#284: The Pins, Part 2

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So, each of our backpacks are filled with pins of various sizes and shapes. Some of them came from conventions we went to, like Anime NYC last year and its incredible artist alley. Some of the pins came from other cons, like Connecticon which we went to this year. The pins are like a walking history of the cons we’ve gone to, and I think it’s cool to look back on them in that way. It gives them a sort of meaning beyond just the image on the pin itself. When I look at the Final Pam pin on Alex’s backpack, for instance, I can remember sifting through the book of Monster Factory-related art at this lady’s table, and telling her how excited we were that we found fellow McElroy fans at the con. It’s like spotting someone you feel like you know outside of a place you usually see them.

I have two Monster Factory pins on my backpack, one featuring Toucan Dan and the other featuring Chiquita Dave. They’re perfect pieces of art, and I only wish I could get more of them in the future. Hopefully the artist is around next year, and has them on sale again. I can imagine picking some extras up for my friend who only recently got into the McElroy brand of content.

There’s also a pin that Alex got at the March for Our Lives in 2018, which says that “Gun Violence is a Women’s Issue.” I remember seeing that and thinking, first of all, I support your message, but second of all, that would make a great pin. And it did. I can only imagine the stares that Alex gets from strangers while walking around New York with that on, but I hope that the majority of them are positive and full of agreement.

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#283: The Pins, Part 1

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Getting Alex a birthday present is always fun. The way we like to do it, the person giving the gifts picks an arbitrary number of gifts they’re going to give the other person, and then in a length of time leading up to that person’s birthday, the gifts are given. This year I chose to get Alex seven things, and so that meant we would start sometime in late July with her getting a gift every three or so days. It’s a little tradition that we’ve kept up for awhile now, and I like to think that it’ll continue as we get older together, too.

This year, the gift field has been dominated by Persona 5-related ideas. It’s not just a fad we went through; it’s a game that thoroughly changed my life and helped me see video games as complex narratives to be experienced, rather than just lifeless fun. But that’s besides the point, and I’ve talked about my love for that game a lot already on this blog. The point is, I got Alex a few gifts related to Persona 5, one of which was a series of pins featuring some of our favorite characters. I chose Ryuji, Joker/Ren, and Makoto as pin picks and the Etsy shop owner was gracious enough to include an extra Haru pin on top of that. I super appreciate what they did and will definitely shop from them again if the chance comes up. When I was shopping for the pins, I knew they would be perfect for her partially because of the original art featured on them, but also because of our history involving backpacks and pins. There’s a story to each one, and it’s nice to look back on them. I could tell a stranger all about Alex’s backpack, for example.

#277: The Takeover

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When a game takes over your life, it’s a feeling like no other. Usually this happens when I play games with long playtimes, such as Xenoblade Chronicles, Paper Mario 2, the new Fire Emblem, games of that nature. Long, epic adventures with grand stories to tell. They’re addicting in that I want to reach the end, but I also want to enjoy what I have while I can. I talked about this feeling in my blog post titled “The Delay,” in which I mentioned that I don’t want to beat Persona 5 yet because it would mean the end of my friendships with the characters and fictional story. When a game takes over your life, you have to let it pass over you, and you have to enjoy every minute of it. Thankfully, that’s so easy to do. RPGs make it easy, as there are so many systems you have to understand in order to grasp the game. Mementos, diner dates, social links, activity points, confidant availability, faculty training, fishing and sharing a meal, materia, whatever else there is.

The new Fire Emblem is starting to take over my life in the same way that Persona did, although I’m taking precautions to make sure when school rolls around soon, I’m not too invested that I can’t keep up with work. It’s important to have a healthy balance of fun and work, after all. But that’s one of the reasons why the summer is so difficult to rebound from; you get used to living life one way, and then boom, it’s back to 10 months of intense work.

The title of this blog post was inspired by the song “Take Over,” the new ambush battle theme for Persona 5: Royal. It’s been stuck in my head and I don’t know what to do about it except continue listening!

#267: The Strategy, Part 2

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During my last post about Fire Emblem, I mentioned the battle system and how it’s more prevalent in this game than in Persona. You can more easily enter a battle, without having to worry about going through six hours of narrative beforehand (cough, Palaces 4-5, cough).

With all this being said, Fire Emblem: Three Houses (on the Nintendo Switch) is more akin to chess than Persona. You have to think many, many turns ahead in order to save your units while also working within the game’s timer and battle conditions. You have to think ahead when instructing your students, and you need to have a plan in mind for each unit, a path or goal they’re striving for. For example, at some point in the future I want to train Edelgard to wear heavy armor, which I think would be an awesome upgrade for her. In order to get her to that place, though, I need to be careful about how I instruct her during class, what lessons I teach her, and what equipment I give her to train with. You have to think ahead, essentially, in order to do everything in this game, and it never lets up on you. If you don’t have a clear plan in mind, the game will start to challenge you more than it did previously, and you will feel a bit overwhelmed by the battles. Your units will become listless and unmotivated without proper guidance.

But despite these obvious pitfalls if you’re not paying attention, the game does a great job of teaching you how to avoid them. It almost makes it impossible to not advance your units, and no matter how poorly you teach, you’ll still come away with some reward, or experience, or lesson learned from it. The game is pretty forgiving, in spite of everything that makes it seem otherwise. I’d highly recommend it.

#266: The Strategy, Part 1

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Fire Emblem is a game series known for its intense strategy. When one of your units dies, it dies for good, and to get them back, you have to return to an earlier save file. The recent games in the series have offered optional difficulty settings that do away with this age old tradition, but the challenge remains for players who want a taste of the original games. The feeling stays the same in those situations, and I’m glad they included them.

Not counting the mobile game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the first entry in the series that I’ve played, and so far, it’s been enjoyable. I like the thoughtfulness that goes into the combat, and all the small details alongside it, such as the way the music speeds up in intensity when units are fighting each other. I like the characters, although they haven’t pulled me in as much as they did in Persona 5. I hear that they get more complicated as the story goes on, but a certain element of Persona’s characters is tied closely to the setting. As in, the fact that the game takes place in the 21st century makes the characters more interesting to me. You can feel their struggles more closely, considering you’ve experienced them too, and not too long ago.

However, the games are different in many regards, and shouldn’t necessarily be compared and judged just based on how relatable their characters are. That wouldn’t be fair to either game. Fire Emblem is more gameplay-focused, I think, and less time is spent on dialogue and narrative, even though the two are heavily focused on still. Fire Emblem has more consistent gameplay moments, such as the mock battles and the battles at the end of every month. They’re weaved into the story experience moreso than in Persona 5.

#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).

#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.

#257: The Trailer

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Have you ever gotten excited about a trailer that’s about to come out? I have, plenty of times. I remember when I first started watching Game of Thrones and the season 4 announcement trailer released; it was an experience for me and my friends. At the time, none of us had any idea what would happen to the show eventually and we were all caught up in the glorious hype of the moment. There’s something truly special about sharing in collective excitement with other people, watching others get hyped up with you. I remember when the first trailer dropped for The Avengers, and I remember geeking out over it too. How small the world seemed back then, before the fourth movie became the highest grossing film of all time. Is it actually at that point yet? I’m not so sure if it’s topped Avatar.

The reason I mention this is because a trailer just dropped earlier today for Persona 5: Royal, the new remastered edition of one of my favorite games, featuring one of my favorite characters from that game. She’s an absolute badass, and the trailer showcased that to the fullest potential. It’s supposed to be releasing some time next year, but knowing Atlus, it could be pushed later, depending on what they want to change on it. I shared it with Alex earlier today and we both geeked out over it. Again, I just love being able to talk about these things with other people reliably and consistently. It makes the whole experience so much sweeter when you have someone else to share in all this with. So, thanks Alex! You’re the best, but you already know that.

I guess this blog post also could’ve been titled “the friend” or something along those lines, considering how important it is to have friends who are interested in the same things as you.

#248: The Persona

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It’s about time I talked about persona. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to dedicate a full blog post to it, but here goes anyway.

Persona 5 is a brilliant, interactive, narrative-driven video game on the PS3 and PS4. Thankfully, after purchasing the PS4 over the summer, I’ve been playing a lot of this game, over 95 hours so far. I’m currently on the sixth palace, or dungeon, in the game, and it’s completely enthralled me. I’ve talked with many, many friends about this game too, and it’s something else just to be able to have these long, detailed, complex conversations with people about a game’s unique story. I love unique, well-crafted narratives, and this is definitely one of them. The story, the characters, the themes, the framing, the setting. It all comes together into one beautifully-crafted package. I give props to Atlus for creating such a complicated title with interwoven character arcs and everything.

I could talk at a mile a minute about this game, but I’d like to focus on a specific aspect of the game that I like: the persona system. It’s sort of like Pokemon, in which there are elements (fire, wind, ice, nuclear?, etc.) and certain party members specialize in certain elements. You pick up party members in the traditional JRPG way of having them slowly join up and come to terms with how cool your party is. In this case, the Phantom Thieves are an internationally-known, secret organization of crime fighters, and each character awakens to their persona at a critical moment in the story, thus granting them that kind of power in the Metaverse. It’s a lot to take in all at once, but it’s seriously fantastic. I don’t know what my summer would have been like without this game with me.

#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.