rambling

Late New Year’s Tidings and Some Thoughts

So, it’s been 2015 for nineteen days now. Back when the fall semester was winding down and winter batted its snow-crusted lashes from afar, I made some promises to beat such and such game and complete such and such task. I’ll admit now: life happens, and I didn’t really accomplish all those goals. It’s sort of my process: I make lofty promises, I only fulfill about half of them, then I feel guilty before accepting my fallibility and moving on at my own leisurely pace. To be more specific, I didn’t complete the Wario Land series, nor did I finish reading that stack of books I kept mentioning. I am happy to say, however, that the stack of books has been readuced (get it? Ha!) to three and I’ll probably finish one of them tomorrow. So, in the four or five weeks I’ve been away from school, I’ll have read a whole lot of stuff. Go me.

The other good news is that I did eventually finish Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked. Then I finished it a second time, and tonight I finished it for a third time. It’s that good, and New Game + really motivates one to run through the Tokyo lockdown again and again to master everything and fuse the most badass demons around. I was delighted to find that Nyarlathotep, one of the many deities dreamed, er, nightmared up by H.P. Lovecraft, is a high-level demon I could put on my team. There’s also Okuninushi, who is described in-game as the deity who made Japan into a nation way back when. So he’s pretty important, and he’s a stoic samurai-lookin’ warrior. If I keep writing about all the sweet demons I have on my teams, I won’t stop – there are just some games that I enjoy so much, I can gush over them at length.

Which brings me to that point I promised to touch upon weeks ago – Atlus. Oh, beautiful Atlus. I’m a fan of Atlus. Am I the biggest Atlus fan in the world? Have I played every single game Atlus has had a hand in creating? No, definitely not, but ever since I played a quirky little GBA game called Riviera: The Promised Land when I was about thirteen or fourteen, I’ve been digging every Atlus game I’ve touched. The funny thing is that I didn’t exactly realize I was loving Atlus games until later, years later. I guess I’ve just been attracted to the style of Atlus games for years now.

See, anyone who knows even a little bit about Japanese games knows this: Atlus is famous (or infamous, if perhaps you don’t enjoy Japanese games) for developing and/or producing Jrpgs – you know, Japanese role-playing games. Lemme tell ya, folks, I used to be scared of Jrpgs when I was a kid: my older step-sister played games like Chrono Cross and Suikoden II on the PS1 and they just looked so damn complicated to me. How did she know when to pick that attack, or talk to that character, or approach that city? It always looked like there was so much going on in the beautifully animated and scored games she was playing. I never thought I’d be able to handle it.

Relevant aside: before I accidentally started following Atlus games around, I got my mom to purchase a kickass monster-raising game called Dragon Warrior Monsters for me. I was eleven at the time. I had never before heard of Dragon Warrior, but the steadfast dude and the interesting critters on the game’s cover got my curiosity a-rumbling. I played the hell out of that game, on and off for a few years at least. Looking back, I realized that not only had I played a type of Jrpg as a child, I loved the stuffing, er, pixels out of it. So I suppose I was always meant to enjoy the turn-based tactical styles of most Jrpgs. Wacky, right?

Anywho, Riviera may have been my first Atlus game, but as I’ve mentioned, it wasn’t my last. You know what’s funny about a lot of the gamers I know, including myself? We can always delve into the intricate details of our histories with various game series, as if we experienced their wonders (or their horrors) only last night. The ones I remember the best fall into two categories: Castlevania or Atlus. Since this is my little Atlus retrospective, I’ll continue in that vein. I don’t remember the first time I ever went into a GameStop, or when the Electronics Boutique at the local mall was even changed into a GameStop, but I do remember waltzing into my local GameStop years ago and pre-ordering a nifty-looking game called Contact. Thank the maker I did so, because I found out later that Contact experienced a pretty limited release and it’s hard to find copies of it. The reason I walked into GameStop that day was to pre-order that game because damn, the preview in Game Informer sounded friggin’ awesome. Terry, the main character, gets different abilities depending on what he’s wearing? He can go fishing and cook sweet meals? I, the player, am somehow involved in his story beyond just being the dude holding the Nintendo DS? Sign me up!

That’s one of the things that’s always drawn me to Atlus: the unique nature of most of their games. By no means is a world-spanning adventure involving monsters and stat increases a new or special thing in the video game industry, but Atlus games always have style. Not like, Suda-51 raining expletives and cel-shaded blood upon you style, but more of a this game looks pretty damn nice for a 2D venture sort of style. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe, but every Atlus game I’ve played just looks pleasing to my eyes. After enjoying Contact immensely (and at this point, I still didn’t know that I was just falling head over heels in love with Atlus) I found myself attracted to a preview of a game called Etrian Odyssey. First, the game piqued my interest: the word “odyssey” was in the title and whenever there’s an odyssey involved, things get awesome. Second, the preview touted the challenge of the game, and this was right around the end of my high school career. I was eighteen and even though I enjoyed (and still enjoy) the colorful fun of most of Nintendo’s stuff, I was looking for a challenge. Etrian Odyssey promised to pummel my party of adventurers until they couldn’t walk anymore. Which says a lot, because they’re not really doing anything – I’m the one with his thumb on the D-pad, sheeit. Dumb joke aside, I was way stoked about the game. Along with the tantalizing title and the promise of a challenge, the game offered exploration for days. Hell, it was all about exploration: the touch screen on the DS was used to draw maps for each floor of the labyrinth you found! Yikes, that sounds cool!

And cool it was. I’d never played a dungeon crawler before, but Etrian Odyssey took the rich difficulty of old-school dungeon crawlers and mixed it with the deep strategy and customization of tough-as-nails turn-based rpgs. I loved the game, while I also hated it. I did pretty well in it, picking it up and taking cracks at it throughout the summer following my high school graduation. I didn’t look up guides or strategies for the game. I didn’t ask people for help. I struggled my way to the fourth stratum of the game’s mysterious labyrinth (to beat the main game, you had to get through five strata) before putting the damn thing down out of frustration.

I wouldn’t actually beat the friggin’ game until six years had passed. That’s how difficult the damn game was/is. “But wait, Chris! You’re twenty-something right now! Did you finally beat it, oh, a year or two ago?” Well, yes. Here’s a long story cut short: I was so put off by the difficulty of the first Etrian Odyssey that I skipped the second one, then when I read that that Etrian Odyssey III involved sailing and pirates, I had to get back into the series. Come on, man – pirates! So, much to the shame of my collector personality, I had two of the three Etrian Odyssey games when Etrian Odyssey IV was announced for the 3DS. “Well damn,” I thought to myself as a smile split my lips, “I’m gonna have to finish the first three.” So, well, I did what any self-respecting gamer would do: I ordered Etrian Odyssey II from Amazon, got my shit together and beat the first one, jumped into the second one immediately afterward and beat it in a month (I still don’t know if this was sheer luck or if I’d actually learned something – the second is usually cited as one of the toughest games in the series), and finally dedicated enough time to the third game to beat it as well. At long last, some six years after I picked the first game up from my local GameStop, I’d finally completed the trio of Etrian Odyssey games to be played on the Nintendo DS. It felt damn good.

Speaking of games that are damn good, Etrian Odyssey IV and Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl (a remake/retelling of the original game) on the 3DS are awesome too. I’m a proud owner of every Etrian Odyssey game that’s been ported to North America so far, and I’m happy as hell to say that the reason I started considering this retrospective was the announcement a month or two ago that said Etrian Odyssey V is in the pipeline. I may have another Etrian Odyssey to embark upon in the near-ish future, and I’m friggin’ stoked. But what do I do in the meantime?

I’m not all that jazzed about this notion that every new year is supposed to be about some sort of endeavor or theme, but I’m tempted to call 2015 “The Year of Atlus.” Not because I think there’ll be a lot of Atlus games in 2015 (really, there were a boatload of those in 2014), but because my appreciation for Atlus is the strongest it’s ever been and it looks like it’ll keep getting stronger. Hearing almost constantly about Atlus’s 3DS game sales, I ended up caving and buying Shin Megami Tensei IV on sale about half a year ago. Being the ridiculous man I am, I didn’t actually play the damn game until summer was almost over, but that didn’t stop me from loving the damn thing and wondering why the hell I didn’t get into demon-summoning before. Seeing how awesome SMT IV was, I saw more SMT-related games on sale and decided to spend just a little more money to get Devil Survivor Overclocked. Once again, my trend of letting digital games sit before I play them got the better of me, but around the start of winter break I finally got around to playing the damn game. As I said earlier, I’ve now finished it three times, and I plan to play it at least three more times to see all the endings and just 100% the demonic crap out of it.

This is why I want to call 2015 “The Year of Atlus”: I’m finally opening my eyes to all the awesome games Atlus makes, and trying to play as many of them as I can afford. I drove my lazy ass to GameStop last week so I could pre-order Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker. I paid for the game in full so when I go to pick it up in May, I’ll just have to grab the game from the GameStop employee and go. If I can continue to be smart with my money, I may just look into more SMT games I can download. I won’t have the time nor the energy to play every sweet game I’d like in the coming months (the spring semester starts tomorrow, alas!) but whenever I have free time, I’ll try to dedicate at least some of it to enjoying the fruits of Atlus’s labor. It’s a labor of love. So to Atlus – thanks.

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