This Week in Games - Blue Reflection

by Dustin Bailey,
I'm finally filling in the holes in my Yakuza series knowledge, largely thanks to that reprint earlier this year that finally made the second game affordable again. I finished Yakuza 2 this week, and it deserves its fan-favorite position in the series. Despite lacking the significantly improved combat of the later games, it features probably the strongest story in the entire, ridiculous, pulpy series. The soundtrack in the climactic bits is just so good. Kiwami 2 is gonna be great.

But there's a weird, rarely-reported detail in the credits of the game—Suda51 listed as the actor behind a minor character from the coliseum. I can't find any reference to this outside of GameFAQs posters just as confused as I am. What strange confluence of events could've led to Suda doing voice work for a tiny character in a Sega-developed game? Will he reprise the role for Kiwami 2? Stay tuned for further updates on the investigation.

First Impressions - Blue Reflection

What if Persona had magical girls? This is the question Blue Reflection dares to ask. That adds one more to a list of Persona derivatives that this year alone already includes Akiba's Beat, Tokyo Xanadu, and actual Persona 5. Blue Reflection is the latest Gust joint, part of the “Beautiful Girl Festival” that includes the most recent Atelier game and the upcoming Nights of Azure 2.

Blue Reflection has you in the role of Hinako, a high school student and former ballet dancer forced to give up her dreams because of an unfortunate injury. Then she gets hit by the light of magic, finds herself in a skimpy Sailor Moon-adjacent outfit, and is recruited to do battle against a mysterious dark force encroaching on the collective unconscious.

Despite the magical trappings, the game is pretty effective at setting a tone of summertime wistfulness with soft lit scenes and an understated soundtrack. It's not a visually detailed game—there are clear roots from the Vita version that didn't get released here—but the lighting, depth of field, and framing give it a far more unique and defined look than I'm used to seeing from one of Gust's mid-budget RPGs. It successfully captures the feel of a decent summertime slice of life anime, if not, you know, the feeling itself. It's very earnest, and trips from school life to the magical realm are done in the name of helping other people sort through their feelings in a more definitively helpful and less psychoanalytic way than you'd see in most Persona-likes.

The odd thing about how well the game pulls together its look and feel is that makes otherwise mostly innocuous bits of fanservice seem out of place. This is an all-female cast whose magical transformations put them into real questionable clothing choices, and whose school uniforms are subject to some, uh, generous cloth physics. Plus there's all that provocative DLC that's already released in Japan and likely to be coming here. It's not that any of this is offensive, but it does make the game feel a little voyeuristic, draining that earnest feeling that has so far proved to be the game's most interesting aspect.

And I've spent a long time talking about that look and feel because everything else is just kinda “there,” for lack of a better term. Combat is turn-based with one unique hook: a ton of ways to influence turn order. Both your party and enemies sit on opposite sides of a meter that moves toward the center like a universal active time battle gauge, and everybody has spells that can inflict knockback, literally knocking the enemy back on that meter. So you can try to slow down the approach of one bad guy's turn while focusing more damaging attacks on others, which is a fun twist on an otherwise very traditional combat system.

Sadly, you don't get to make use of that twist very much. Battles up through the first few hours of the game have been incredibly straightforward, barely even requiring you to play with the turn order. There's no sense of endurance through the dungeons since your HP and MP restores completely after each fight, and you rarely have to even consider mid-battle restoratives because everything's over so quickly. This might just be a factor of still being relatively early in the game, but there haven't been many encouraging signs about further depth opening up later. Then there are the dungeons themselves, which are bad. Super straightforward races to collect a handful of doodads to progress the story. You can fight if you want, I guess, but level progression seems largely tied to story events rather than experience, meaning that you've little reason to engage in normal encounters.

There's a nugget of something cool in Blue Reflection's presentation but it's not really backed up by the story and characters, who barely work their way past a single note of characterization. That leaves the well-executed look feel like a hollow way to mask an otherwise unremarkable magical girl adventure, and there's not enough to the combat to inspire hope that Blue Reflection will transcend that issue.

NEWS

ATLUS STILL DOESN'T QUITE “GET” THE INTERNET

Persona 5 is a great game, but it seems Atlus is doing a lot to try and make you forget that. After their overzealous streaming conditions on the game's release, they're now issuing DMCA claims against the Patreon of a PlayStation 3 emulator called RPCS3, which has been in development for years.

While Atlus is certainly within their rights to take action against piracy, hardware emulation itself is—for now, in the US, at least—completely legal. Patreon itself has rejected their claim for now, but did advise the creators to remove any mention of Persona 5 from the emulator's website and the Patreon. In certain cases, you might associate an action like this with an overzealous attorney taking action without really understanding the consequent backlash from the fan community. But no, Atlus has made an official statement essentially saying “yeah, we did it, and we'd do it again.”

Piracy is still a bad thing, but publishers are notoriously disinterested in anything that surrounds game preservation. Yes, the vast majority of emulator users are there because of free games, but open source hardware emulation is essential to keeping old games alive for the future. There'll come a point when every NES or PS3 fails, and what happens to our children when we can't play Lair anymore? Okay, bad example, but Atlus is coming at this wrong from every angle. Interestingly (and I should note I'm "only" 20 hours in), the entire plot of Persona 5 seems to be about kids becoming thieves in protest against a bunch of out-of-touch suits, which is something.

SONIC X HOOTERS

Many fun, wild, and wonderful things happened at the Tokyo Game Show last weekend. I'm ignoring most of them in order to express my disbelief over the Sonic plus Hooters promotion. Yes, Sonic Forces will be promoted inside Tokyo Hooters. This was announced on a TGS stage show, as if these two brands were the hottest things imaginable.

Look, I know Sonic cynicism is tired, and we're so immersed in a world awash with free pornography that the very idea of Hooters seems quaint. But come on. This is just a perfect storm of things that used to be edgy in the 90s. I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking it. Maybe this was just an excuse to put some attractive ladies on stage at TGS for the photo op. Or maybe this was a calculated stunt to get a billion gullible games writers to all remind you that Sonic Forces is coming out soon. Wait, no, who would fall for that?

SQUARE WANTS TO GO “GAMES AS A SERVICE,” BUT AT LEAST THEY'RE MAKING MORE NIER

It's time for my “old man yelling at clouds” moment. “Games as a service” is a concept that isn't going away, and there's good reason why. The long-term sales that come along with long-term support of multiplayer-focused online games is one of few reliable ways to recoup the astronomical costs of development. Yet I'd have hoped that the success of a game like Nier: Automata would say to Square Enix that there's room for contained single-player games, too.

Maybe they realize that. In Square's annual earnings report, They say that this year's Nier greatly exceeded their expectations and served as a reminder of the quality of Japanese games. It demonstrates “significant potential for future franchise development.” That's corporate code for “yeah, we're making more of that game with the sexy sad robots,” and apparently Yoko Taro and the gang are already hiring for the next project.

But Square's report also doubles down on the games as service concept as the company's future path. Final Fantasy XV has already served as an example of what that might look like, and I'm not sure I'm on board. That DLC has varied wildly in quality, and as much as I liked the main game I haven't been a fan of waiting for extra content to fill in the giant, gaping abysses in the midst of the plot. Square says FF15 proved to be a blockbuster, but I can't help but be afraid they'll take the wrong lessons from it. Please look forward to Episode Pascal.

UPCOMING RELEASES

CULDCEPT REVOLT
Developer: Omiya Soft
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 3
MSRP: $39.99

Every single reference to Culdcept on the internet describes it as “Magic the Gathering meets Monopoly,” so I guess I have to do the same. Yes, it is a fantasy RPG with combat extrapolated into the abstract realm of card and board games. The developers have made efforts to help the learning curve, so it seems Culdcept Revolt will be a good place to start.

GUNDAM VERSUS
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: September 29
MSRP: $59.99

Gundam Versus is finally back in the West, proving once again that we live in a golden age of actually getting things localized. By most accounts, this is both the Gundam Versus and the Virtual On successor you've been waiting for. It's got a big roster of mobile suits, so I'm hopeful that the one chief concern—the DLC influence—won't be a significant problem. I look forward to hopping into Barbatos and getting very sad.

STAR FOX 2
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Super NES
Release Date: September 29
MSRP: $79.99

Yes, there's a whole new device out to host Star Fox 2, which you may or may not be able to purchase this week. But you can play Secret of Mana or Super Metroid anywhere. The real story is that Nintendo is finally releasing Star Fox 2 after all these years—not that incomplete prototype that got leaked, but the actual, real game. The game history nerd in me can't help but love this.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Dragon's Dogma comes to current consoles this week, and it is a good game that you should play. Yo-kai Watch 2 is getting a significant update with with Psychic Specters, which offers the updates you'd expect from a third iteration of a Nintendo-published game about collecting monsters. One Piece: Unlimited World Red also makes its Switch debut this week.

There's a ton of stuff on the Western front, too. The gorgeous, throwback animation of Cuphead. The fantasy tactics of Total War: Warhammer II. Big new sports stuff with FIFA 18 and Forza Motorsport 7. There are too many video games!


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