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This Week in Games
From The Materia Of Your Soul

by Jean-Karlo Lemus,

Welcome back, everyone! Wow, what a week! I saw the Super Mario Bros movie last week. Wow, what a movie with a miscast lead and horribly shoehorned pop culture music. There were a ton of announcements this past week; I'm definitely itching to talk about some of them. It's been busy over here, so I don't have much Xenoblade 3 news--let's dive right in!

This is...

Persona 3 Reload Brings Classing RPG To Modern Era, Also New Persona 5 Spin-Off

Some folks wondered why I didn't talk about this one last week. I didn't forget, folks: the story is that this game got leaked sometime after the cutoff. As I mentioned, this column isn't meant to be exceedingly comprehensive, given my weekly schedule. For another: I make a point of not covering leaks. So, the next time something leaks, my stance is "no comment." And this one got leaked pretty hard: the trailer was shared on Atlus's Instagram ahead of its reveal on Sunday during Microsoft's showcase. Sure, I feel bad for the person who got fired for that one.

Anyway, Persona 3 is getting a full-on remake. Strike up the Lotus Juice music!

Persona 3 is pretty long in the tooth at this point, having been released way back on the PS2 in 2006 (2007 in the US). When the US was slated for a localization, the updated FES re-release was announced for Japan. It was released to tremendous aplomb, however, thrusting the Persona series into the limelight and putting Shin Megami Tensei on the map at the expense of making people think SMT was the spin-off series (it's not, it's the umbrella series) and relegating the previous three Persona games to irrelevance. Not that that's a complaint: Persona 3's dark tone, striking visuals, and top-notch hip-hop-inspired soundtrack courtesy of Lotus Juice was a far cry from its stiff, grindy predecessors.

The story of a group of teenagers battling Jungian shadows during the Dark Hour, a mysterious world sealed between midnight and 12:01 AM, Persona 3 told a gripping coming-of-age story that was nevertheless a joyful celebration of friendship and the power of socialization in the face of apathy and the literal shadow of depression. That the main threat of the game was Apathy Syndrome, an affliction caused by the oncoming of the shadow from humanity's collective mind where the afflicted resign themselves to wasting away where they lay, speaks tomes in the face of Persona 3's urging people to expand their horizons and form bonds with the people around them. There's also the grim gun-related imagery; in reference to Japan's teen suicide rates, the protagonists all summoned their Personas by the use of an Evoker: a device shaped like a gun meant to trigger the fear of death, urging their Persona out of peril. The very first cutscene of the game features the character Yukari Takeba struggling and failing to just practice with an Evoker--with how bright and peppy modern Persona games are, it's easy to forget that Persona 3 could be astoundingly bleak.

The Reload version seeks to bring the game more in line with the graphical and stylized levels of its peers, particularly Persona 5. P3 old menu system is replaced with a more stylized depiction of the protagonist falling into a blue ocean--fitting, as P3's color schemes vacillate between the greens and greys of the Dark Hour and the blue-and-blacks of the protagonist's outfit. Also, the ocean is a good callback to the old Persona line about Personas coming from "the sea of your soul." The game will run off the Unreal engine, so it's a complete remake from the bottom up. Art has been redone, and characters are (slightly) redesigned to align with Soejima's current art style... but I'm not excited.

Let's get some minor stuff out of the way. One significant change is that the interface is a bit too inspired by Persona 5; P3 had its own identity, with its battle menu resembling the chambers of a gun (to tie it back to the Evokers). There's a good chance that the battle system also does away with the AI party members of the original. While many are going to cheer this because "doy-hoy-hoy, Mitsuru using Magic Charge/Marin Karin," I liked the AI system. It helped emphasize that your party members were still separate people and not just side characters in your universe-defining life. Worse yet, we have confirmation that even though the Persona 3 Portable, er, port just came out, it won't be featuring either the content from that game or the expanded story material from Persona 3: FES's The Answer, a storyline exploring what the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad got up to after the events of P3.

Losing fascinating expansion elements like Aigis's social link or The Answer is tragic. It's Atlus pulling a Square Enix with how there is not a definitive version of Final Fantasy IV: so much content is orphaned now. But the real loss is that of the Female Protagonist: a distaff counterpart to the MC who debuted in Persona 3 Portable who had her own unique Social Links. Nevermind that FemMC actually has a personality (I don't care that MC is supposed to be a player stand-in, he's as dry as a slice of Styrofoam), FemMC even does a better job of socializing with SEES than he does; she has social links with the entirety of the team, whereas the MC can only form social links with the girls in SEES as a romantic subline.

Because director Katsura Hashino is a weirdo who doesn't know people can be platonic friends and he needed the women working on P3P to knock some sense into him, FemMC can choose to remain platonic with her love interests. Hers is also the only storyline where Shinjiro has a chance at a happy ending. So, congrats to Atlus: you made a remake that's got no appeal to anyone who's actually invested in Persona 3 outside of graphical design. The worst part is how much of a missed opportunity this represents: plenty of the Persona 3 ancillary materials acknowledge FemMC. You could make a version of Persona where both MCs are playable. Better yet, you could better incorporate FemMC into the story by making her Persona Eurydice--as it should have been from the get-go instead of an Orpheus recolor. You've already got the leading figures of the myth of Orpheus there, jeez.

What changes we can look forward to might include a revamp for Tartarus, the endless labyrinth that your school turns into during the mysterious Dark Hour. Tartarus... worked in Persona 3, but it was not something that would fly in 2023: a series of randomly-designed dungeon floors where you'd spread out and hunt for the stairs to the next floor. Thematically, it makes sense: Tartarus in P3 is an ever-shifting maze. Game-wise, it's grindy and boring--later dungeons like the TV World or the Mind Palaces would do far better at giving players dark depths to explore. What is confirmed is the brand-new voice cast for the game; the entire cast has been changed up!

Persona 3's original cast was damn beloved ever since they first voiced the members of SEES in 2007. Featuring some of the biggest names in anime dubbing at the time, like Yuri Lowenthal as MC, Tara Platt as Mitsuru Kirijo, and Liam O'Brien as Akihiko Sanada, it's still pretty beloved to this day. And while most people were really, really hoping that Junpei Iori and Aigis would be able to escape the shadow of their voice actors (thank God they finally have, welcome aboard Zeno Robinson and Dawn Bennett!), a lot of people are still somewhat disarmed by the whole cast being replaced. This is a good move: Persona 3 Reload is a new take on the story, so it might be time for some new blood. Also, a good possibility is that the old cast might be a bit too high-profile for Persona 3. Whatever the reason, don't go giving either voice cast hell--we ain't about that here, and we welcome any and all voice actors, especially since the new cast has grown up on Persona and are very excited to finally be a part of this series' legacy.

So yeah, Persona 3 Reload is a mixed bag, and new voice cast aside, I'm not excited about it. Sure, there isn't anything stopping Atlus from just waltzing in and offering The Answer or FemMC as DLC content down the line, much like with how Dante and Raidou Kuzunoha were handled for the Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne remaster, but I'm not cool with that. That stuff had no reason not to be part of the story from the beginning. More importantly: Hashino's weird opinions on the womenfolk aside, the original Persona 3 (like the rest of the Persona games, and the spin-off Catherine) aren't very great with their handling of gay or trans characters. Persona 3, in particular, features a trans-panic scene as a "joke"; it was pretty cringe in 2007, but it's downright inexcusable in 2023. And the subsequent Persona games haven't shaken that off. Even as recently as Persona 5, the games have kept their gay-panic scenes for "humor." Catherine also infamously doubled down on its poor treatment of the trans character Erika while adding that nasty scene of Vincent hitting Rin when he found out Rin was genderqueer. So... yeah, get hype for that, I guess.

Am I being a massive downer? Yeah, I am. I loved Persona 3 in college. It helps that I liked Shin Megami Tensei "before it was cool," as it were: I had followed the series with stuff like the Demikids games or Persona 2: Eternal Punishment before Persona 3 made the series what it is today. But here's the thing: we've had a ton of phenomenal, stylized, anime-influenced RPGs in the years since Persona hit it big. If Atlus is going to keep having butterfingers with the series and its themes and even its characters, maybe my time is better spent playing Get In The Car, Loser! or Lucah: Born of a Dream. I've grown a lot since 2007. It'd be nice if Persona had grown up with me.

Persona 3 Reload is slated for an early 2024 release (yeah, yeah, Persona 5 2014 Winter for PS3, I was there too). It was originally announced for Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Windows PC, but was later confirmed for PS4, PS5, and Steam—no word yet on a Switch port.

We were also shown the trailer for Persona 5 Tactica, a new spin-off featuring the Phantom Thieves. Our favorite larcenists are sent to a strange world of shadow-people, where a rebel group called The Core tries to help them return to the real world. Most interestingly, Persona 5 Tactica uses an art style akin to the Persona Q games. I'm happy to see this! Persona Q was a fun little spin-off series that gave us plenty of fun Persona 3/4/5-related fanservice, like Junpei and Kenji being trash lords together or Morgana making friends with Koromaru. They were also a fun twist on the Etrian Odyssey formula, granting each Persona user a Sub-Persona that granted bonus spells and boost-HP/MP, making dungeon exploration a bit easier. I especially liked the Boost stats; it's an excellent way to give players an edge against weaker enemies without getting worn down against tougher ones. It's a shame it never made the jump to the main Etrian Odyssey series.

As for Tactica, the strategy formula looks to have some interesting twists. Of course, Persona fusions are a mechanic, so players can fuse new Personas to gain new spells. But there's also a twist on the "All Out!! Attacks": party members arranged in a triangle can pull off an All Out!! Attack against any enemy caught between them.

I'll be honest; I'm a bit tired of there being yet another Persona 5 game (heck, I don't even know if they bothered adding Kasumi in this one). I'm gonna be That Guy™ and point out that it's pretty exhausting to know that three other Persona games haven't even been acknowledged for the fun crossover spin-offs. But I'm an absolute sucker for the chibi Persona Q aesthetic. I wonder if Futaba still has her little sharp gremlin teeth in this game. The design alone makes me interested in this game, and I'm always down for a fun turn-based strategy game. Look forward to Persona 5 Tactica this November 17th. This one will come out on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Steam, PS5, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.

Sonic Is Back With Sonic Superstars

Oh boy! It's always a big deal when we get a new 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game. Sonic Rush was a surprisingly-fun take on the formula, as were the Sonic Advance games. Sonic Mania was practically a celebration of Sonic's history, with lovingly-crafted graphics, stages, and music reaching all across the hedgehog's history (they even referenced SegaSonic Popcorn Shop). It also marked the return of some of Sonic's obscure buddies, Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo, while also offering some shout-outs to some oft-forgotten villains like Fang the Sniper, Bean the Dynamite, and Bark the Polar Bear. On the other hand, the attempts at bringing back Sonic's 2D roots also gave us the disastrous Sonic the Hedgehog 4, which Sonic Mania didn't even bother acknowledging. So here we are with a new 2D Sonic game: Sonic Superstars!

In the new region of the Northstar Islands, Sonic is once again racing through stages to recover the Chaos Emeralds before Dr. Eggman can get his hands on them. There are several twists: this game is in 2D but with 3D graphics. Sonic Superstars will also take advantage of 2.5D segments (think Klonoa: Door to Phantomile); Sonic will be able to spin-dash into the background for some jumping segments. There will also be a new set of powers gained from the Chaos Emeralds, like one that lets Sonic climb on walls in the backgrounds of stages. I like these ideas! Usually, the Chaos Emeralds aren't good for much besides getting the Good Ending and unlocking the Super Sonic form; there might be a reason to go back and explore older stages courtesy of each new Chaos Emerald you gain.

There's more fanservice to be had, too: this time around, Sonic is joined by Miles "Tails" Prower; Knuckles the Echidna; and Amy Rose. Tails and Knuckles, they're to be expected, but Amy's return is a rather momentous one. She's only had a handful of playable appearances, and they're not exactly the highlights of their respective games. Each character has unique abilities here, so Tails can hover around, Knuckles can climb and glide with his dreadlocks, and Amy can use her Piko Hammer to crush obstacles. Also: after years of heated debate, Sonic fans now have confirmation that Amy Rose can Spin Dash.

In addition, another villain is helping Dr. Eggman: Fang the Sniper! Fang is an old fan-favorite Sonic villain, although he hasn't made many appearances in the games. Originally appearing in Sonic The Fighters, this jerboa-wolf will finally be reappearing in Sonic Superstars. Maybe this means Big the Cat will appear in a 2D game!

But the fanservice doesn't end there: because Yuji Naka is currently busy doing time in prison for insider trading, Sega pulled out someone else to help out with Sonic Superstars: Arzest studios. They might be responsible for the disastrous Balan Wonderworld, but there's genuine talent at Arzest. Remember: they consist of a ton of ex-Sega employees, especially the beloved Naoto Oshima, co-creator of Sonic the Hedgehog. Oshima is also responsible for iconic character designs, like the Burning Rangers, the enigmatic NiGHTS, and Blinx The Time Sweeper. And sure, Balan Wonderworld was a stinker, but there's no denying that Balan himself has a damned iconic design--even a watered-down NiGHTS in a tophat is still a charming little character. Yuji Naka was relatively quick to throw Oshima and the rest of Arzest under the bus far as the quality of Balan Wonderworld is concerned... but on the other hand, Yuji Naka has developed a reputation of being petty and all-around a terrible self-aggrandizer. So who knows: maybe Naka was the problem, and Arzest can make a good game this time without his ill-informed decisions.

Right off the bat, one of the fun decisions going into Sonic Superstars is an actual co-op: friends can drop in--or out--of the game and play one of Sonic's friends. The co-op is exclusively offline for now, but that's something they can fix in a patch after the fact. There's also a good decision in what won't be appearing: to the relief of many fans, we have confirmation that this game will consist of all-new levels. This is a big one: a lot of the recent Sonic games have relied on nostalgia for older levels. This was fun... until you could practically guarantee that Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone would be in the games. And sure, Green Hill Zone, the very first Sonic level. Chemical Plant Zone arguably one of the most famous levels in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Folks love them! But not "let's keep recycling these stages in new Sonic games"-levels of love.

We can look forward to Sonic Superstars landing later this Autumn. You can pick it up on PS4, PS5, Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Epic Games Store, and Steam. You can also sign up on the game's website to get an exclusive skin for Amy Rose (it's her modern outfit--classic Amy Rose didn't have the red dress).

While he's best known as the creator of Dragon Ball (and Dr. Slump, when people can remember it), or the character designer behind Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger and Blue Dragon, Akira Toriyama has quite a bit of manga to his name: Cowa!, Jaco the Galactic Patrolman, and Neko Majin Z all let him flex his comedic muscle. But everyone knows Toriyama's true passion is drawing tiny cars and tanks--as seen on all the famous covers he drew for Dragon Ball. In 2000, he made a one-shot manga volume based on that love: Sand Land, which had the honor of being one of the first manga published in the pages of the American version of Shonen Jump magazine. You'd be forgiven for not remembering Sand Land, but it seems folks at Bandai Namco remember it--because it's getting an action RPG!

Playing as the Fiend Prince, Beelzebub, you and your two companions explore an open desert world in search of water. There is a slew of vehicles Beelzebub and his buddies can pilot--not the least of which is their iconic tank, but the trailer also shows a few other vehicles like crab-like rovers, bipedal striders, a mech-suit that looks a lot like a fusion of Robo and Gato from Chrono Trigger, and many more. These all remind me a ton of the Metal Max games, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were some sort of inspiration (Metal Max goes way back in Japan--it pre-dates the Fallout games). But there will also be on-foot segments where Beelzebub sneaks into enemy camps. We don't know the full extent of his hand-to-hand combat abilities, but we see him pull off some cool energy blasts while sneaking around enemy soldiers. We also know that the vehicles will be customizable (likely with variable weapons, which we saw in the trailer), along with a base-building mode.

It's not every day we get a game based on an anime--especially one that isn't an arena brawler. On top of that, it's bizarre to see one based on such an out-there series as Sand Land; it's likely a tie-in for the upcoming Sand Land animated film, but I'm still quite surprised at this turn of events. And above all else: I'm excited for it. I hope this leads to more out-there licensing decisions from Bandai Namco. A Strawberry 100% visual novel, an open-world Hunter × Hunter game, a Like A Dragon-style open-world city sim based off of Gintama... there's a ton you could do to follow up on One Piece Odyssey, and I'd like to think One Piece Odyssey's success made Bandai Namco a bit more open to exploring these alternatives outside of arena fighters.

So far, we don't know when Sand Land will release; we only know that it's coming for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and Steam. I'll keep you posted.

News Revealed for Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

Folks who've been chomping at the bit for Final Fantasy VII info: we got one!

So, first things first: Red XIII is finally playable! The red lion-dog was only an NPC helper at the climax of the previous chapter of the Final Fantasy VII Remake series. From what we know, he'll have his own play style. Yuffie also factors into the story: following the events of Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, she'll eventually join up with Cloud and company. Yuffie was originally a wholly-optional character in the original Final Fantasy VII, to the point where she didn't even appear in any cutscenes. This time around, she'll even factor into cutscenes--and from what we can see, Sephiroth and Jenova terrify her.

The story will pick up right where the previous chapter left off: the gang escapes Midgard and finally explores the surrounding wilderness. Just how far the story goes is tough to say: we see hints of Cloud in a robe at the Northern Crater, compelled by Jenova's call for a reunion. How far will the story go? Tough to say--but to some extent, we'll cover the actual events of what happened back in Nibleheim when Sephiroth torched the town. This is a bit of a "thing" because in the trailer, we see the scene where Sephiroth cuts away Tifa after she confronts him for his mass murder--and Sephiroth says, "Do you know that I killed her? So, who is she?".

There's no denying that this "remake" of Final Fantasy VII is literally a "re-make": clearly, time-travel shenanigans are at work. There are some hints that some of the major players (except for poor Cloud) have what seems to be prior knowledge of these events. Final Fantasy VII Remake has had some degree of commentary of the series at large--which, in my opinion, is a smart thing to do. Final Fantasy VII was a watershed moment in gaming. Much like with Neon Genesis Evangelion, you can't talk about it without talking about its long-standing influences in media and culture at large (I remember when Bugenhagen--like, literally the dude, old PS1 sprite and all--was a character in Fred Perry's Gold Digger). And much like Evangelion, the folks working on the game have grown a ton since the original was made--to revisit the game is to revisit who they were back in 1997. Much of the Final Fantasy VII remake has reintroduced people to Final Fantasy VII in ways they weren't ready for--people forgot that Cloud was an enjoyably snarky dude and that Tifa was the shrinking violet while Aerith was the sassy gremlin (after years of public perception playing it as the other way around). This, after years of backlash towards FF7--admittedly, due to overexposure. But then again, even now... not a lot is like Final Fantasy VII.

All this to say: there are some shenanigans afoot, and clearly, Sephiroth will play around the biggest scene in Final Fantasy VII: Aerith's death. It is one of the biggest, most shocking moments of the game and the one that all but defines a good chunk of it. Aerith's death wasn't just a shocking blow to the story; it also establishes much of the conflict in the latter half of the game: without Aerith, the party cannot stop Sephiroth and his plans to use the Black Materia to summon Meteor. It also leaves the major players at the disposal of the Weapons: ancient kaiju-like beings that are likened to the Earth's immune system. So, you're not just losing a character you'd come to love--the party barely gets time to mourn Aerith before they find themselves staring down the barrel of Armageddon.

Sephiroth's dialogue implies he's playing around with stuff, so maybe he's talking about having killed Aerith in the non-Remake timeline. But the big question on the lips of many fans is, maybe he's talking about having killed Tifa? I won't lie; I've wondered if they won't do that. It'd be a massive gut punch to the fandom... but it wouldn't be one that would mean much to the story. If Tifa dies, we lose a beloved character. If Aerith dies... well, that leaves everyone at the whims of Sephiroth, Jenova, and the Weapons. Initial interviews with the staff of Remake have established that they're gunning for this second entry to be the "darkest" game in the "trilogy," where our heroes are facing their biggest struggles--it's been likened to Empire Strikes Back. We'll see how they follow up on that.

So far, the biggest news has been that Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth will release in "early 2024". Surprisingly, the physical version will release on two disks. This has been framed as a selling point to illustrate just how massive Rebirth will be. There has been a lot of talk of games being too big and not properly optimized for storage; I feel that might be an issue. Still, I won't lie; it's oddly nostalgic to see a game on multiple disks again...

We'll keep you guys posted; Final Fantasy VII Rebirth will give us a ton to talk about.

Let's wrap up with some quick tidbits

  • Last week, we discussed the shuttering of Mega Man X DiVE in its Asian markets, as well as the PC port. Great news for folks who wanna play a less-exploitative version of this game: an Offline version is to arrive on Steam in the US! You'll be able to earn in-game points that can be used to redeem for all of the special-edition characters. Sadly, collab-only characters or stages will not be brought back. We'll see how they manage the character balance...
  • Love Katamari Damacy? You might want to look up "Katamari" on Google and click on the little Katamari ball on the screen. You'll know what to do next. Yes, this works on Mobile, too. Supply your own soundtrack--our personal favorite is The Moon and the Prince. For extra fun: look up "Sonic" and click on the little pixelated Sonic (you'll know when to stop), or look up "Splatoon" and click on the ink blots and go to town on the screen...
  • Heads up, fighting game fans: Bandai Namco will be removing Soulcalibur V from the PS3 and XBox 360 digital stores this June 19th...
  • That'll do it for this week. I hope you guys enjoyed this week's column... and I hope folks understand if I haven't covered absolutely everything from the announcements this week. There was just too much to go over, and some things will be expanded upon next week. And my colleagues have done a great job of going a bit further in-depth about stuff; please check out Chris Farris's preview of the upcoming Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective port. Don't be afraid to suggest stuff if you think something interests you, but remember to be polite. You get more flies with honey than vinegar and all that. Anyway! I hope you guys are enjoying Street Fighter 6, I especially hope that you're making time for the Etrian Odyssey ports, and I hope that this summer is treating you well. Remember to get some ice cream! Be good to each other; I'll see you in seven.

    This Week In Games! is written from idyllic Portland by Jean-Karlo Lemus. When not collaborating with AnimeNewsNetwork, Jean-Karlo can be found playing JRPGs, eating popcorn, watching v-tubers and tokusatsu, and trying as hard as he can to be as inconspicuous as possible on his Twitter @mouse_inhouse.

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