#264: The Soundtrack

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Today, I’ll be discussing the Persona 5 soundtrack in detail. Reason being, I’m currently listening to it and I don’t have many other ideas for what to write about!

Let’s jump in. I’m currently listening to “Blooming Villain,” the boss battle theme that plays during the first 7 or so fights. It’s a hard rock track with booming guitar riffs and a killer solo that plays during the so-called chorus. When I’m at the gym, sometimes I’ll put it on and just walk (or steadily run, depending on the feeling) to its crazy sounds. Everyone gets pumped up to different stuff, so I may as well, too. I remember when it first came on, while I was playing the game and fighting against Kamoshida’s shadow in his castle. It was a killer moment and it definitely made me want to do whatever it takes to destroy him. When music gives you that kind of a feeling, you know it’s worth something.

There’s also “The Arena,” which is technically a Persona 4 song but it’s implemented into Persona 5 via DLC. I’ve started listening to it a little bit at the gym also. It’s another track with killer guitar riffs that penetrate the eardrums, if your volume is high enough.

Speaking of which, there’s also “Life Will Change (Instrumental)”, the song that plays when you’ve secured a route to the treasure and need to then steal it. I don’t know if it’s as good as the version with lyrics, but if I’m at the gym, I’ll usually be listening to the instrumental version instead of the lyrical one. Again, it’s got killer guitar riffs (I keep using that phrase, but it applies well!) and you can sort of hear the voice in the background if you know the words (or have listening to the lyrical version enough times already).

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#260: The Delay

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When you really don’t want to finish something because you’ve invested so much time and energy into it, and you feel a bit emotionally indebted to it, that’s the delay. On that note, I’m currently listening to music from Persona 5 as I write this. How are both of those sentences connected? Well, Persona 5 is the game I never want to see end; it’s endlessly engaging and the story has moved me. The characters are so memorable, so full of personality and charm and wit and, well, human character that it feels like I’m giving up some of my friends by finishing the game. After all, they do text you in the game and offer to hang out with you, whether at Leblanc or at the movies or elsewhere. Atlus really went out of their way to make the characters as human as possible, in a way that’s almost scary. Their voices are iconic, their characters so full of love and attention, that I can’t imagine playing another role-playing game like it. I doubt I’ll find an RPG with characters that engage me as well as these ones have. Alex and I really have been taken in by this game and its narrative; I feel sympathy for all of the main characters, and I want them to succeed and find happiness in their lives, even though they’re works of fiction. It’s almost as if acknowledging that there is an end to this game is acknowledging that these characters will soon no longer exist, at least in new and exciting ways, or that they really aren’t human after all. I can always go back and replay the game, and I plan on doing that when the new version comes out next year, but for now, this is the end. At least, until I actually finish the game, which by the time this blog post goes up might actually be the case.

Oh well. I guess this is the one vice of consuming great art: it’s always temporary.

#256: The Flyers

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Anyone who plays World of Warcraft can recognize that the game changes completely as soon as you unlock flying for the first time. Once you’re able to soar through the sky on your flying mounts, everything on the map becomes more enticing and travel is significantly less tedious. You don’t have to worry about running into mobs any more on the “safe” path to that one world quest, and you can freely escape a dangerous situation if you manage to get out of combat and have a few seconds to load up your mount. For world quests, even in enemy territory, it’s easy just to drop in, kill something, and then load up your mount again. Flying takes away so much of the tedium and trials of the game, making so much of the game accessible to someone like me, who doesn’t as much enjoy his ground mounts.

Being able to fly is great and all, but one of the best benefits of flying is exclusive to the druid class: flight form. Druids are shapeshifters, taking the form of beasts and animals to suit the situation they’re in. When they enter water, they can take the form of an aquatic animal to increase their movement speed while others swim at slow speeds. But in flight form, they can fly around and collect herbs easily, without ever having to leave their transformed form. (Does that wording make sense? Hopefully…) They can swoop down, collect an herb safely, and ignore any potential danger. It’s like having a free pass to level your gathering professions. I love that so much about flying, and right now it’s what’s motivating me to play my druid, after a while of having that character sitting on the bench. The transition is as smooth as butter and nothing really compares to it.

#238: The Grind

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The Grind. When it comes to grinding out experience, reputation, currency, gold, whatever I need in order to push forward in World of Warcraft, I’m used to it. Back when Burning Crusade was current content, I remember the first grind I participated in was the Shattered Sun Offensive reputation grind. You had to hit exalted in order to get all the good stuff, so obviously I wanted to get there pretty badly. As a kid in middle school, I didn’t realize the predatory practices of games at the time, and I didn’t quite understand how the rep grind was designed to make me want to play the game more and more, incentivizing total commitment to the game every day in order to maximize the reputation I earned each day. That’s what life on current World of Warcraft is like, too, now that they’ve added two new reputations and two new zones to explore: Nazjatar and the Ankoan, and Mechagon and the Rustbolt Resistance. (Rustbolt almost sounds like Rustbelt, which is kind of funny.)

(Coffee beans are all I could find when searching “grind,” even though it’s unrelated to the topic. I like having unrelated pictures attached to these blog posts, though.)

In other words, the grind is a long, arduous process of completing monotonous tasks over and over again in order to achieve a result that’s gated in some way by an arbitrary restriction, such as reputation or gold or something like that. In this case, in order to get flying on all my characters in the new areas, I need to hit revered with both of the new factions and then explore each new island, too. It’s a process, but I’m used to it by this point. I’ve done it on almost all of my characters, so there’s nothing holding me back.

#236: The Insult

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This won’t be a negative blog post, and I plan on establishing that early so that anyone worried about me because of the title can have their concerns eased. This is about an insult I received indirectly via a game I was playing, and what my feelings are regarding this common feeling.

In Persona 5, at one point while all the characters are studying together in the cafe to prepare for final exams, Ryuji, the slacker character, says, roughly: “What’s the point in English anyways? It’s not like we’re gonna use it in the future…” The irony here is that, of course, this game was developed in Japan and they’re referring to English as a second language, because the game was translated and localized into English by a different company. After this event, another character in the story named Ann said: “Yeah, what’s the point in figuring out what an author is thinking? It’s no use.”

Obviously, there’s more to it than that, so let me explain quickly. When an English teacher asks you to deconstruct an author’s thought process, what they’re really asking you to do is prove that, when you read a given piece, you can grasp the author’s intentions in writing it. Are they biased? Reliable? Motivated by other reasons? Can you tell this by gleaming information from the written text? Can you prove it using said evidence?

Of course, these characters are teenagers and not literature teachers. They’re mostly immature and humorous. I don’t take what they say always seriously, and I don’t think the game intends you to either. It’s all in good fun, which is what makes the game so enjoyable in the first place. I just wanted to use a moment in the game as a jumping off point for a conversation about the purpose of English classes.

#224: The Tank

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Today I’ll be discussing the art of “tanking.” Tanking is a strategy employed in certain strategy games or role-playing games, wherein a tough, beefy character stands in front of all the baddies and absorbs their hits while the rest of the party deals damage or heals the tank. The holy trinity of MMORPG party mechanics is one tank, one healer, and three damage dealers, and it hasn’t changed much in the time since World of Warcraft’s initial release. It’s just become normalized that way in almost all MMORPGs.

Tanking, however, is something that takes skill. It’s not as easy as just face-rolling all of your damage dealing abilities and expecting big numbers to pop up. You have to worry about maintaining aggro from all the mobs you’re attacking, while also keeping yourself alive and dealing a respectable amount of damage, enough at least to keep the attention of the mobs. You also have to position the mobs such that they don’t unintentionally grab the attention of other nearby mobs or bosses, while making sure their abilities and spells don’t target the rest of the party. Essentially, you are keeping multiple people’s positions in mind while worrying about your own position and the position of the enemies. Being a tank requires a special awareness to all of these key traits.

And if you mess up, everyone knows. You’re the de facto leader of the group; you’re the one who decides the pace of the dungeon, after all. You’re supposed to be the one who pulls mobs at your decided pace, and because mythic+ dungeons are timed, the blame for dungeons not being completed in time can sometimes fall on your shoulders.

This all being said, I enjoy tanking and the challenges it provides. Sometimes I like being able to just join a group without having to worry about how the tank decides to carry us through the dungeon; sometimes I like being able to decide that myself. It can be nice and liberating. Tanking is great, and stressful, and that’s all that matters.

#220: The Timewalk

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Timewalking is a feature in World of Warcraft that becomes available every few weeks or so, and it’s become a tradition for us to take time out of our busy schedules to complete the 5 required weekly timewalking dungeons, regardless of what expansion they come from.

Let me explain what timewalking is first. So in World of Warcraft, there have been seven expansions up to this point. The game has been out since 2004, and it’s still running strong despite everything else going wrong with the game since then. Each expansion has a set of dungeons (5-player group content) exclusive to that expansion. In Mists of Pandaria, the fourth expansion to the game, you could explore the Temple of the Jade Serpent with a group of randomized players, but in the most recent expansion, you can still complete the Temple dungeon, but not with random players in an instance queue. That is, until timewalking appears, and then you are able to experience the magic all over again. Your characters are leveled down to the current level of the expansion, and then you’re forced to take on everything that comes your way with an item level appropriate to the expansion, too. Everything is normalized to provide an authentic experience of what it would be like if that content was current. For example, all the enemies and bosses are scaled up while you are scaled down to match their power levels. Mechanics are important again, and you can’t just zerg rush through all the bosses without paying attention to some of the mechanics of the game. You have to actually pay attention and work as a team, rather than rushing and rushing along through every health bar you face.

That’s it for timewalking, for now at least. I’m sure I’ll talk about it again at some point, considering how prevalent it is in WoW.

#218: The Board Game

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It’s time we talk about board games and how they’ve changed the way I think about gaming in general.

Board games are a blast, and I own plenty of them. My favorites that I own are probably Betrayal at House on the Hill & Kings of New York, two classics that always seem to pop up when my friends and I decide to hang out and play games together. There’s also Settlers of Catan, Clue, Taboo, Munchkin, Magic (if you count magic as a board games, it depends on your definition I guess), and more that I’m forgetting off the top of my head and I’m sure Alex will remind me of them after she reads this.

The reason why I like playing board games is because they allow a certain degree of role-playing that isn’t afforded by other games. In Betrayal, for example, people are given the chance to role-play as a person trekking through a mysterious, haunted mansion. The place is procedurally generated, thanks to the freedom that playing a board game offers, and there are tiles that you pull from to create the mansion. When you run into an Omen tile, you have to draw an Omen card, such as a Sword, Zombie, Knight, etc., and they determine what the Haunt will be. The Haunt is the moment that changes the game and flips everything on its head. Depending on what Omen is drawn, who draws it, and what room they draw it in, the game chooses a “Betrayer” who then has to fight against the rest of the party. It’s one of my favorite games because of the randomness presented by it, as well as the sheer interactions that come from playing a game that randomly pits certain people against each other. How fun is that?

I also like playing Kings of New York, but I’ve run out of words to talk about that one. Maybe next time!

#183: The Playmat

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While playing Magic: the Gathering, it’s customary for Alex and I to set things up first. We take the magazines and plants off of the center table, and then we put pillows down on my side, by the TV, for me to sit on. Angus walks over and, as is custom, he brushes against us and the magazines and they spill over as we pet him vigorously, because he loves attention while we play magic. He always gets excited whenever we sit down together and start to prepare our things for card playing. His face perks up and he starts to pant, like he’s outside in the steaming heat.

Next, we unroll my massive Dark Confidant playmat, which I got in 2014 and which was signed by the artist, Scott Fishman, at a magic convention in Worcester-Boston. He signed it with a little fish next to his name, which is how I remember what his name is. It’s written in silver sharpie. When we went, Dan, Alex (different Alex this time), and I all got playmats from the same guy and for the same purpose, but I think I’m the only one who still uses his playmat. I think Alex sold his, and Dan uses a different one whenever he plays. I don’t even own a Dark Confidant card, but having the playmat makes me feel like I do, at least in some sense.

Alex (the first one, not the friend one) is looking to get a playmat for herself one of these days. We’re in the middle of researching the right one for her, and I think she’s looking for one with Deathpact Angel or Angel of Despair on the cover. I think either of those options would look amazing on a playmat, so to imagine them lighting up against my Dark Confidant playmat would be amazing. Darkness versus light, good versus evil, all that jazz. You know how it goes by this point.

#182: The Long Night

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Talk about complete and total darkness. Not the type that’s momentarily scary, but totally enveloping and ruining. The kind of darkness that makes you question what’s real and what’s not. Absolute carnage takes place in the darkness. After watching Game of Thrones season 3 episode 8’s “The Long Night,” I feel qualified to talk about this darkness, because the episode was dark in more ways than one. The tone and mood of the episode were similarly dreary and frightening, while the atmosphere, setting, and lighting were terrifyingly dark as well. In some parts, the dead seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut, rampaging over anything that even dared to touch them, such as the Dothraki horde with their flaming swords of doom.

By the time this post reaches my blog, it’ll be long past the release of this episode, but I figured it was worth discussing anyway because I bet this episode stands the test of time for awhile. Some may disagree about the overall quality of the episode, but I think having the battle take place in one, 80-minute spectacle felt like the right thing to do, rather than drag it on for longer than necessary. They had to finish it right there and then, as the dead were already picking up and animating the bodies of those who were fighting against them. It would’ve been a hundred times worse otherwise.

I loved the scenes with the red mist, as Winterfell became overrun by zombies and the dead. It really brought home the aspect of dread. I was completely, totally stressed out for the entire episode, and I know others were too. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to film such a thing, to put it all together into one major episode. The budget must’ve been sky high, to begin with. I’m just happy one of my favorite series is coming together like this.