, they’re probably there. But everything was arranged so that the story felt like it was always flowing. (range: 8~8)

Terra e…: 1/8, incomplete
3 episodes in and we have a protagonist who is actively aware of his superpowers and spends 2 of them saying “yadaa”, i.e. “I don’t wanna”. Like, that’s what he does. His lines are “yadaa”, “yadaa”, and “yadaa”. There’s no interesting visuals or thoughts which justify him to the audience. He just doesn’t want to be involved in something dangerous, even though he’s been helped and he can’t go back to the way things were. No reason. So I found no reason to continue. (range: 1~4)

The iDOLM@STER: 6/8

With worldwide economic depression and population/demographic instability on top of blank check ideology saying change is good with corruption and hypocrisy showing through the cracks at every other turn, moe rises because of a critical “new market”. It’s the oldest “market” for storytelling there is, but one that has been disdained and thrown away by the public because of how overused and exploited it’s been in every field. In a sense the genre’s distinction shows it too is a last-ditch exploitation, as it relies on the image of innocent young girls in order to function.

Moe sells “hope”.

(range: 5~8)

Videogames


Assassin’s Creed 2: 6/8
The characters aren’t the most interesting people ever, but they’re there, and the writers play them approximately correctly. Maps are varied enough in theme to keep things interesting, even though rooftop running everywhere feels about the same – none of them are slippery due to rain or something, for example. Boats were nice. Story is revenge and stumbling upon pieces of a grander mystery. The story-relevant puzzles sucked. But Ezio’s character sold the whole package in the end. (range: 3~7)

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood: 4/8
I really liked this game the first time I played it, but after replaying it’s really just a bunch of side quests and menu mini-games in a less interesting map than its predecessor. There’s a story, but it’s sparse and forgettable. Horses and later fast-travel makes primary game mechanic largely obsolete. You also become a one-man army instead of an assassin. You also have an army. Game made entirely for fanservice. (range: 4~6)

Assassin’s Creed 3: 2/8, incomplete
A game whose primary mechanic is stealth freerunning in dense cities cities across rooftops decides it’s a good idea to put a lot of distance between buildings where there are buildings and long-range precision snipers on those rooftops with instant communication with every other sniper. There’s also a lot of space with no rooftops at all. Characters are who cares. Story is… not about anyone we care about. (range: 2~4)

Company of Heroes: 7/8
An RTS where you don’t need 300 APM! And the units have fun with you. (range: N/A)

Guild Wars 2: 1/8
I lost Fort Aspenwood for this. (last played Oct 2012)

LA Noire: 4/8, incomplete
The most boring and pointless open world I’ve ever seen, which you can thankfully avoid by telling the AI you don’t want to drive. This reduces the game to the interrogations and a little bit of clue-searching, which were not interesting enough for me to finish doing myself. I watched a streamer play it instead. Worth a watch. (range: 3~6)

League of Legends: 1/8
The game involves playing 20~50 minutes of mostly PvE to have the match be decided on, depending on the season and patch, 3~15 seconds of fighting, fighting which doesn’t necessarily involve you. This along with some other features make the game inherently “toxic”. Patches change how certain characters work entirely and come about at random, the developers won’t stop autofellating about how great and hard their job is, and there’s always, always new characters, which are just ever so coincidentally always overpowered on release. Also, it’s rigged. (last played Dec 2013)

MGSV: GZ, TPP: 1/8
This game sold a full price demo that was better than the actual game. It had a cutscene at the climax which is just two characters sitting across from one another, silently since the big song finished and it was too short, yours and the main villain’s, and you’re in a standard idle animation. In general it’s full of emptiness and false promises. Dropping a powerline and electrocuting people with it and various other “haha isn’t it funny how things can interact in that way” are the only things going for this game. The game’s map might as well have been procedurally generated, and the second “half” of the game is literally the same missions as the first half with a few extra difficulty conditions. Kojima is not a genius, he’s a hack. “Director”? Don’t make me laugh. (range: 1~4)

Remember Me: 5/8
The art, lighting, music, and world design (read: lore design, not level design) are top notch. The ass is ok. Everything else was unfortunately forgettable. (range: 3~7)

Rocket League: 8/8
An online PvP game which has a cheap box price where the devs implement continual microtransactions/patches that actually don’t screw with balance? And it’s fun? What sort of sorcery is going on here? That being said I don’t play it much because it really is physics based so experience is locked behind physical skill with a controller, which means many hours of practice – with a training mode that has lots of official and fan-made practice shots. Decent casual fun too. (last played Jan 2017)

Saint’s Row: The Third: 5/8
Yet another open world game where you get an arsenal of clothes, weapons, and vehicles, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has some fun. And it can be pretty fun.(range: 4~7)

Saint’s Row IV: 2/8
What’s the point in having an open world where there’s no meaning to any location, no meaning to any vehicles, no meaning to any weapons, and nothing can stop your momentum? Crashing into cars just moves them out of the way. Running into a building just sends you running up its side. The only thing which stops you are foot-sized objects, I can’t remember if they were curbs or parking blocks or what but something indescript of about that size were the only things that mattered. Enemies didn’t matter, world didn’t matter, story didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except foot-sized objects, and they were not the antagonists, though maybe they should’ve been. (range: 2~5)

The Stanley Parable: 2/8
This isn’t the first game I’ve seen talk Post-Modernism, but it’s definitely the worst. This gamename is only big because of marketing and lazy idiots who haven’t seen anything better. A waste of 20$ and a waste of 3 hours. Not worth watching either. (range: 1~3)

The Witcher 3: 3/8, incomplete
The graphics, Ciri, and Yen are great, and that’s about it. It took me quite a while to figure out what was wrong so perhaps it deserves some more bonus points, but the basic idea is that there isn’t really much to do. It’s open world, but you don’t have any good indication beforehand which areas are viable for you. I was taking what I thought was a shortcut through the woods to a certain sidequest when I got instagibbed after trying to run from an enemy I found that I couldn’t damage. The combat doesn’t pretend it’s more than two buttons and TTK is long. Weapon durability doesn’t add to anything. Never had money or anything I wanted to buy except healing and repair items. The writing was pretty good at some points, but there’s too little of it and too much crap inbetween. Probably would’ve quit sooner if I didn’t hear Sawashiro’s voice, probably would’ve quit later if I modded it to play as Ciri, but I would’ve seen the core stuff eventually. (range: 3~6)

World of Tanks: 1/8
It’s rigged. You are looking at models of tanks going through motions while after the game server flips a coin. (last played Mar 2017)

[Review] Kemono Friends

8/8

tlstxpk

A literal children’s TV show massively elevated by good writing and good direction.

I’d heard about Kemono Friends being a top seller despite its animation being CGI (read: terrible), its production quality being poor, and its writing complexity being nothing to write about. Both of these were pretty big turnoffs despite the continual porn of one certain character constantly popping up; I’d written it off as Japanese My Little Pony.

Then I saw this image.

61sn6ybWhy would someone make crossover art of a children’s TV show and a horror game?

Cute fanart, sexy fanart, crossover fanart, these are all common. There are a few artists who really like drawing gore of cute things for some reason, but that’s not the case here either. Why would this exist? Why of all things a videogame from a different tone and genre that’s been dead for four years[1]? It could be that this was made by a big name artist who just happened to be a really big fan of this show and that game, but it resonated with me, and it resonated with others, so it couldn’t be cha-ching or marketing. What’s the show about? Why does everyone like it[2]?

mxf14sm

Kemono Friends definitely encompasses many different demographics; as an anonymous 2channel poster points out, it appeals to fans who like cute girls, animals, ruins, road trip movies, post-apocalyptic narratives, and whatever everyone else is watching. On one hand, it follows a familiar iyashi-kei formula: cute girls with simple, likeable and easily distinguishable personalities doing not much in a picturesque setting. Their cute clothing and art style and cheerful, innocent personalities (it’s still not clear what Serval eats or how she hunts) places them firmly in the moe category: girly and sweet enough to put the viewer at ease while sexy enough to keep older male viewers coming back or fantasizing. […] Yet unlike some other moe shows, Kemono Friends eschews fanservice to keep it family-friendly, as TATSUKI intended.

It’s an anime that can be enjoyed as a basic story with simple characters and a non-threatening atmosphere and as a perplexing mystery that discloses its secrets at a leisurely pace.

[Anime News Network]

The big reveals happen in the final few episodes, and there’s a few things which hint toward it sprinkled here and there throughout the series. The reveal’s contents aren’t really unique, and the way it’s primarily revealed is through a character who is from the very beginning established to be a plot device character. The rest again is a literal children’s TV show.

really good children’s TV show. It’s not about friendship, it’s not about self esteem, it’s not about learning about different animals and their environments, it’s an adventure. We’re told in the first 5 minutes what the purpose of the show will be and it trims everything towards that. Why the characters act like children is also explained in the story, but even if it was left just to “it’s a children’s TV show”, Kemono Friends uses that to strengthen its writing. Children don’t really need explanations and children are generally simple – or in other words, fewer obstructions to the adventure.

Kemono Friends doesn’t waste my time.

pwk1xj0

The blue character says that the bus’s battery is empty and needs to be charged. The orange character barely knows what a bus is, doesn’t know what a battery is, or what it means to “charge” something. But her reaction is “Does that mean we can’t play?”. They wanted a “bus” for “playing”, the explanation sounds like the “bus” has some problem, the first and only question that needs to be asked is: is it broken in the way which means “we can’t play”? That’s all she needs to know, that’s all we need to know. What do we need to do so that we can play? All the reasons inbetween don’t really matter.

zyuhanb

The opening image[3] occurred in the first 10 minutes, after two short scenes where the hat character slid down a sandy cliff and fell into water while attempting to jump rocks across a river. The hat character apologizes in a couple of lines across a couple of following scenes, and other than a few responses from the orange character along the same lines as the one in the screencap, it’s not touched on explicitly any further. In an average American children’s TV show, that line’s existence would mean the rest would be an entire episode about poor little hat character’s self-esteem, 10~15 minutes of moping around saying sad things, and then in the final ~5 minutes of the episode, oh there was no need to worry all along, I just had to believe in myself! Then the next episode is basically the same thing happening to another character, and then another character, until they run out of characters, then it’s back to the first one, until they eventually happen run out of episodes[4].

f0p9pz9

That doesn’t happen in this show. Things both big and small are given a short reaction, and then everyone goes on their merry way. There’s one extended reaction in all the 12 episodes near the end for the plot, which all in all is understandable and easily forgiven. And even then it’s fairly short. Basically the only thing which takes a long time is travelling or getting held up by some major event. There’s no long monologues, there’s no long conversations, and the lore reveals outside of the plot-related stuff near the end are also just a few lines here and there, perhaps with a little surprise from the great voice acting cast.

A lot of it is simply left up to the viewer. The lore and plot aren’t complex, and it’s not necessary to figure it out before the simple childlike characters do, but it’s easily doable, and it’s surprising how well it’s executed. I wrote off the haunted house episode as soon as I saw it was going to be the haunted house episode, and missed the chance to actually see the plot coming before it did. In a literal children’s TV show! I turned off my brain, the show kept chugging along like it always did, and then suddenly here’s the big one. Kemono Friends does hold your hand as you’d generally expect a children’s TV show to. No violence, no sex, everything’s pretty friendly, the aesthetic fits, the music fits… but for the satisfying stuff you need to do just a little bit of work on your own.

06cmcub

It made me realize how much work is generally done for the audience in most media. High contrast lighting, strong music, multiple buildup scenes: in every aspect, well-funded TV shows and films aimed at adults will telegraph exactly what you should be feeling and what you should be thinking at every second. These are held as inarguably better for storytelling, but the cost of always being perfect is the cost of this is loss of investment from the audience. They’re interested only because it makes them feel something; beyond that they’re just waiting for the next hit. Hit them too hard too often, your story is now “melodrama”. Don’t hit them enough, it’s now “boring”. One solution is to only hit them the right amount at the right frequency, but that still leaves investment at zero. Interest without investment creates buzz, not a memory.

Characters in a memorable story need to overreact to things which aren’t a big deal and underreact or not react at all to things which are a big deal[5]. There’s other things too, but in terms of the writing these are among the things which need to happen, and Kemono Friends has this in spades. The lore has a grand mystery, yet no character reactions to it, because it’s explained why they wouldn’t really know about it or be interested in it.  Trivial things which have happened before, here’s a special exaggerated reaction face cutscene anyways, because it’s a children’s TV show. For the important bits emotional alignment with the audience is critical; outside of that, seeking alignment isn’t the best use of resources. Kemono Friends did a spectacular job in this respect.

And it succeeded with this skill in writing and direction. Characters were cute, but the season it aired in was fairly moe-heavy, and none of the characters were more than what’s usually derided as “cardboard cutouts”. Voice acting was good, but no big names, and subtlety was lacking[6]. Lighting was, with a few exceptions, nonexistent. Music usage was pretty creative, the music itself sounded like it was stock off some public domain library. Animation was terrible. Story was simple even after the big reveal.

It’s not bigger than it is, yet it feels bigger than it is.

It’s not cute animal girls alone that are selling massive numbers of buckets.

ojho1k3

4haegbf

>a show with only 5 animators BTFO’d a Kyoani production in sales
Damn. Doesn’t Kemono Friends also have more merchandise that Maid Dragon?”

“They had a shop event that was supposed to last a few weeks that had to be converted into a “gallery” with original art and signatures from the staff because they went out of stock not even 5 days in.”

“Yes, mainly because they had to start creating merchandise on the spot simply to keep up with sales.

They took pictures of the VAs in both their character outfits and normal clothes and sold them in the store for 6000 yen.

And still sold out.”

“Are there kemono friends plushies?”

“none yet since nobody actually prepared for it becoming popular

They could only mass-produce plastic wash buckets with character logos which are funnily enough, sold out”

“Japs joked that it was an art museum by day 4.”

“I don’t see how other shows even come close when:

  • Kemono Friends labeled plastic buckets get sold out to the point that there’s a 5 buckets per person quota now
  • Kemono Friends broke on demand paid view records
  • Kemono Friends are doing collaboration with zoos nonstop, now with 5 municipal zoos running promo concurrently
  • Kemono Friends shop at Shinjuku ran out of things to sell in 3 days”

“Why the fuck would anyone buy 5 buckets?”

“You mean 10. They limit it to 5 because people bought 10 of it.”

When I started writing I planned to score this show a 7/8. I like more complex stories, and I was constantly aware that I was looking at low production values. Everything is just really simple.

Upon review I have to admit it was a really tight simple. There’s enough examples out there where things have been simple and bad, and plenty more complex and bad. Or, unfortunately, complex and mixed, where it feels worse because of how mediocre some parts feel in relation to the rest. Kemono Friends, certainly due to budget in some cases, overall must’ve been intentionally created as a very cohesive narrative and experience. In many places lesser directors with poorer direction would’ve made a lot of things unnecessarily complex, taking up a lot more time, and whatever the solution that episode, ruin the flow of the story as a whole. As it is, nothing was larger than it needed to be. Problems simply didn’t arise. Simple to view is not simple to create.

Kemono Friends is not perfect.

But it is a masterpiece.

8k221an


[6] Not always a bad thing.

[5] I read somewhere that learning is a result of overreacting to a problem. Counterexample: you probably don’t remember how to solve any marginally complex problem which you googled an answer for and instantly got easily applicable results.

[4] Specifically: Dragon Tales. It’s a general problem with American TV shows, whose genetics arise from radio broadcasts, which were run and written by committees, whereas anime arise from manga, which are generally run and written by a single mind. I read this explanation somewhere a long time ago but I don’t remember where I read it.

[3] (image link)

[2] I feel this is the highest aim of fanart.

[1] There apparently is a reason, but I’m not interested in playing more Dead Space.

[Review] Nier

6/8

xkeob2c

At certain points reaches 8, but an unfortunately large amount is 2, so this will look more like a negative review than a positive one.

I played NieR because Automata[1] was amazing, and I wanted to see what else its original writer had made. It’s said that the game got a cult following, and at least one of the reasons why a sequel was made was because one of the bigwigs at Square Enix threatened to quit unless it happened. Automata was truly an experience not recreatable just by watching a video, and I had a PS3, so I saw no excuse not to get the original. I generally don’t mind things like graphics too much, so as long as the story was good I thought everything would turn out just dandy. I played the international version with Papa Nier.

But by the end of my time with it I couldn’t ignore its issues. I played through ending A and ending B, but I decided to watch C and D on YouTube. The distance between A and B was about an hour plus, and the other endings were probably equally as far away given my progress, but what faced me was so bad I decided to save two hours of gameplay to deliver story in favor of just watching the changed cutscenes in the form of a video. The story really carries that game, and I think it might’ve been a 7 or 8 if I hadn’t played Automata first.

But it only just carries it; at every other moment it was clear it wasn’t an easy carry.

My recommendation is to play Nier at least through ending B, as there’s a fair enough amount of things added that have enough importance they can’t just be watched in a video. C and D aren’t too hard, but I think the combat actively detracts enough from the experience that it’s harder to connect with the cutscenes as a player than as a video watcher. As for side quests, do them until you get the feeling they’re a bother, they don’t change too terribly many things. If it seems like you need to spend money to do them, do it, you’re not about to need money for anything else. Above all else don’t use spears. Do NOT use spears, they will break the game so much you actually are better off just watching a video. A couple of other weapons are too strong too, so the best thing is to not use any weapons except the starter one- and two-handed swords and whatever upgrades you happen to be able to afford – gathering for upgrades is grinding and grinding the obscure things necessary will detract from enjoyment.

Continue reading

Trust, and the nature of reviews

I’ve spent every waking hour the past four days with NieR:Automata and was thinking about how it impacted me and how I’d review and talk about it. I remember hearing somewhere once that everything in the end comes down to “word of mouth”, that all the shiny and flashy marketing campaigns in the world are all just attempts at recreating the same effect with a different structure, so in my mind the least I could do was write about it – for my own memories, and for anyone who reads me or will read me in some other time.

The problem was, going into N:A myself, I didn’t know much anything. I knew

  1. The player character, “2B”, had a phenomenal ass.
  2. It’s made by Platinum, who made another game I enjoyed (MGR)
  3. A short clip of one robot rocking a cradle saying “child. child. child.” and a pair of others, one laying on the ground, the other ramming into it repeatedly, saying “i love you. i love you. i love you.”

I didn’t read the store page on Steam, I might’ve seen a bit of the trailer video and I’ve definitely heard of the weird ball mask guy before, but none of it registered. I went in expecting a corridor-arena action game with stage ratings, literally a MGR with ass and titties.

This expectation directly contributed to my enjoyment of the game and its story.

I had ignored this detail up until this point because it didn’t seem relevant. Yoshimune Kouki’s writing in Muv-Luv Alternative worked in such a way that spoilers didn’t really matter – the tells for things came a mile off, you’d know it was coming, and still it overpowers you – and it’s my favorite story of all time[1]. I’d also seen a lot of my favorite reviewers simply state straight off that the review had spoilers so I copied it and thought nothing more other than trying to not talk about too much. Yoko Taro’s writing though is entirely different and I have to concede. I can’t write or talk about what’s in it with someone who hasn’t played it without directly subtracting from their future enjoyment.

It also made me reconsider just how big a contradiction reviews are. If you are talking about what’s in a game, or anything really, by category it is “spoiling” it.

Without judgment: Attempting to learn about something without getting spoiled is attempting to obtain information without obtaining information.

“Spoil” comes from”spoiled food”, a feeling which is transferred over to hearing about reveals or twists in a game (or anything really, but I’ll be saying “game”) to a person who hasn’t yet had the chance to experience it themselves. It’s a judgment, something that only works in one direction: the other side theoretically could exist but doesn’t, there are few or no complaints against “febrezing” or “microwaving”. The problem is that it doesn’t. Marketing departments everywhere are probably quite glad with this state of affairs, because this means they can sprinkle in as much MSG as they want; people easily understand the difference between eating spoiled food and fresh food, but they easily forget the difference the other way, e.g. between eating fresh food normally and eating fresh food when they’re starving. Since neither the other judgment nor the category have names, I will simply use “spoil” as the name for the category as well, the category of “obtaining information prior to experience“.

I feel this both avoids any fuzzy debates and broadens the concept to greater applicability to a greater number of parties. This means that “this game runs on PC at these certain specs” is also a spoiler. Seemingly pointless, “of course i need to know whether or not i can even play the damn thing”, but it’s not like those specs always make sense. More recently the listed specs for many games have been higher than actually required because it saves the publisher trouble and criticism[2] so it’s possible that people have been turned away when they didn’t have to. The other side, when the listed specs aren’t able to play the game, are generally high profile affairs and result in people trying to play the game when they shouldn’t have.  In both cases, it can be said that those peoples’ experiences have been “spoiled”. These exceptions prove the rule.

The rule means that some “spoiling” is necessary. “Spoil” as a negative judgment refers to the state of the food; “Spoil” as a category refers to the information gathering about the food. Since I don’t have a PS4, I was “spoiled” when I heard that N:A was coming to PC. But it made me want the game, and in turn buy it and play it. Same with 2B’s booty. Same with Platinum. Same with the clip about the machines. The first I probably heard about thanks to Square Enix’s marketing department, the second I don’t remember how it got to me, the last I saw thanks to /v/. Reviews are in the same category. It’s information about the game.

I think the primary problem is people forget why they’re looking for reviews, and some of them why they even play games. There’s a Schaffer Paragraph equivalent that all the average reviewers follow: graphics get a rating, music gets a rating, story gets a rating, gameplay gets a rating, etc. etc. – there’s even one YouTuber’s claim to fame is that he reviews options menus – but I don’t think most people actually care too much about these things. Great looking game with fluid animations for example is certainly better there than not, but most people have had fun or fond memories of games with neither.

The fundamental question is “should I play this game”, the operative word being “play”, a short form for “spend time on”. Reviews generally say the word “get” or “buy” instead and treat it as synonymous with “play”, but they’re not the same[3][4].

The answer is “yes” or “no”.

Taking spoilers the category into account, this means the ideal review is binary.

All the things I said I knew about N:A were great motivators for me going into the game, but it would’ve been even better if I didn’t know about it. Spoilers are necessary to sell the game, but they also necessarily dampen playing it. I already knew 2B had a great butt and had a bunch of lewds on her, so I wasn’t as amazed when I actually saw it in-game. I wasn’t as appreciative of the input fluidity because I knew it was Platinum. The machine scene had negligible impact on me because the overall writing style of the game wasn’t like MLA. I did appreciate some things more because I expected basically a reskin of MGR, but if I had to choose knowing what I knew and knowing nothing, I would choose to know nothing.

Nothing except the “yes”.

All the other stuff talked about in a review are just supporting material for the one bit of info which says “yes” or “no”, and the one meta-bit: whether or not they in particular can be trusted, whether their opinion makes sense. I bought Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun off of a reviewer who gave it a thumbs-down because I read his reasoning: ‘it doesn’t have levelling/experience or customizable skill trees and you can’t choose who to play for each level’. To me this spelled out that the game developers must have had great confidence in their level design, and I was not disappointed. I wish I got his name so I could look him up; I’d take him again any day over wading through more “my score for this game’s graphics is x/10” garbage. If it were possible somehow for him to have exactly the opposite opinion on exactly everything, all I’d need to do is look for things he thumbs-down and I’d have a good time.

The dream setup would be if someone took care of everything for me and made sure it worked on my computer beforehand[5]. If I didn’t know who made it, hadn’t seen any trailers or even any cover art, if all I needed to do was buy and wait to download what I was told to, it’d be the ideal case[6]. Or, less fluorished: be able to select with no prior information a game that is worth the time. Even less fluorished: Remove the necessity of selection skill.

Most of these things really are just a dream and won’t ever happen due to some fundamentally unchangeable logistics, but I think some things could be massively improved and we could get pretty close. From the topics discussed in this post, I can think of two:

– The more positive a review, the less information it contains.

If it’s a bad game, people will want to know why to avoid it. If it’s a good game, people will want to experience it for themselves, so beyond the “yes” it should basically be praises of tiny things, or rebuttals/clarifications of misconceptions.

I think there should be a new, separate “analysis” category (or some other word which people inherently understand “includes spoilers”) which currently barely exists and are usually called “reviews”, probably for SEO purposes. I’m certainly interested in why a game feels phenomenal, but it’s not something I want to think about at all before I’ve tried it out for myself. I do want to know why a game is absolute shit though, if it’s shit. Alternatively,”reviews” should be called “previews” instead, because that’s what they generally are to the intended audience.

– The review starts with the conclusion.

If a person already trusts you, they don’t need to be spoiled with 30+ minutes of gameplay footage and some guy talking, or be bothered to scroll to the bottom to find the score. If they don’t already trust you, why do you think they’d trudge through your review to find out what you thought of it?

Why would they even look at it? Because you have a flashy thumbnail or title? Wouldn’t a score go even better with it, so they get tempted to find out wh-???

…oh. They’ve probably run the numbers and found out they get fewer clicks if the score is revealed upfront haven’t they. And if a review contains fewer words then our friendly neighborhood gaming journalism advocate gets fewer dollarydoos…

Well I don’t run on that system, at least not for reviews, so I’m not going to worry about it.

____________________________________

[6] in terms of the playing experience. i do enjoy ‘shopping around’ reviewers and various materials, and hype is fun too, but i don’t think they’ve ever actually increased my enjoyment of the game. at best, some increased my enjoyment of buying.

[5] i expected to be able to do 1080/medium because that’s what i was able to do with The Witcher 3, which looks significantly better, but in the end i had to settle for 900/low. not a big deal, but i can’t say i had zero negative feelings. yes, they are below the listed “minimum specs”. no, i don’t care.

[4] i think this with the “keeping up with the joneses” effect is a large contributor to all the games people buy and don’t play. which is perfectly fine for the publishers. i wouldn’t be surprised if some major reviewer first used the word because they were bought to.

[3] also one of the ways politics snuck in. “I can’t enjoy this because it’s fast paced but also limited in framerate” is different from “If you buy this game, then you support shitty developers who make shitty graphics”. now, if you’re interested in politics then this is valuable information about the game. but if you’re interested in politics, you want more spoilers at all costs. perhaps there are more people interested in politics than i’d like to believe, and that’s the actual reason for all these shitty reviewers.

[2] paralleled in engineering, there’s always a Safety Factor (SF) in everything that gets built. if you buy a shelf that says maximum load is 100 pounds, you can bet that it’ll hold 120 no problem – just don’t expect to get past warranty with that argument. for reference, aerospace standard SF is ~1.5, civil/structure SF ~2.0.

[1] except maybe N:A, but I’ll have to think about it.

[Review] Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun

This game is phenomenal. It’s difficult to say when was the last time I played something of such quality. I’m not sure if I ever have.

In one line: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun has design.

It’s something that doesn’t seem to exist in games anymore. Developers on one hand are selling RPGs saying “play your way!” and on the other hand are making automatically generated maps for “infinite replayability!”. We might not know how correct those statements actually are, but we know how empty they feel. Skyrim’s most popular playstyle is stealth archer because all things considered it’s the simplest way to fight the game’s mechanics by not even close, No Man’s Sky supposedly has some absurd number of planets but anyone who’s not kidding themselves knows the change from one planet to the next is both obvious and negligible. “You can do anything you want” is something only people who don’t haven’t paid any attention for the past ten years still believe.

In Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, you can’t do whatever you want, and there isn’t infinite replayability. But you can do quite a few exhilarating things, and for me it’ll be the first time I am going to replay a game for achievements and “better score”. If games were paintings, we’ve been sold a blank canvas and a few primary colors for so long we forgot what a piece of art really looked like. This game is a mural, and the 35$ I paid for it feels absolutely way too low for the greatness I’ve seen.

Each character has specific abilities, each mission is playable only to certain characters. Each character has certain strengths and weaknesses, and Mimimi’s amazing map design meets those strengths and weaknesses halfway to create an engaging experience that invites your mind to look into it further. If you want to not get sent back to your last save, you’re going to have to, and you’re going to have to do it constantly – there’s only 4 types of enemies (counting civilians), but in all 40 hours of my first playthrough I only encountered one situation where I was like “oh wait, I remember seeing this before”. That being said, I still had to say “what was the solution again?”, and it still came after trying something else completely ludicrous because I was at my wit’s end, before I forced myself to believe it was possible. “Not getting hit” is the baseline standard of the game; I never used the one-time-heal ability, and there was no need to because the quicksave/quickload really was really quick. But even then you have to think. There aren’t an infinite number of ways to play the game willy-nilly, there are a handful of ways which all require a lot thought about placements, timings, and surroundings. And boy does it feel good when you finally figure out where to start the break any particular system of guard vision cones and patrols.

And there’s usually more than one way to do it – including ways to avoid the guards entirely, if the badges of “Don’t kill anyone (except mission targets)” are to be believed. I find it hard to believe. I count two sections in the final mission only where I’m pretty certain there’s only one way to do it. But even then I’m not sure. In all but the first two missions, every level has two fair-sized chunks which you can basically ignore entirely in fulfilling the primary objectives, and for most of them I saw one of them as significantly more “reasonable” than the other. I didn’t use heal, and with a few painful exceptions I refrained from using the pistol, but there were a few times where I was using certain abilities quite a lot and I thought, “for people I think are noobs, the devs put in health kits, but since the speedrun badge is 20 minutes and I took 2 hours, this was probably the dev’s noob-friendly thing for me”.

The story is and ends as distinctly Japanese. The hijinks and wildy different and dorky characters portrayed by the official trailer and game description are, I am very, very happy to say, not anywhere to be found in the actual game. I had expected to have to put up with Borderlands / Big Bang Theory tier nonsense as a cost for a decent game at a decent price, but no, Mimimi did it all. They actually did it all. No Early Access, no Season Pass, no misleading gameplay trailers, free demo… except for maybe a hand of minor bugs (i.e. 5 or less), the trailer which actually doesn’t look as good as the game itself, and the same trailer’s portrayal of the characters as silly, they actually did it all. There’s a lot of games with fundamental problems which people defend as “but the publisher was meddling!”; this is one time where I think it’s legitimate. The story’s feel at any and every given minute is so vastly different from

“About This Game” on the store page::

The group is composed of very different personalities. Working together as a team seems impossible at first. Yet over the course of many missions, trust is won and friendships are made. The characters develop their own dynamic and each member will have to face their own personal demons.

that I can’t write it up as anything but meddling from sales and marketing thinking their pet focus groups know better. I won’t say the story isn’t generic, it’s not anything particularly special, but it’s good generic, and more importantly, it’s not Gearbox / Bioware generic.

I won’t go into the visuals or music, but suffice to say if they released an artbook and an OST and both were the same as the price of the game, I’d get both.

There’s a lot of care put into the game, from the big to the small. Yuki hums a catchy and endearing tune while she places her trap, which itself has a very satisfying sound when it clicks into place. When enemies fire their guns or call for help, there’s a split-second wave showing the radius of their sound and all the red exclamation points pop in at the same time. I didn’t like it when civilians pointed at me when they found me, but their whole package really made them feel like civilians. Roofs shine just the right amount at certain angles, the weather makes everything opaque just a little bit, and every color feels like it was chosen for its proper place. I have to wonder what I missed out on by not using health packs and not failing and alerting the guards more.

When the credits rolled I let it go while I checked my phone for a bit, until I realized I actually did want to know some names this time, at which point I thought “what if I could scroll up during the credits? why does it feel like, if anyone, it’d be these guys who’d have considered something like that?” And sure enough, they did. They ♥♥♥♥ing did. After 40 hours of suffering, quicksaving, thinking, and finally getting through, they just had to put a final smile on my face.

I can’t recommend this game enough.

Mimimi Production’s Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is outstanding in every respect.

Originally written December 13, 2016 in Steam

Seiren vs Amagami: Tsuneki vs Haruka

It feels like a mediocre copy rather than a spiritual sequel.

I can’t even remember what Tsuneki’s first name is after four episodes, but I had Morishima Haruka engraved in my mind by the end of one. This goes beyond the type of romance each series is aiming for, the expected stuff is just missing.

Amagami’s protag got stood up two years before the story. In its first 47 seconds, Amagami plays it dramatically – the color scheme, the music, the angles. It’s not the most jaw-dropping thing ever, but it’s competent for a first minute. He gets there an hour early for the special day, finds out he gets stood up, and this is a memory from two years ago – Tachibana Junichi is established as a character who takes things seriously.

Seiren also opens with the protag’s impetus: 50 seconds on how he has no plan for his future. It uses the works to paint a somewhat light-hearted and humorous picture, but nothing particularly strong in any direction. He’s talking with a teacher about his Career Plans form, and she does most of the talking, even when he has other opinions. ??? Shoichi is established as a character who easily relinquishes control of situations to others.

Ah, it’s Kamita Shoichi. I watched four episodes, then the first 5 minutes again of Seiren before starting to write this, and then had to go back yet again to find his surname. I know his given is Shoichi because it’s said enough, strange that no one refers to him as Kamita? I wonder why. I’d have to look deeper into it. Then again I’ve watched over 20 episodes of Amagami so I don’t know how long it took me to remember Tachibana Junichi. For reference, “Kamita Shoichi” is shown on screen in the first second of Seiren as a written field on a form; the first instance of “Tachibana Junichi” occurs 5:05 in Amagami and is said by the protag’s best friend.

I don’t remember Seiren’s first arc’s love interest’s name either. I know she’s called Tsuneki. She’s called Tsuneki by the protag the whole time so I presume it’s her surname. She’s introduced in the third scene and makes her first appearance 3:50, and just like with Shoichi I had to see it three times and pay specific attention before I caught it: Tsuneki Hikari.

Just like Shoichi, her first scene involves her talking about what her career plans are. She asks two friends what their goals are, but doesn’t say anything about her own, not before our protagonist enters the conversation and changes the topic – by virtue of his being there, rather than anything he says. He does say something, but that’s not why he’s noticed. Tsuneki’s reveal is in three separate shots: first of her crossed legs, then of her back as she’s stretching, and then of her face. They have the slightest additional detail in their drawing, but beyond that it’s not particularly noticeable. The first piece of music not in the opening scene or opening song plays, and it’s lighthearted – and not particularly noticeable. It all feels matter-of-fact, and the song more attributed to “this event again” rather than “the introduction of the love interest”. The first powerful image related to her comes 4:53 with a noticeable sound effect; she was sitting on our protag’s desk and it left a butt-shaped mark. The protag looks up, and she is not shown. What’s shown isn’t relevant and never again becomes relevant, what’s important is 1) it wasn’t the love interest, and 2) it showed the the protag being embaressed and wishy-washy. It feels like a romance genre story would have another shot of the love interest as part of the reaction. That it didn’t made it feel like a different genre. There might be a payoff for what happened in a different arc, but it didn’t happen in this one.

Showing the protag being wishy-washy is okay. We’re told in this scene that Tsuneki was the runner-up to the “Santa contest”, which both due to other anime and the way they talk about it is made clear to be some kind of school idol competition, so that’s great, but it wasn’t emphasized at all. Again, all matter-of-fact. It didn’t hit me until two scenes later and her second appearance at 6:58 that I consider that idea to make its first real appearance: a crowded cafeteria due to a certain limited meal, but Tsuneki has her own table because of that contest. But the embaressment and wishy-washyness of the other scene had to do with the butt mark on the desk, not that she was sitting on the desk at all, or that he had to approach the group to ask her to get off his desk. All of that other stuff was just whatever. Which means that he doesn’t actually feel anything about talking or being close to one of the most popular girls in the school. This is said explicitly two scenes later 10:35 when the best friend asks how he feels about her; he says “I find her hard to deal with I guess? She keeps messing with me all the time […] It’s like she’s a different species than us.” Her next important scene she doesn’t appear in; around 15:00 the idea floated is that she’s going on a summer vacation with a guy that isn’t her boyfriend, this time there’s stronger lighting, stronger music, louder (mental) voice, and interruptions for tension. The scene after this she does appear in but is more important for the protagonists’s impetus than her image; she appears as a part-timer and he doesn’t want to be left behind, “It’s like she’s far ahead of me in every facet of life”. So he decides to go on a summer trip to a cram school. Then she disappears from 16:45 to 20:53 where he daydreams about her in a swimsuit. Then she actually appears in something looking like a swimsuit, in a way the audience recognizes as her, but he doesn’t (he thinks it’s a ghost).

So by the end of the first episode my impression is: Shoichi is a wishy-washy pervert, except for the part where his opinion of the most popular girl in school is that she’s bothersome. Tsuneki is popular and may or may not be going out with multiple guys, and works part-time somewhere.

The scenes before we get to the love interest are:

00:00~00:50
lighthearted music plays. bright, somewhat washed-out colors, with good lighting. protag is wishy-washy with a teacher talking about his future. almost all of the scene is closeups of expressions. both sit throughout the scene, mostly face-level shots. only the room is shown.

00:51~02:20
(opening sequence)

02:21~03:46
no music. episode title displays. bright shot of school’s open gate, then scene gets dark, very dark in contrast to the gate. a can drops out of a vending machine, a figure starts talking, can is thrown over to the protag. protag talks about the same thing with this figure. they are outside, inbetween buildings. a group of people walk by, they talk about the leader of the group a little bit, then back to studying and grades. figure turns out to be someone who is less wishy-washy and is better at a ceratin subject. both are standing throughout the scene, mostly chest-level shots.

03:47~
no music. name of school is shown. back to the brighter colors, but no noticeable lighting and nothing is highlighted. love interest is talking with her friends about their futures. she sits on a table, the others are standing facing her. protag appears briefly, shot changes to the back of love interest stretching, protag appears behind her.

04:13
lighthearted music plays. same lighting and coloring. first shot of the love interest’s face.

~05:10
four-way conversation continues in various directions. 04:44 is another shot of love interest’s face. 04:54 has sound effect along with the butt-mark fading away on the desk. closeup of protag’s reaction (red-faced). one of the girls looks disgusted with him, he gets flustered and starts whistling and looking in various directions (no whistling sound). music ends, scene ends.

The scenes before we get to the love interest in Amagami are:

00:47~00:50
dramatic music plays. dark, muddy colors. protagonist talks about being excited for the important date. he runs up a long flight of stairs to a park with a view overlooking a city. music crescendos, protagonist realizes he got stood up. states this was two years ago.

00:51~02:17
(opening sequence)

02:18~03:51
more normal colors, lighting is noticeable. some girl is preparing for school in her room, she jumps down the stairs, 2:36 we learn her brother’s not up yet, she marches back up. 2:41 dramatic music plays, dark colors, protagonist is dwelling over the memory in the first scene. 2:58 music stops, colors return, the girl is the protagonist’s sister, she just opened a door on a closet he’s sleeping in and is jumping around saying he’ll be late. Music starts, they argue some more, and fight over the door. A couple of close-ups of their expressions occur during this time. Shots of the protag’s room also occur during this time.

03:52~05:13
music continues. colors are brighter, lighting less noticeable. they are walking outside to school. 04:23 someone puts a hand on his shoulder and talks about walking to school with a beautiful girl. music ends, protag pretends not to know him, mr. hand pulls out a swimsuit model photobook, saying he was bringing it for his close, close friend. protag is all over it in both facial expression and body language, sound effect plays, he “suddenly” recognizes mr. hand is his best friend! 5:02 we learn the protag’s name. chest shots, face shots, then they walk off together into the distance.

05:14~
tranquil music plays. lighting is somewhat brighter. incline with various students walking. various characters get shown. protag and best friend continue talking about the book. 5:39 love interest’s name appears for the first time as best friend says it and points. pan-up of love interest and a friend walking from behind.

05:45
first shot of love interest’s face. lighting is a bit brighter.

05:47~
best friend sings her praises. protag is lovestruck.

05:53
sound effect plays: brighter colors, textured, pan-up still of love interest. music crescendos slightly, protag’s voice gets closer as he sings her praises.

06:02
second still in same style.

~06:07
school bell rings, still ends, protag and friend run up hill. episode title displays, music ends, scene changes.

By 6:07 in Amagami I understand a few things about the protag and like him enough to root for him, it’s clear who the love interest is, I like the love interest, and I’m rooting for the guy to see how he’s gonna get the girl. The best friend seems like an interesting guy, the little sister is adorable, and there seem to be a couple of other interesting characters that may (do) appear in the other arcs. There’s been shots and color schemes of various kinds, and characters feel alive.

By 5:10 in Seiren the only interesting shots that have appeared are of the protagonist’s face, the teacher’s face, the butt-mark, and the throwing of a drink from mr. smarter-than-the-protagonist to the protagonist. There’s a few more angles when showing the love interest’s legs and butt, By the end of the first episode I still wasn’t sure if Tsuneki or the teacher was supposed to be the love interest. I knew she was because I’d seen her in the promo art, but that’s not what the art itself told me. The protagonist does not feel strongly about anything, and I don’t feel strongly about him. I don’t care about any of the characters introduced. The love interest acts a bit spicy, but she’s not very interesting either.

I’d go through Amagami’s first several minutes in more detail, but this is already pretty long, and if I had to expand what I wrote above I’d have to expand quite a bit. In other words – I was only able to write so much about Seiren because other than what I wrote, not much happened, and it doesn’t make me feel like a lot of things happened. Amagami makes me feel like I’m missing things constantly. I really want to know the layout of the protagonist’s house. Of his room. Of his sister’s room. Who are all those characters I saw? How is he going to get the girl? I don’t feel interested in anything in Seiren except how he’s going to get the girl, but that’s because that’s what I came here for, not because the series itself made me interested. I mean, I guess I’m interested in whether he gets some with the teacher. But that room felt like a closed room, the vending machine open-air hallway felt like a closed room, and the classroom where we’re introduced to the love interest felt like a closed room. Amagami used the excuse of the protag’s sister waking him up to show a great shot of their house and snuck in a couple of details about his and her rooms. Walking to school is an excuse to show off different characters. Seiren does it here and there, but they’re few enough that it feels calculated in the mass of boring shots. Amagami feels like it does it in almost every shot, if not every shot, and multiple times per shot.

This sort of difference continues for the 4 episodes of screentime for each heroine’s arc.

I feel Junichi’s pain, I’m mesmerized by Haruka, it feels like any guy with just enough luck and enough of the right attitude at the right time could find and fall in love with a great girl and live a happy life. He wants her, he tries hard, with some luck and some time together, they get a dynamic going and eventually she pins her hopes on a relationship too. It’s dramatic and romantic.

I don’t care about Soichi and I barely care about Tsuneki. The rest of the arc isn’t about their relationship, though it does build during that time. It’s about the time they spend at the summer cram school, which happens to be at some resort in the mountains. Circumstances bring them closer together, but their dynamic doesn’t really change. There’s a lot of explicit commentary, other characters will talk about how they’re close, or how she made a meal for him, or how she’s wearing his clothes, and maybe there was a line about how he’s close with the most popular girl in the school, but between them they don’t really change. She’s mostly focused on escaping the cram school, and he’s focused on how hot she is, and on the cram school. Then in the last episode we find out the time she spent with him and a few others at the cram school made her think seriously about her future, and she says this to him, though he doesn’t reveal that it’s the same back. It’s a bit melancholic though, which I like, and his inability to say it fits his wishy-washyness, which I also like.

But Seiren unfortunately is not a 5CM/S. There’s no buildup. There’s no aspirations or dreams which are met, or aren’t met. Soichi doesn’t have any dream, throughout the story he only does things because he doesn’t want to be left behind. Tsuneki doesn’t seem to have any particular motivation at all, until partway through the third episode she suspects Soichi for ratting her out about her part-time work, which in turn led to her being sent to this cram school. There’s no other conflict. There’s a few gratuitious shots of her body, and we get to see and hear his thoughts and reactions, but he never acts on these, and she never notices. In the final episode we find out someone else ratted her out in some sidestory which barely registers, she gives it up real easy with the takeaway “nothing can stop a girl in love”. The primary conflict. Given away. Just like that. To something that hasn’t been developed at all. Which is fine too, this still isn’t the killing blow, the killing blow is when Soichi asks her out to the beach later and they have an underwater kiss. Why? Where did this come from? We know he has feelings, and we might’ve suspected she had feelings too, but the only times we see her not put on a facade in relation to Soichi is when he compliments her for her work ethic / cooking / side of her he doesn’t expect.

There’s one obvious point of escalation that happens beforehand when she asks if he’d like to see her in a bikini, and then we do, but that scene opens with her already in a bikini, from a distance, they’re talking for a bit, and we get a pan-up of *the protagonist* before getting a pan-up of her, more than 30 seconds after we first see her in it. And when we do get it, it’s not special. Same lighting, same color, etc. Contrast to Amagami where the first time we see Haruka in a bikini is a much brighter and more colorful close-up of her ass, then her tits, then a pan-up of her, before returning to a (normalized color/lighting) reaction shot of the protagonist, with someone making a big splash coming off the waterslide to punctuate it.

Turns out Tsuneki “never had confidence in any of [her] skills”, that was her takeaway from the summer trip, and now she wants to study overseas to be a cook, which was part of her duties at her part-time job. Which, now that I look for it in the second episode, was probably the first time she showed an embaressed face. But like everything else it was very matter-of-fact. No close-up. No special lighting. No special colors. So in the end the underwater kiss was more like a business kiss, and the whole thing a business relationship. Soichi got the confidence to go to the summer cram school from Tsuneki, Tsuneki got confidence to pursue cooking from Soichi, she kissed him, no confessions, she actually turned it down because “I don’t want to half-ass anything, so let’s keep things as they are”, -he agrees immediately-, they don’t have any meaningful communication after that, Soichi follows in her footsteps again by aiming to become a nutritionist or something, works at her old place part time, and then after a timeskip she comes back and they meet again.

They meet again and they’re just standing there. Her with a big backpack and travelwear, him with an apron behind a counter. Side shot.

Flat.

I suppose it’s better than nothing that they bothered to airbrush in some lighting and stuck a additional colorful details in for that shot.

I never got the feeling that they were both deeply in love, but, due to the circumstances of where each of them were in life, how he wasn’t particularly talented and had a lot to work on while she had this one chance that required her to go far away, that it was a love that couldn’t be. If that’s what it was, I’d have loved it. Tragedies are great. But that’s not what it was. I was told she was the most popular girl and she developed feelings for this guy she always picked on, but I never saw her being popular, I barely saw her develop feelings at all other than simply spending time with the guy which could literally be explained as entirely circumstantial, and she seemed to just drop hard feelings at will anyways. The only hard feelings she didn’t drop were her feelings for her future as a cook. Seiren doesn’t feel like a highschool romance story grappling with the difficulties of modern working life realities, it felt like highschool students anticipating working life realities with some gratuitious shots here and there and a kiss thrown in.

Seiren’s art is worse, its music is worse, these are less important, it’d still be worse than Amagami if all of those things switched. For some inexplicable reason the opening song gets cut off rather than a nice fade-out, which brings me to something important that I forgot, the above tragedy-type story isn’t hinted at at all in the OP or ED. The final shot of Amagami’s OP is a snowglobe of a Christmas tree, reminding us that the goal of the protagonist is to have a date in time for Christmas. The rest of its OP are shots of the girls either by themselves or doing everyday things at school. So, makes sense. What does Seiren’s OP depict? Close-ups of the girls, a close-up of a pair of legs, love interests with a few shots each establishing their general character, and then the girls playing in a field. There’s no trick being played here either, the lyrics paint about the same idea. The final two shots are someone dropping their cell phone and reaching out for someone, and kissing behind a curtain in a classroom. So, you’d think, that Seiren is supposed to be able realizing working life difficulties, then overcoming them.

I think Amagami made the right choice to open their omnibus with Haruka. The protagonist’s drive is for a date by Christmas, and what better goal than the school idol who doesn’t have any particular conflict or strong interest in anything, except by the end, the protagonist? If it started out with a couple of the other ones it almost certainly would’ve crashed and few people would be interested enough to watch the rest (which is terrible in terms of how anime gets funding), and the others even though doable would’ve required more work, since they all have activities which they’re associated with which require significant time investment. Haruka’s time investment is going to the library to find photobooks of puppies. It’s a romantic comedy with some drama, and Haruka is the ideal candidate.

I don’t know what Seiren’s about. It’s definitely not a comedy. It’s not really a romance. Not really a drama either. The protagonist here has no drive, but supposing it’s the one we’re told about, then Tsuneki isn’t really a good choice.

If the idea is that he needs to start taking his future seriously, and we’re trying to write a series where the thought of a future of work breaks apart budding love, the first girl should either be the class rep or a class rep type who has everything set in stone but finds out even for her there are things she can’t control:

The protagonist finds out about this summer cram session she’s going to so he decides to go to it too. Protagonist sucks, and sucks so bad publicly that she feels compelled to help him out privately, she finds out he’s absolutely atrocious in either skill level or work ethic, they talk about what it means to be productive and what it means to have something to live for. She trains him, short montage of progress and hijinks. Love interest gets a call, has to leave, cram session ends, summer ends, teacher explains empty desk, fall term is well underway before she gets back. She doesn’t look well. She doesn’t perform well. She loses public image after being called on one day and not having the answer. Protagonist pipes up to keep the lecture going, shot of the love interest not reacting to the situation. That day the protagonist finds her after school, he asks a lot of questions, hits the mark with one, she lashes out at him in public, he takes her hand and pulls her somewhere privately.

He pokes her some more, she spills the beans, worries about her future and what to live for, protagonist confesses his feelings, that he had nothing to live for, but now wants to live for her. Details about who initiates the kiss in what way depends on personality details about protagonist. Whoever initiates tries to move one step further, the other one breaks it off. They both come to the understanding that going further would cost both their futures. Since she’s still better than him academically he can’t help. It could end in various ways from here. The happiest way would be that she recovers enough to be good enough for her original plan rather than be a prepared ace, and he rapidly improves enough to join her on it.

What we get instead is a girl who’s also uncertain about her future, but doesn’t show it much, and is interested in the guy, doesn’t show that much either, and in the end gets her motivation from the guy, but she never finds out that she inspired him too. She has only the slightest of reasons to like this guy, her kiss doesn’t seem to mean much at all just like any of her other reactions, neither he nor she seems to feel too strongly about breaking it off, nor when meeting again by chance years later.

No close-ups, no lighting change, no music change, no voice change, no expression change, no body language.

I was originally suspect about Seiren because they’re only releasing half the planned heroines right now; 12 episodes for 3 love interests now and who knows when for the other 3. But now I think that whoever decided that made the right decision. I haven’t paid attention to the tastes of the anime market in particular, but I sure as hell wouldn’t buy DVDs of this.

I’m going to watch the rest of it eventually just because I am marginally interested, and because I’ve wanted to learn storywriting and this looks like a uniquely easy situation to learn it in: two professional versions, one a masterpiece and one which appears to be something even someone completely untrained could do better at.

Seiren: 3/8


Tsuneki Hikari, Seiren, first three face shots:
Morishima Haruka, Amagami SS, first three face shots: