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Claire Kinnane

Persona 5 Review (Playstation 4)

● Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
● Platforms: PlayStation 4
● Developer | Publisher: P-Studio | Atlus, Deep Silver
● Age Rating: PEGI 16 | ESRB M (Mature)
● Price: UK £49.99 | US $19.99
● Release Date: 15th September 2016

No review code was provided, and all opinions contained below are my own.

With Persona 5 Strikers hitting the western world, I decided to revisit the original Persona 5. Having played Persona games before, I went into Persona 5 expecting a slow-burn, long haul adventure. While the game is a lenghty one as RPGs tend to be, I was surprised by how quickly Persona 5 throws you into the action with you hitting the first Palace just a couple of hours in. This game has had huge commercial success and is arguably the game that made Persona truly popular. It has even generated a meme or two (delicious pancakes, anyone?).

Story/Characters

For the uninitiated, in Persona you play as a high school student. By day you attend class, answer questions and take exams. By night you can spend time however you wish; ranking up attributes such as knowledge and charm, spending time with friends to level up social links and working part-time jobs. Oh, and you can also summon Personas to fight Shadows and save the world. Y’know, normal stuff.

The story starts with a Persona staple: you’re a transfer student who stumbles into trouble, collecting a ragtag group of friends with similar talents to help you save the world. The first to join the diverse group are Morgana and Ryuji- an anthropomorphic cat and a misunderstood thug. As the story progresses you gather more *ahem* colourful characters; a model, an eccentric artist, and a backstabbing traitor to name a few.

The main premise is pretty zany, but in a good and interesting way. It does a good job of immersing you while not taking itself too seriously. It’s all shaped around cognition; if enough people collectively believe something to be reality it becomes real. This can also be used to explain the reasoning behind Palaces, a physical manifestation of the ruler of the Palace’s distorted desires. Are you still with me? Good.

As the story unfolds, you learn that all your friends are being abused or taken advantage of in some way. One by one, they awaken to their Persona and stand up to their abusers. Once liberated, they join the Phantom Thieves of Hearts and help to liberate others by entering the Palace of their abuser, grinding through, beating the boss and stealing their treasure.

All of your teammates are well-developed and fleshed out with distinct strengths, weaknesses and personalities. All of them are likeable, and it’s a joy to build up social links and get to know them. Alongside your teammates, you also have confidants with whom you can also form social links. There are dozens of them and you likely won’t even meet them all on your first run. They’re all full of personality, and I found myself caring about their stories and personal quests as much as I did the main story. While this makes every run feel different and new, it is disappointing that Persona 5 did not take that extra step and implement same sex dating, especially since there are so many male confidants.

A Palace exists in the abuser’s cognition and represents their distorted desires. For example, an ex-Olympic egotistic volleyball coach may view the school as his castle of which he is the King. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into what the ‘King’ does to abuse his power but suffice to say it’s bad. By grinding through the Palace and stealing their treasure you remove their distorted desire, but they retain the memories of what they’ve done and confess under the pressure of their guilt.

As the story reaches its climax, you realise that this is truly an unjust game and the odds of winning are almost none. As in previous Persona games, your social links are very important and truly matter. However, ranking up attributes are important to begin or rank up some social links, so spend your time wisely! Persona 5 has New Game+, where you keep your social stats and Personas so I tend to focus on maxing out social stats on the first run and spend the next run solely on social links.

Gameplay

Like many popular JRPGs, the combat is turn-based. You fight Shadows by exploiting their elemental weakness. The main protagonist can swap between multiple Personas, and you can choose to command other party members or let them act freely which keeps combat from getting too repetitive. A few new features have been added to Persona 5 which sets it apart from it’s predecessors. The first is that you can use guns to shoot shadows. Some Shadows are weak to gunfire, and this skill can be enhanced and upgraded with a couple of social links. You can also visit an airsoft store to buy and upgrade your guns and melee weapons.

Another addition to Persona 5 is the ability to hold Shadows at gunpoint in true Phantom Thief style. You can demand money or items, or converse with them to try and convince them to become one of your Personas. This did cause some confusion for me when Shadows didn’t respond in a way I expected them to, or took something I said the wrong way. However, this gripe is fixed in Persona 5 Royal with Shadows being given personality types and Morgana giving advice. This is just a nit-pick, however. The hold up is comedically dramatic and the game is better for it.

The best new mechanic added to Persona 5 is the Baton Pass. By exploiting an enemy’s weakness you get a ‘1 more’. This is self-explanatory; you get to perform another action, be it attacking again or using an item. However, you can only change Persona once per turn, so unless your Persona has multiple elemental attacks you can’t down all your enemies if they all have different weaknesses.

This is where the Baton Pass comes in. If your social link is high enough with your team mates, you can ‘pass the baton’ during your 1 more with a crisp high five. This allows you to pass your turn to another party member. If they then manage to exploit an enemy’s weakness they too can Baton Pass, with attacks increasing every time. This does have some limitations, however. The Baton must be passed to someone new every time it is used so it can’t be passed back and forth. Also, if you have a new party member with you who you haven’t had time to rank up you can’t pass the Baton to them and it really ruins the momentum. As the game progresses and the enemies get tougher, Baton Passing becomes imperative so this can literally be a game-saver.

Once all enemies are down you enter the aforementioned Hold Up. You can demand something, interrogate them, or initiate an All-Out Attack, in which all of the party attack the Shadows accompanied by an aesthetically pleasing black and red theme. If this doesn’t defeat the Shadow, it knocks them down and takes a massive chunk off their health. Not only is this advantageous combat-wise, it’s also stylish and oddly satisfying, especially if the fight has been a pain in the butt. Persona 5 also introduces stealth. You can peek around corners, hide behind tables and the such. While this is a great addition, it can be very irritating when you don’t have the enemies in your field of view as you can’t rotate the camera while in stealth.

As with any RPG, grinding is necessary. You can grind in Palaces as long as they are active, but they all have time limits and become available 1-2 months apart in-game. That’s where Mementos comes in. Mementos is a gargantuan, procedurally generated dungeon set in the Shibuya underground. How do you explore a cognitive underground I hear you ask? In your cat car of course!

Since you can’t return to a Palace once you’ve taken it’s treasure, Mementos is a great place to get new Personas. Personas you have encountered in the past will appear in new areas of Mementos, so you don’t need to worry too much if your negotiation failed or weren’t a high enough level to wield the Persona. Combine that with the return of the Velvet Room, Igor, and Persona fusions, and you’ll be spoiled for choice. As Mementos is tied very heavily with the climax of the game, you’ll want to make sure you stay on top of it.

Graphics, Sound, and Performance

Persona 5 is a beautiful game. There is the odd texture pop but I only ran across one in my last run, and none in the run before that, both of which were on the original PlayStation 4. As with previous Persona games there are anime-style cutscenes which are fluid and appealing. Colours are vivid, lighting is great, and the graphics hold up well.

Aside from the anime cutscenes, you also have in-game cutscenes. These take up the main portion of the story-telling as the anime scenes are pretty scarce. They hold up well, despite being a little flat and not as detailed, but they do the job. The game has a very strong and striking black and red aesthetic which suits it well and is utilised everywhere, from the opening sequence to the after-fight summary. It’s sleek and fits the tone of the game fantastically.

The character design is fine. It works on the anime trope where all main characters have brightly coloured clothing/hair so you know they’re definitely important. Oddly, the exception to this is the protagonist, who has black hair and wears darker-coloured clothes. Since the whole premise of Persona is a perfectly normal student wandering into his destiny it works well. Where is I really praise the character design is the sprites. They pop up during dialogue, complete with facial expressions, moving mouths and blinking, all in that bright anime style.

I’ll keep the sound analysis pretty short, as I could gush about this for hours. The voice acting is fantastic. There’s the occasional odd sound coming out of a characters mouth but that happens when something is dubbed. Each element has a sound effect and all of these are satisfying, especially the lightning and fire. Now onto the best part: the music! Do yourself a favour and go listen to the Persona 5 soundtrack. Trust me, you’ll thank me. It’s soulful and funky, and you just can’t be in a bad mood when you listen to it. The vocals are fantastic and gave me goosebumps the first time I heard the opening theme.

Difficulty

The game has four difficulty options as standard (safe, easy, normal and hard) with a fifth you can download for free (nightmare). All can be changed anytime except safe, which is locked in once you choose it. Most of the time I’ve played on the normal mode to get the standard experience. As the game progresses, the margin for error narrows. As discussed above, later in the game is when the Baton Pass comes in handy. If you find yourself down on your luck, and don’t have the right team mates with you to exploit the enemy’s weakness, you can use your turn to swap out a team mate which is handy deeper into the game/on harder difficulties.

The game is never difficult in a frustrating way, although I have made some stupid mistakes which have left me frustrated. It just takes more careful planning during battles and boss fights than on the lower difficulties, which don’t really punish you for a mistake. On the easier modes you can be revived and continue the battle. On the harder difficulties however…well, I hope you save frequently.

Conclusion

Persona 5 is a stylish, trendy, and delightful game. The story is compelling, the characters are deep and full of personality, and the game looks and sounds great. The topics of ‘pscience’ and ‘cognition’ can leave you scratching your head, especially at the beginning of the game, and there are some hiccups that cause momentary frustration.

Verdict
A fantastic, story-driven, and stylish experience which has a few issues but will ultimately steal your heart.

The Suicide of Rachel Foster Review (PS4)

  • Genre: Mystery, Adventure
  • Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC
  • Developer | Publisher: One O One Games | Daedalic Entertainment
  • Age Rating: PEGI 16 | ESRB Mature
  • Price: UK £15.99 | US $19.99
  • Initial Release Date: 19th February 2020

Review code used, with many thanks to Renaissance PR!

The Suicide of Rachel Foster is an ambitious story that attempts to handle two very delicate subjects- grooming, and suicide. While the game does what it can to drive home the severity of these topics, One O One do not seem equipped for the seriousness of the situation they created. A disclaimer at the start of the game pops up urging people experiencing similar situations to reach out to others. The game is a mixed bag, with the first half building tension and getting the player accustomed to the massive hotel and the second feeling like a soap opera.

Story/Characters

The story was engaging and interesting enough to have me complete it in one sitting. It suffers from some lulls and the story can be clumsy and convoluted and times, but ultimtately kept my attention throughout, although the climax and ending left me cringing and uncomfortable. It took me roughly 4 hours to get through, including getting lost a few times in the massive hotel and long corridors.

In the Suicide of Rachel Foster you play as Nicole, an estranged daughter who is returning to her family’s hotel to sell it, hoping to free herself from her ties with the Timberline Hotel and all it’s secrets. Ten years earlier, Nicole and her mother fled the hotel after Nicole’s father had an affair with the 17 year old Rachel Foster, who ended up taking her own life and the life of her unborn child. With the intention of auditing the Timberline before selling it, Nicole ends up trapped by a blizzard.

The first couple of hours I really enjoyed; it’s main focus is tackling the huge space that is the hotel. Luckily, you have company through Nicole’s radiotelephone with a FEMA agent named Irving who offers tips such as the location of the pantry and how to restore power when the lights go out. Irving became akin to a friend, offering Nicole help and sometimes just someone to talk to when the story took a dip.

As the game entered it’s second half I hoped it was heading more into ghost story territory. However, rummaging through the items left at the hotel and putting together the pieces is where things start to get convoluted and problematic. This is where the game starts to delve into the relationship between Nicole’s father and Rachel, warranting the disclaimer at the beginning of the game. The real crux of the problem is that this relationship between student and mentor is seen as romantic and the story begins to spiral into a drama.

At one point Nicole stumbles across a room that points to obsession for Rachel on her father’s part. Her reaction to this is a puzzling one; her anger and dispair is not aimed at her father for doing such a thing but at the room itself that it dares to exist. This is one of several instances in the game where the issue at the core of the game- the “relationship” between Rachel and Nicole’s father- is glossed over. This becomes more apparant when their dynamic is described as “love, nothing more, nothing less”.

Gameplay

The Suicide of Rachel Foster is ostensibly a walking simulator. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; walking through the hotel’s long corridors and listening to the wind howl and the hotel creak is great for the atmosphere. As you explore the hotel, finding secret passages (which I delighted in) and clues, you check in with and run theories by Irving. This is made more interesting as you’re given options for how Nicole interacts with and responds to Irving and the clues you find.

The game has a certain rustic charm which made me like it almost immediately. It’s the little things that make all the difference, such as pulling up a map and to-do list instead of pulling up a screen to navigate the map, which fits in nicely with the early 1990’s setting. It also helps to be able to pull up the map and tasks when you inevitably get lost.

While there are items you can only pick up through story progression such as a dynamo flashlight to light dim hidden passageways and a parabolic microphone to chase whispers through the hallways, you have free reign of the hotel almost immediately. Not only does this give the game a daunting feel while you try to get to grips with the massive Timberline, it’s also eerie when you revisit an area or room and find a clue that was definitely not there before. At one point in the story, you consolidate all the information you’ve collected so far in a police like evidence board which was fun to talk through with Irving.

Graphics, Sound, and Performance

The game is a pleasure to look at – great effort and attention to detail has clearly been put in to create the Timberline, as is to be expected from the Unreal Engine. From the large and grand ballroom to the decrepit and mould ridden second floor the game looks great, even when it’s supposed to look melancholy and gloomy. The lighting in the game, whether natural or artificial, looks fantastic.

Not all of the Timberline is pretty and well lit, however. Some rooms and corridors are dark and dank, with mould running up the walls or faded patched in wallpaper where painting once hung, giving the hotel a truly abandoned and uncared for feel. Simple things like mouldy food in the pantry add to this. The subtle exposition in certain rooms is also appreciated.

The sound design in the game is errie and atmospheric. The creaking of the hotel amps the tension and what sounded like faint footsteps in the background had me looking over my shoulder more than once. Rachel Foster was made to be played with headphones and playing it any other way would be doing the game a disservice.

The voice acting in the game is solid, with Irving and Nicole both sounding believable, but a few lines get lost in translation. One thing that did disappoint me is that Rachel has no voice of any kind. There are no flashbacks, notes or diary entries. To say that the game is centred around Rachel, I know nothing about her except her name, age and situation. It would have been intersting to hear (or read) about Rachel’s situation and feelings from her point of view and not just what Nicole and Irving speculate.

The game is not without it’s issues though. While I didn’t encounter any visual issues such as lag or texture pops, I did come across a few sound issues. Some voice lines would not be voiced or would sound like a stuck CD. Relaunching the game resolved these issues and I didn’t encounter them again. At another point the game froze before crashing. Like the sound issues, this only happened once.

Difficulty

The game has no difficulty options as would be expected from a walking simulator. It can be hard to know what to do next as there is not always an objective on the to-do list. This can be frustrating, especially on the occasions where your next objective seems to be time-based. More than once I was left aimlessly wandering around looking for what to do next before Irving chimed in with my next point of interest or task.

It’s also easy to get lost in the Timberline, especially at the beginning of the game. This isn’t helped by the fact that your position is never marked on the map and some rooms can only be accessed via hidden passageways.

Conclusion

All in all, the game has an interesting, if sometimes cumbersome story. The atmosphere is solid and evokes unease and paranoia, which I really appreciated. As much as I enjoyed the atmosphere of the game, and thought that the hotel looked great, this is all bogged down by the relationship between Rachel and Nicole’s father. The fact that this is romanticised leaves a bad taste that I simply can’t look past and ruined the experience for me.

Verdict
A mystery game with a solid atmosphere spoiled by the mishandling of sensitive topics.

Those Who Remain Review (PlayStation 4)

Genre: Psychological horror/thriller

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Playstation, PC

Developer | Publisher: Camel 101 | Wired Productions

Age Rating: PEGI 16 | ESRB 17+

Price: UK £15.99 | US $19.99

Release Date: May 15th 2020

Review code used, with many thanks to Wired Productions!

Introduction

When I first started Those Who Remain, I wanted to love it. The premise of saving a cursed town and using light to your advantage conjoured up images of a Silent Hill and Alan Wake love-child. While the game has it’s fine points and freaky moments, it’s bogged down by trial and error frustration and clunky mechanics.

Story/Characters

This first person psychological thriller takes place in the seemingly abandoned town of Dormont. You must make your way through various dimly-lit areas, using basic physics and any available lighting to navigate your way. Following you every step of the way are blue-eyed figures hiding in the shadows, unmoving and staring. Getting too close ends badly, an instant game over and checkpoint restart. They are one of the few things in the game that add any tension. The first time I gazed into the shadows and saw those blue eyes staring back at me was a genuine shock and watching them disappear and reappear with the flick of a switch is eerie.

The story of what happened to the town is a tragic one. A mother and daughter are shunned by the entire town as outsiders. One day, this goes too far. The climax of the game takes a sharp turn into the supernatural which somewhat ruined it for me. The fact that all the women in the newcomer’s family have skill in witchcraft and summoning is dropped very late in the game and seemingly out of nowhere. This goes wrong and leaves the town in the deserted and dicrepid state the protagonist Edward finds it in.

Meandering through the town’s various areas you need to solve puzzles, avoid stalking emenies and make the occasional “moral” choice relating to the town’s dark past. There’s enough exposition throughout to keep the story moving, the game dropping hints at what happened to the town as well as the protagonist’s past.

I see you!

Edward has enough depth that you can empathise with him as his story is dropped in tid bits throughout the game. What happened to him and his family could’ve happened to anyone and you really feel for him as he tries to forgive himself for what he’s done. The same, however, can’t be said for any other character you come across. All other people in Dormont look odd up close and the people you are meant to judge have only one aggrivating and one mitigating factor to their character, meant to balance them out and make the decision a tough one. This unfortunately has the opposite effect. The traits that define them are so generic and tropey that they seem all the more two dimensional, forgetable and shallow.

What’s wrong with your face?!

Gameplay

The controls in Those Who Remain are basic; you have the option to sprint and you can pick up and interact with objects. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the inability to defend yourself helps the (barely existent) tension.

The main source of frustration for me was the lack of a stealth mechanic. Why was this frustrating, I hear you ask? I have two words for you: patrolling enemy. The main enemy you have to avoid is a jerky, bipedal monster with a headlight for a face. It sounds random but it does tie in with Edward’s story, albeit in a very Silent Hill 2 ‘Pyramid Head’ kind of way. The enemy itself does a good job of looking creepy and I’ve gone out of my way to avoid it as much as possible. The main gripe I have with this enemy is how it was implemented.

In the spotlight

The problems arose when I ended up dying because I didn’t know I had to take cover behind the bookcase tucked into the corner of the room or I hid behind a corner and the enemy suddenly and randomly changed direction. It’s worth noting that you also can’t peek around corners or throw anything to create a distraction. Stood staring at a wall until an enemy leaves isn’t exactly what I’d call nailbiting tension. If I’d been able to peek round a corner to see the headlight barely missing me, or throw something so I could quickly dart past I would’ve found this enemy much scarier.

Puzzles mainly involve picking things up and carrying them to another location. Puzzles don’t always have to be complex riddles and matching odd keys with odd doors, so I didn’t have an issue with this…at first. About an hour in, I found myself having to locate and carry lion statues around a maze while avoiding the gaze of a giant. This isn’t too difficult as the area is fairly small and the giant is easy to spot. When you can actually see him. The lion statues take up a massive portion of the screen and you can’t run when you’re carrying them. I had to drop them and run more than once. Unfortunately, as they’re the same mudane grey as the rest of the map finding them again is a pain. There are no checkpoints mid-way so if you’re caught you have to start the whole segment again.

Something I was genuinely looking forward to was the ‘moral dilemmas’ Edward would find himself in. I use the term loosely as morality doesn’t really have anything to do with it. Everyone you have to judge had a hand in the incident that left Dormont in it’s dicrepid state, which began with the death of a child. Their parts in the tragedy vary from being directly involved to helping to cover it up. Some of them were easy to forgive, such as one of the children who was directly involved, who’s ‘harmless’ prank went too far. How could he have known what would happen? He was just a child himself, taking the grief of losing his brother out on other people.

Others are harder to overlook. The rest of those you must judge are adults, most of who used their positions of power to close the case or stop word of what happened reaching newspapers, but all have a family member who was involved. A couple stand out as truly horrible people. This is why I found the moral decisons irritating, If you condemn any of them you will get the bad ending.

You will also run into the occasional person in Dormont who is not involved in the incident, just trying to escape or keep themselves alive. One such person is a criminal trying to escape in a police car. He has a gun on his dashboard and police men aroud the car are dead. You can help him by finding and giving him the key in exchange for him lighting your way or you can ignite a fuel can next to the car and burn him alive. Is the fact that he has a gun proof enough that he killed the policemen? Kill any of these people and you will also get the bad ending. These decisions can come off as unbalanced and strange, just like the one above.

Decisions, decisions

The main mechanic I really enjoyed in the game was the ‘dream world’. Throughout the game you’ll come across portals you can use to travel to a different reality or location. Sometimes they’re your means of leaving the current area and heading to the next one. Other times, they’re an alternate version of the area you’re currently in. The shadow people don’t exist in this reality, so you’ll usually have to turn on a light switch you can’t get to, or pick up an item you need to take back with you. While I don’t think this was used to it’s full potential and the portals are blindingly bright, it’s an inspired idea that I enjoyed.

My eyes!

Graphics, Sound, and Performance

The game was made using Unity so it looks fine. As stated above, the characters look a little odd and there are some texture pops but the game otherwise delivers visually. The main star of the show is the lighting. From neon lights at an abandoned diner to moonlight passing through trees, it really lifts the atmosphere.

The music also adds to the atmosphere, even if it is a little cliche. Having a choir howl down your ear while you’re walking down a dark corridor or when you turn the corner to find shadow people staring at you always does the trick, but if you’re familair with horror games it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. There were a couple of bugs, such as picking up and throwing items making no sound.

Difficulty

The game has no difficulty settings or options. It has no combat and you can run faster than most of the enemies so there is no real sense of danger. The main issue comes from not knowing what to do or where to go next. Most of the items you need are hidden in drawers or lockers, or need to be found in the dream world, but some are hidden under pots or boxes.

Issues mentioned above, such as the lion statue maze, have led me to take a break from the game out of frustration. The main issue with any of the ‘carry item from point A to point B’ type of puzzle is that if you as much as caress the item against the wall or another item, you will drop it. This is a bit of a deal breaker for me when you’re carrying an item with an enemy in pursuit.

Another issue that had me struggling was trying to reach the light switches. Very often they’re on the same wall as the door you entered the room through. More than once I’ve got an insta-death by accidentally bumping a shadow person’s toe while shimmying sideways into the room, trying to get the interact prompt to pop up.

Aside from the ‘what do I do now?’ bumbling, the game is pretty easy, but that does little to ease the frustration.

Conclusion

Overall, Those Who Remain had some good ideas and freaky monents, but feels like it missed the mark. If there had been a stealth mechanic to deal with the monsters or a portable light source that required batteries to keep them at bay I would have found the game more enjoyable. If the morality feature of the game had been handled differently, where forgiving or condemning the wrong people affected the ending I would’ve found it less frustrating.

The story is an interesting one and is, truth be told, the only that kept me playing. If you’re into games with story and can look past the issues stated above then definitely give it a go, especially with the price. If you’re a horror fan like me looking for a spooky experience then perhaps give it a miss.

Verdict
An interesting story, decent atmosphere and inventive world-shifting bogged down with mediocrity and frustration makes for an average experience. For those looking for a true horror expereince, Those Who Remain is better off left behind.
4/10