Gaming

Persona 5 review: Can style override substance?

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Persona 5, the biggest JRPG release of 2017, has been out for weeks. Clear of the game’s launch hype, is it deserving of stealing the public’s heart or is it merely a bombastic masked pretender that needs exposing?

Art design is aces

Bold red, black, and white serve as its visual foundation. This arresting palette kip-ups to life and sweeps you off your feet with the gentleman thief/punk rock/latex fetish design of the main cast. It bumps and bounces in the menus, shaking up the UI when you button through. All-out attacks culminate in wallpaper-worthy graphics, and it’s never not satisfying.

There’s elegance to every transition. From winning battles to navigating between areas, the colors slink and slide across the screen, and you can’t help but smile at every context-sensitive swipe of the display.


 

Smooth-grooving audio

Pressing O or X to cancel or confirm actions gives a satisfying squee. That precision glass shatter of a critical hit jolts of excitement. Every gunshot crackles staccato.

Series composer Shoji Meguro matches the rebel imagery with a super-slick soundtrack. The music effortlessly switches from sweeping jazzy strings and keys to grinding hard guitar riffs, all the while riding funky bass licks and finger-snapping percussion.

Criminally good opening animation:

Rebellious spirit restricted 

It’s technically not part of Persona 5’s overall design, and I wrote about it in an earlier article, but the irrationality of Atlus in restricting capturing footage of the game bears repeating. I enjoy archiving my playthroughs on the PS4 with screenshots and videos. Atlus denies me and millions of other players that simple pleasure of keeping our own memories of an enjoyable experience. It’s harsh and petty, and I pray that future installments aren’t shackled by this backwards mentality.

Atlus has softened its stance on streaming since the game’s release, but the restrictions on the sharing features of the PS4 still stand.

Regressive representation

Persona 4 took on the issue of gender identity head on with two of its main characters, shining a light on the struggles teens go through when reconciling their sexuality with society’s expectations on masculinity and femininity. It wasn’t perfect, but at least it had some nuance.

Persona 5’s “contribution” to the issue? A homophobic scene showing an age old stereotype of gay men as predatory pedophiles played solely for laughs. It’s one moment in a 100+ hour journey, and that might make it easy for some to wave off, but it only stands out even more to me as an inexcusable stain on an otherwise inspiring epic adventure of resistance.

Heavy topics done halfway right

While previous titles focused on personal turmoil, this latest entry serves up larger social issues like institutionalized abuse, labor exploitation, and political corruption for the good guys to take down.

It’s admirable and reflective of the large-scale “wokeness” we’re seeing in the youth now, but the shonen anime trappings, which Persona 5 indulges a little too much in, hamper the serious messages with long-winded exposition and, at times, clunky English translations from the original Japanese text. The always impressive voice acting performances do manage to carry most scenes, but not all of them.

The old-school, turn-based battles are now layered with shooting, enemy negotiation, and more team synergy that allow you to combo more attacks for quicker ends to fights. The year-long slice of high school life where you bond with schoolmates and strangers is as rewarding as ever with its weird, wacky, and intimate tales, while also being more exploratory as you can hang out with your friends all over Tokyo, too.

The most significant improvement is in the dungeons, or as the game calls them, the Palaces, that your gang of Phantom Thieves have to infiltrate and steal the treasures within to overcome the main antagonists. Each one is a fantastical psychological tableau that comes alive through unique puzzles and ways of navigation. What felt like a chore in the earlier Personas plays like a dream in Persona 5.

That is until you hit the last couple of areas that feel like they just go on forever for no reason other than to pad length and difficulty, which is especially egregious in the last couple of dungeons.

Supreme style and stunted substance

If you’re up for committing around 70 to 120 hours to complete one game, I do think Persona 5 is worth the time for its cool creativity, thematic ambitions, and irresistible gameplay hooks. Just steel your heart for the obnoxious narrative failings, and don’t expect to have much of a shared experience with your friends.

SEE ALSO: Persona 5’s developer doesn’t want you doing this — it’s nonsense

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Deals

PlayStation 4 bundles get massive discounts in Southeast Asia

A great time to get a new console

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Just in time for the holidays, Sony is having a 12-day sale. If you’ve been holding off and waiting for a good PlayStation deal or interested in rewarding yourself with a more powerful console, this year-end season is a good time to get one.

From December 22 until January 2 next year, everyone can get a new PS4 console or upgrade to a PS4 Pro at a discount. To make the gaming experience even better, Sony also includes the PS VR on the list.

Buyers can choose from different bundles like Party (includes two multiplayer games plus a second DualShock 4 controller), Hits (includes three best-rated titles), and the new NBA 2K19 bundle.

Sony’s generous deal is happening across Southeast Asia, so be sure to check with your local stores for the discounts. Here are the official discounted prices of the following PlayStation deals:

Singapore

Philippines

Malaysia

Indonesia

Introduced two years ago, both the PS4 (Slim) and PS4 Pro are still the latest and most current gaming consoles from Sony. We already have a hands-on video (of course!) about the two and it’s available for viewing here:

SEE ALSO: These 20 games are bundled with the PlayStation Classic

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Features

9 Best Gaming Smartphones (Q4 2018)

Game on!

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Before 2018 ends, let’s have our final Best Gaming Smartphones list for the year! A number of great smartphones came out recently, making this list the most exciting.

Without further ado, here are our top gaming phones:

Apple iPhone XR

Replacing the iPhone XS Max is the iPhone XR. Both 2018 iPhones were announced on the same day, but the XR was made available a bit later. It’s using the same powerful A12 Bionic chip but has a lower-resolution display which is not bad for gaming. With fewer pixels to render, it can run games smoother. Plus, iOS is known to have a better selection of mobile games compared to Android.

SEE ALSO: Apple iPhone XR review: By Android users

ASUS ROG Phone

When we first saw the ROG Phone during Computex 2018, we knew it would be the best Android gaming phone. ASUS took their time to release it, but we can finally buy the ROG Phone plus all of its accessories, which are kind of overkill for mobile gaming. It’s rocking an overclocked and liquid-cooled Snapdragon 845 chip, 90Hz AMOLED display, stereo speakers, and RGB lighting. What more do you need from a gaming phone?

SEE ALSO: ASUS ROG Phone review: A true gaming phone done right?

Honor Play

From its name, you’d already know that it’s meant for playing games. The Honor Play is currently one of the cheapest flagship-grade smartphones you could buy. It’s just as cheap as midrange phones, but its specs are in the same league as its more expensive cousins like the Huawei P20. With a Kirin 970 processor and 6GB of memory, you’re sure to play well on this phone. GPU Turbo gives the phone extra oomph, too!

SEE ALSO: Honor Play Review: The budget flagship

Huawei Mate 20 X

The Mate 20 X is Huawei’s most powerful phone and it’s designed to be used for gaming. Huawei went a little over the top when they compared it to the Nintendo Switch, but it’s almost as big as Nintendo’s due to its 7.2-inch display. It does come with a gaming accessory and is equipped with an impressive cooling system. It can also last long on a single charge with its 5000mAh battery.

SEE ALSO: Huawei Mate 20 X Unboxing and Hands-on

OnePlus 6T

OnePlus updated its flagship model and made it even better. The upgrade to the OnePlus 6T from the OnePlus 6 is just incremental, but if you’re about to buy one, you should get the former already. It’s still powered by a Snapdragon 845 chip, but now has a smaller display notch to get you more immersed in the action. It’s also one of the cheapest flagship phones.

SEE MORE: OnePlus 6T Hands-on: Still a flagship killer?

Pocophone F1

The Pocophone F1 is probably the best smartphone to come out lately. It’s a game changer in the midrange segment, although the Honor Play should also have some credit. I consider the Pocophone F1 to be Xiaomi’s gift to its fans. It’s a blazingly fast phone thanks to the best-in-class Snapdragon 845 processor and the special liquid-cooling system. You can play all you want and the phone will not heat up, or at least not easily.

SEE ALSO: Pocophone F1 Review: It’s all about the performance

Razer Phone 2

The Razer Phone 2 may not look any different from its predecessor, but it has the latest specs a gaming phone should have. Razer’s gaming smartphone has the fastest display refresh rate on the list at 120Hz, placing it on par with desktop gaming monitors. Complemented with a triple-headed snake logo that lights up in 16.8 million colors, Razer fans will love to have this in their collection.

SEE ALSO: Razer Phone 2 review: Gaming and nothing else

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

The top-of-the-line Galaxy Note 9 comes with the latest specifications — may it be the Snapdragon or Exynos variant. It has a large and beautiful display with curved edges that’ll make gaming more immersive. Additionally, the phone doesn’t have a notch that gets in the way. It’s also the only one on this list to have a built-in stylus, making it ideal for games that have too many small icons.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

If you want a gaming phone that’s truly borderless, get the Mi Mix 3. The availability of the phone is still pretty limited to China, but it’ll go global soon. Like with any other premium phone on the list, Xiaomi’s latest Mix has a flagship Snapdragon 845 processor and up to 10GB of memory. Its battery capacity is on the small side, though.

SEE ALSO: Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 review: Xiaomi got everything right, almost

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Gaming

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! review: Catching ’em all once again

Isn’t Eevee absolutely adorable?

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Countless times, my friends have jokingly asked, “Where’s Mario?” My name — Luigi — has unwittingly cursed me into a lifetime of jokes associated with Mario’s green-suited brother. Ironically, my favorite Nintendo franchise isn’t even remotely related to the Super Mario Brothers series. Since childhood, the prestige has always gone to the Pokémon franchise.

During my Game Boy days, I played through the classics of the Pokémon franchise. Sadly, that streak ended with Pokémon Emerald, immediately before the arrival of the first Nintendo DS. Since then, the franchise’s Generation 4 ushered in a period of silence.

Thankfully, Pokémon’s decline was halted by the arrival of the mobile game, Pokémon GO. The pioneering AR game brought back a wave of nostalgia. Despite the initial popularity, the game’s novelty was short-lived, failing to measure up with the classic games. Of course, the game wasn’t from Nintendo.

Now, Nintendo has finally taken over the franchise’s modern renaissance. Weeks ago, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! launched for the Nintendo Switch, promising a new world for the new generation. Besides ushering a generation, the nostalgic series revitalizes the old and creates a new ecosystem.

Generation 1.2 

Right on the tin, both games advertise a return to Kanto, home of the first Pokémon. Pikachu and Eevee are remasters of the original Pokémon Yellow. In the original, Pikachu replaced the traditional trio of Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. Likewise, Pikachu and Eevee replaces the starter Pokémon based on the version you purchase.

Likewise, both games share the same story elements with Pokémon Yellow: Team Rocket’s antics, Lavender Town’s eerie story, Mewtwo’s appearance. Of course, because of the times, Nintendo updated some minor elements for a modern audience. For example, in-game television sets come with Nintendo Switch units. Characters talk about Alolan Pokémon, smartphone technology, and most importantly, Pokémon GO.

Cuter, cuddlier, livelier

After Pokémon GO’s initial wave of novelty, the franchise’s fans chided the game for depersonalizing their favorite creatures. In GO, Pokémon became collectibles, valuing quantity over quality. Completely contrasted to this, Pikachu and Eevee added a thick layer of personality to all 151 original Pokémon.

Mostly, this dynamic personality applies to your chosen partner, Pikachu or Eevee. Like Yellow, your partner Pokémon follows you around. However, instead of just a few pixelated frames, both have their own new sets of animations and moves. For example, Pikachu hangs out on your shoulder as you walk. Eevee perches atop your head. In combat, both have exclusive move sets. Eevee, for example, uses Veevee Volley, an extremely strong Normal move that activates only occasionally. Cutely, you can interact with both partners outside of combat, petting them or playing patty-cake using the Switch’s touchscreen.

Additionally, you can take a Pokémon out of its Poké Ball, acting as a secondary companion. Also, their animation depends on their build. Mew floats ahead of you. Kangaskhan carries you in its pouch. Charizard flies and carries you on its back. It creates a much more dynamic world compared to the original games.

Speaking of, wild Pokémon encounters are no longer completely random. Instead, you can see the wild Pokémon wandering around, letting you choose which to catch. Catching them is also different. Instead of going into combat, the games adapt the same system as Pokémon GO, using catch rings and berries.

Creating a Pokémon ecosystem

Along with the games, Nintendo also launched a new controller, the Poké Ball Plus, specifically made for the new Pokémon games. Unfortunately, the optional controller, shaped like a Poké Ball, is pricey, costing US$ 49.99 on its own. The bundle — the game plus the ball — costs US$ 99.99, reducing the price by 10 bucks. That said, why should you buy a Poké Ball Plus?

Firstly, the ball comes with a free Mew. Traditionally, this mythical Pokémon was obtainable only through Nintendo-exclusive events or hacks. The Ball finally provides an easily accessible way to obtain one of the franchise’s most elusive Pokémon.

Secondly, it creates a new experience for the franchise. While it has only two buttons, you can use the ball in a throwing motion to catch Pokémon. Instead of just pressing A, the new mechanic simulates the feeling of actually throwing a Poké Ball. It’s unique and strangely gratifying. Additionally, you can take a Pokémon (housed inside the Poké Ball) with you on your daily commute. As you walk, it gets experience, similar to GO’s buddy system.

Thirdly, the ball acts as a Pokémon GO Plus, connecting the Switch games with GO’s world. To those who still play GO, the Poké Ball is a welcome arsenal, especially in crowded cityscapes. Similarly, you can transfer Pokémon from GO to Switch, making it easier to fill a Pokédex.

Finally, the Poké Ball Plus is a clear indication of the Pokémon franchise’s future. Next year, Nintendo will launch a fresher addition to the franchise, marking the console’s first full-fledged Pokémon game. By then, the future game will fully integrate the Ball into its mechanics, making the controller a worthy investment.

With Pikachu and Eevee, the Pokémon franchise heralds a new generation for both old and beginning players. For old players, they create a refreshed wave of nostalgia. For beginning players, both games are a good start to the new generation.

SEE ALSO: Pokémon: Let’s Go gets its own Nintendo Switch bundles

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