It’s the day after Mother’s Day 2017!

In order to celebrate the occasion, I thought we could go for a lighter topic and have a look at some of video games more…particular mothers, and just for a larff try to estimate what they would want for mother’s day. We were SUPPOSED to do this yesterday, so it would actually be more topical, but it turns out trying to get mother’s day sorted out for my actual mother took way longer than expected. Any who, let’s take a gander! (Some spoilers within)

The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3)

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The Boss is regarded as the greatest solider of her time (surpassed only by her own student), and is more or less one of the greatest soldiers ever seen. She lead the ‘colourful’ Cobra unit into countless battles, created her own kind of close-quarters combat, and was probably the most loyal patriot the USA had ever been graced with. She would go on to create a legacy that, while heavily misinterpreted by others, would show just how much influence she had on other’s lives.

What I’m trying to get around to saying is that this is the kind of woman you don’t just give a half-assed card to.

The Boss is a complicated case since while she is indeed a biological mother (to mention to whom would be a colossal spoiler); her metaphorical mother-son relationship with the original Snake is far more prevalent. Entire essays could be written about the complex relationship between the man would become known as Big Boss and his mentor, but there’s no doubt in my mind that she was the most important woman in his entire life. Heck, it’s even possible to say that she was a mother to the whole Cobra unit: no mean feat, considering one of its members is over one hundred years old, and another member is just a guy that shoots bees at people (seriously). To sum it up, in addition to being one of the most impressive women in the world, she’s also the surrogate mother to the most rag-tag “family” the world has ever seen.

Admittedly, going to fight on the beaches of Normandy while heavily pregnant was perhaps not her greatest idea, though was definitely pretty badass. A lot of woman can barely move when late into pregnancy, let alone fight in one of history’s most iconic battles. All in all, quite the glowing record. Would certainly be a shame if said record was marred by defection…

What would she want for mother’s day?
               For someone to send a letter to everybody who keeps misinterpreting her will and going off the deep end in her name. I mean, come on: she just wanted the world to realize they don’t have to go to war over imaginary lines on a map, and that they all share their beautiful planet without wrecking it with nuclear hell-fire. Come on guys. It’s not too hard to understand.

Bayonetta (from the game of the same name)

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As one of the last remaining Umbra Witches in existence, Bayonetta fills her days slaying the various agents of heaven that regularly flock to try and kill her. Armed with four pistols (two of which are strapped to her feet) and the powers of demonic beings, Bayonetta is definitely not a woman to be trifled with.

Despite all that, she seems to blanch when she comes across a little girl called Cereza who calls her “mummy,” and the tyke is determined to cling on to her. In addition to seeing the usually cool as a cucumber Bayonetta get a pretty funny set of interactions with this child, we also get to see that Bayonetta is actually pretty protective of her, and jumps through some serious hoops in order to keep her safe. While a little slow to warm to the idea, we are shown that Bayonetta makes for an encouraging and emboldening influence for the young Cereza.

We also find out that she…is Cereza.

Due to some serious time travel stuff, Bayonetta gets the award for being probably the only person in existence who was, at one point, a mother to herself. That means she probably got the idea for how she wanted to be in the future…from herself, in the future, who must have gone through the same thing. Weirdly, the rabbit hole only gets deeper as we find our more, since it’s shown in Bayonetta 2 that Cereza/Bayonetta’s actual mother did indeed look identical to how the witch actually looks during the events of the games.

For a game that’s not overly concerned about the plot, Bayonetta sure was one hell of a trip.

What would she want for mother’s day?
Any number of things:
– Replacement dresses for all the ones the angels have wrecked
– A lifetime supply of lollipops
– More weapons
– More places to strap those weapons (maybe she can stick one to her forehead?)
– More demons at her beck and call
– More demons at her beck and call that WON’T try to kill her
– For the Umbra Witches to not be completely wiped out
– Anti-Cockroach spray (crybaby edition)

I would add ‘more angels to brutalize,’ but that’s a particular gift she gets everyday already.

Sora’s Ma (Kingdom Hearts)

01SorasMa

Ahh, who could forget this classic Kingdom Hearts character. (I mean, besides the writers.)

Sora’s mother raised our goofy-shoe-wearing hero, and was a great influence in his life. True, she went pretty easy on the boy, mostly letting him faff around on an island (which has a pretty confusingly unclear position relative to the mainland) with his two childhood friends. However, I have no doubt in my mind that Sora’s core ethos and morals wouldn’t have been the same without his mother’s influence.

Indeed, she might actually be the single-most important character in the entire franchise: one of the key requirements for wielding a Key-blade is having a “strong heart.” Who do you think gave Sora the genetics to have a heart that pumps blood at almost half the effort of a normal person? Definitely not his dad, who might as well not exist considering he doesn’t even have a single line in the entire series, which is pretty weak compared to her two lines.

Basically: without a Key-blade, Sora couldn’t stop the Heartless, but without his biological heart, Sora would probably struggle to do very much, thusly his mother is literally the only reason the Heartless will one day be defeated.

I’m sure when she comes back in Kingdom Hearts 3 as the secret true final boss, we’ll all be happy that the series ended with its strongest and most layered character.

[Alright, serious point for a moment: for a series that is so steeped in the importance we as people share with those we care about, I do wonder slightly why no one’s parents have appeared outside of minor references in conversations. I  do get it: from a writing stand-point, having a young characters parents around can cause a mess because the audience begins to wonder how the hell said parents can stand to let them go gallivanting around the place. Still, if it turns out Xehanort is also Sora’s father, I’m just going to call it quits.]

What would she like for mother’s day?
For Sora to come down and get his bloody dinner.

—-

It may have only been a small sample, but talking about these odd cases always make me realize just how weird and wonderful these video games can get. We are certainly blessed with some pretty creative developers in the industry.

Speaking of which, make sure you come back for father’s day: if you thought there were some odd mothers in video games, ho boy…

See ya’ll next time!

An exploration of tone in Drakengard and Nier.

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Or, why let prejudice and slaughter get in the way of a good joke?

Tone is kind of a curious thing in video games, when you stop to think about it. The ‘tone’ of something is (to put it in its simplest form) just how something is presented, with the most common two extremes being a serious presentation and a more comical one. There are a lot of different facets and ways to affect a piece of medium’s tone, from how each individual character affects the tone to how something as simple as the use of colour in the environment affects it.

However, videogames are in a weird place where their tone is partly dictated by the player. Because the player is the one controlling exactly how events occur, they are having a direct effect on what kind of tone is being presented. If, for example, you made an otherwise serious character run and jump repeatedly into a wall in an otherwise serious story, the tone would take a nose dive into the comical. This particular thing isn’t really something a developer needs to worry about, since each individual player will find whatever tone is best for them, but it is worth looking at how certain developers use a particular set of tones in their games. Mostly because, in a medium where they can never be 100% sure what tone the player is currently experiencing, looking at how a developer tries to insure a certain tone is being received is interesting in itself.

Take the tones used in the Drakengard and Nier games as some examples. Both series are the creation of Yoko Taro, a somewhat eccentric Japanese games director/writer, and both have this odd balancing act going on. Drakengard is a franchise known for its extremely gritty worlds and liberal slaughter, and the Nier games are known for their beautiful but also very melancholy stories, and yet both try to inject some levity between their more serious moments. Drakengard 3 is a tale of one woman’s quest to murder her sisters while desperately trying to stave off a disease that will kill her slowly and painfully, but is also the tale of one woman desperately trying to stop herself from strangling the life out of her silly, silly dragon.

Even Nier: Automata gets in some funny jokes, which is pretty impressive considering it’s a game that brings into question where mere artificial intelligence ends and sentience begins, and where humanity factors into the matter. Despite the fact you’ll be spending a lot of time questioning if you’re even doing the right thing, the game still has a couple of light-hearted moments to break things up. A memorable early example is when 2B and 9S (the game’s rather clinically named protagonists) are escorting a robot ‘child.’ Despite the fact that she’s actually bigger than both of her escorts, the girl is just full of questions like a real curious child…including one that 9S is really adamant about dodging.

It makes sense that such serious and tragic games have such silly and comedic moments: if something was serious or dark every second of its runtime, it’s pretty likely that the audience would quickly become overwhelmed by it. I’m an optimist, and I like to think that everybody is naturally caring and sympathetic to some degree, but even I know that a person’s charity can only extend so far. Just asking an audience to sympathise with a character’s crappy situation isn’t enough by itself, you have to give them a reason to root for those characters. By extension, if the tone of something is just unendingly bleak, then you’ll quickly run out of your audience’s good will. But if you sprinkled in some lighter moments throughout, the audience will become more disarmed; a heavy hitting and emotionally tragic scene is made all the more effective because the audience has seen the characters in question in better times. A good example of this comes from the very first Nier, with its unnamed primary protagonist and the supporting protagonist ‘Weiss’. These two really go through hell and high water before the game is over, but you’re already emotionally invested in them before that point because you’ve been won over by their pretty funny banter. If the game had lacked this component, it might have been somewhat harder for the characters to truly endear themselves to the player, and thus making the task of the writing all the harder.

It doesn’t just have to be comic relief that provides these lighter moments. The original Drakengard is pretty devoid of goofy humour (outside of that one time the main protagonist kicked a praying old man just to shut him up, that was chuckle worthy in context), but never the less has moments where it lightens up. In a world with very few ‘good’ people and where the main character is a murderous psychopath, his relationship with his dragon is actually engaging and nice to watch develop. It’s a small thing in the grand scheme of the game’s tone, but it’s hard to not appreciate how the two grow closer despite their initial hatred of each other. Although, that might only be because every other relationship in the game is in a varying degree between ‘screwed up’ and ‘oh god why why why.’

I’m not saying this is some kind of hard and fast rule that all pieces of entertainment that want to be taken seriously need to do, especially since it’s something that certain products aren’t even going to want to do. A horror game that has more light hearted and comical moments in it isn’t going to succeed in its primary task of freaking out the player. Imagine if Outlast took a break from its pants wetting terror so you could watch some asylum patients do some sort of funny gag, it would take you right out of the tension. While something like a horror product will have moments where it is less scary so it can properly build up to the really terrifying stuff, its tone shouldn’t move too far away from its oppressive and tense atmosphere.

As previously stated, video games are in a strange place where the creator can’t be 100% sure that the thing they’ve created is always going to have the tone they want it to, since a single glitch or exploit can turn an experience into a farce. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be an accident: some people don’t really care about the context of a video game and only want to see the gameplay, meaning they’re almost completely out of reach of the designer. However, Drakengard and Nier are good examples of the games where the player might not always know what kind of tone to expect. The games (quite rightly) sell themselves on their pretty grim and morally grey worlds, so it can be kind of surprise to come across their more light-hearted sides. I think it only adds to the appeal of the games, not only because it helps to bring out the darker tones, but because it adds such a strange but appealing variety to them. While he’s hardly the only writer who uses such techniques, Yoko Taro really is a pro at this kind of thing. That, and maybe some kind of wizard. That’s the only explanation I can think of for how he manages to be both a creative lead on multiple projects (despite none of his games making a huge amount of cash) and manages to nail it out of the park every time he does.

In any case, thanks for sticking with this little ramble of thought, which had mostly been born out of wondering why I never felt too overwhelmed by Nier and Drakengard’s bleak tones. Due to Neir: Automata’s recent release and the fact that I’m currently addicted to playing it, expect a few more pieces on the weird and wonderful world of Nier in the future. Thanks and take care!

Aviary Attorney review –

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A review trying to hold off on bird puns.

Video games, much like almost every piece of media ever devised, needs to have a hook. There has to be some element to them that draws in others, otherwise said piece of media is probably fated to fade away.
This phenomenon can be seen across all of types of fields of video games, in all different shapes and forms. In can be seen in big name games (Blood Borne’s entire hook can summed up as ‘a Souls game, but with guns and werewolves’) to humble indie games (ever wanted to be a piece of toast? I Am Bread fills that incredibly odd dream of yours). The hook can be in the game’s setting, or even its mechanics, such as Super Hot’s ‘time only moves when you move’ core game play feature. I honestly think this does a lot of good for the video game industry: it’s a good way to encourage creative ideas for the most part, even if some end up ill-fated or thought out.
However, the hook we have presented before us today asks a simple question; what if the Ace Attorney games starred anthropomorphic animals in a revolutionary Paris?
As it turns out, a lot of animal based puns, a lot of quirky characters, and a surprisingly heartfelt storyline.
Let’s cover the basics first. ‘Aviary Attorney,’ like its name would suggest, is an investigative visual novel where you balance your time between investigating crime scenes and verbally duking it out in the court house, created by a group called Sketchy Logic. The welfare of your defendants, friends, and sometimes all of Paris will rely on you effectively finding and using evidence in pitched legal battles.  This is all presented with an absolutely gorgeous art style, courtesy of one J. J. Grandville, a French caricaturist and artist back in the 1800’s. We’ll look at the art style in more detail in the relevant section below, but rest assured that the development team made absolutely great use of his detailed and extremely colourful designs.  Being a visual novel, this game has a strong focus on story and narrative and fortunately the writers made full use of the setting and characters to bring a vivid and often at times humorous Paris to life.
Taking us through Paris is Jayjay Falcon, a…well, falcon defence attorney. Along with him is his trusty assistant and friend Sparrowson (no points for guessing what species of bird he is), who provides some of the game’s comic relief and makes sure that Falcon stays on the straight and narrow. These two are hugely likeable, and their banter marks some of the game’s best writing.

Before we get into the nitty gritty parts of the review, I should probably just clarify some things. For those who are unfamiliar, the Ace Attorney games are a long running series of Japanese visual novels that follow the perspective of attorney’s having awesomely exaggerated legal battles, and are pretty fun games to boot.
The term ‘anthropomorphic’ is applied to various works of art wherein animals are given human characteristics (ie, animals wearing clothes or holding crazy trails for their legal system), usually used to draw attention to a character’s traits via the traits of the animal, such as ‘being sly as a fox.’ Or in this case, make animal based puns.
With those basics covered, let’s actually get into the main features of the game:

Gameplay: An interesting take on a tested formula, Aviary Attorney has enough twists to keep one’s attention.

The core game play of Aviary Attorney is very much like its clear inspiration, Ace Attorney. Both games have you combing over various crime scenes, questioning witnesses, following up leads and gathering other evidence before putting you in a court-house trail where you have to use everything you’ve gathered to defend an accused individual. The game doesn’t try to hide it’s influences (with several gags that couldn’t be anything less than purposeful nods), but conducts itself well: presenting evidence and flipping a prosecution’s entire accusation against them feels intuitive and satisfying, as does pulling a case out from the jaws of a guilty verdict.
However, there are some noticeable and pretty interesting design choices that help to pull it out of Ace Attorney’s shadow somewhat. One of the more noticeable of these is the limited time system: our intrepid heroes usually have a set time limit before the day of the trial, and since visiting locations to investigate them takes time, there is a very real risk that they could miss a piece of vital evidence because they spent too long shooting the breeze with the local bar-fly.
It’s a good addition, giving even the downtime between the actual trails a sense of tension, and encouraging the player to actually stop and think about where they need to go next rather than just forcing them to go down a checklist of locations. At least, on some trials: some do just have a checklist of options, which can feel a little disheartening in one or two of the later chapters. However, for the most part it’s a solid addition to the formula, especially since the game does go out of its way so you always have a kind of goal to work towards, so you’re not just wandering around blindly. Although, that doesn’t necessarily stop it from being frustrating when you waste a day because there was no sure-fire way to determine your destination was the correct one.
Another interesting addition to the formula is the fact that you can lose a trial and still continue on in the story, rather than being forced to restart. This does help in creating the impression that the world changes and reacts to the player’s successes or failures, since dialogue and certain events change if they managed to defend our bird-brained hero’s clients. This change to the usual is especially welcome, since this connects pretty snugly with one of the game’s core themes.
In terms of actual mystery, most the trails follow pretty reasonable sense of logic; even the most ‘out there’ trials have the characters following believable arguments. While not every trial is legal-battle-epic with twists and turns, there’s a fair selection on display here. I would just say, however, that the trials in the game are perhaps a mite bit too easy. True, most the difficulty is supposed to come from actually gathering said evidence without screwing up and forgetting a vital clue, but sometimes the trials can feel like they’re being too generous with the hints. This is kind of an issue that’s going to be pretty subjective, since the main appeal of the game lies in its story and characters, and thus a low difficulty might not even be considered a negative aspect. It’s slightly easier difficulty might just means you can focus all of your attention onto the characters, rather than agonising over every little part of a trail.

Aesthetics and Sound/music: One of the main hooks of the game; the game has an absolutely glorious art style, accompanied by a solid sound direction.

So, a little bit of back-story. Back in the 1800’s, an artist and caricaturist by the name of J. J. Grandville (which was actually a pseudonym for his real name, Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard) gained a small amount of fame due to his extremely skilful drawings of comedy works, in part due to the fact that all the characters involved were anthropomorphic in nature. This small boost in popularity led to being hired as a caricaturist for numerous French publications, and for a while he enjoyed a general appreciated view by the population. When there was a crackdown to censor news publications by the government, however, his drawings were one of the things to be banned, and he was forced to find a new outlet. He would go on to draw illustrations for various books (including Gulliver’s Travels), but the one set to look at in this case is the drawings he made for a book called ‘The Public and Private Life of Animals.’ The drawings in this book, and several other pieces he made, would serve as the basis for Aviary Attorney’s artwork.
The developers at Sketchy Logic did a fantastic job of extracting and animating the illustrations. Not to mention they definitely picked some of the best of Grandville/ Gérard’s work, as well as using their writing to synch up how a character looks to how their personalities stand. The designs are varied and visually interesting, and all fit together well on the screen. I’m not really sure what else to say: I adore this art style.
That being said, there is kind of weird point about it that I wasn’t 100% sure of, namely the scale of everything. At one point, our intrepid heroes run into a mouse, who is as small as a realistically scaled mouse to them, and likewise a giraffe whose neck and head tower above them. This is all fun and fine, since this is keeping to realistic proportions while making some pretty good jokes about the whole thing. However, I do sort of question why our two intrepid heroes rival the size of the local crocodile. Now, I grant you that you can have REALLY big falcons and surprisingly small crocodiles in the world, but for an overall portrayal it feels kind of off. But this is a minor gripe, just a little case of artistic liberalities at work.
As for sound, the game has a good attention to detail. The sounds that make each character’s “voice” is widely varied, and helps to reinforce what tone each character has. The dramatic sound cues and effects during the trials really sell the over-the-top nature of the whole thing, and are a real asset to the more comedic moments. As for music, there’s a good selection at work: low and intense when the need calls for, triumphant and jubilant when necessary, etc. Nearly all of the music is transcribed or inspired by various classic pieces that came out of the era the game is based in, and perfectly fit the setting.

Story and Narrative: The story of one bird defence attorney and his assistant as they try to wrangle with the building revolutionary feelings of the people of Paris, all the while Jayjay must address the past he would rather leave buried.

A visual novel lives or dies on how invested it can make a reader to its characters and setting. To that end, it’s good thing that our two leads, Jayjay Falcon and Sparrowson, are hugely likeable characters, more or less from the word go. Jayjay is the main protagonist of the story, and one who brings his own emotional baggage to it: saying what kind of baggage would be a spoiler to one of the game’s running sub-stories, but it really does do a lot to flesh out his character. Even without that though, Jayjay is a strong protagonist. He’s a determined and driven bird who is never the less struggling with his own doubts, but he’s also not above getting involved with the sillier moments. Despite the fact that he’s got his own characterisation (and indeed his own history that comes back to haunt him) the game’s writing makes him flexible enough to fit in all of the crazy events that occur. Depending on your choices, Jayjay will develop in a number of ways, sometimes for the worse, but it’s difficult to not sympathise and root for the guy at mostly every turn.
Accompanying Jayjay is the wise-cracking, pun loving Sparrowson, who fills out the comedic relief of the duo, while also being a surprisingly driven force to be reckoned with when he applies himself. While he’s mainly there to ask stupid questions and nearly get Jayjay in trouble with his comments, he also provides some invaluable help to Jayjay, and indeed really pulls him out of the fire on a number of occasions. Another important facet of his character is that he’s one of Jayjay’s most important comrade: both of them go through a lot in the game, and Sparrowson is there to help pull his friend out of the gutter when needed. These two share some really great chemistry, and the jokes that come from their personalities bouncing off each other make for the game’s funniest banter and their more sombre conversations make the most heart-warming.
The more general story of Aviary Attorney follows these two bird-brained-…err, birds as they try to make a living as defence attorneys in Paris, meeting and often cross-examining a number of rather colourful characters along the way. You’ll have to follow them through their successes and their failures as they try to pry the truth out of whatever horrible crime they find themselves embroiled in. Along the way, our two heroes go from Paris’ most ritzy and glamorous quarters all the way down into the city’s infamous catacombs. Your choices will heavily affect how the two birds get on, and how their story eventually ends. The game does a surprisingly good job of connecting the seemingly disjointed cases by snowballing the themes of each into a greater whole, making for a rather grand finale.
Befitting of a mystery game, there is a healthy number of twists and turns to the story, both to each individual case and to the greater narrative as a whole. We won’t dive too much into spoiler territory, but I do believe that game does a satisfying job of subverting one’s expectations, even as early as the first case. Not to mention the game has a great sense of pacing, since we build up from a “simple” murder case all the way up to a solving mysteries and finding conspiracies that threaten to shake all of Paris, if not the entirety of France.

 Conclusion: While it is often a game that shows its smaller budget, Aviary Attorney more than makes up for its faults with its great style, instantly engaging characters, and superb writing.

It sometimes becomes clear that Aviary Attorney was made on a fairly limited budget, and the game occasionally suffers for it: while the game has plenty of variety and has a pretty diverse set of endings and outcomes, the game still comes off as a little bit short. There are not exactly a huge number of cases for you to tackle, and each case isn’t exactly over-long. Not to mention, the very few instances where the game makers have had to create wholly original artwork to fill in gaps of Grandville/ Gérard’s pieces are a little glaring since the style they use isn’t close enough to all the other art in the game to blend.
That all being said, it’s easy to overlook such shortcoming when the game’s writing is as good as it is. With a great control of the story’s tone, the narrative flips effortlessly between hilarious and light-hearted moments and more dark and gritty moments in the story, all while presenting some extremely colourful characters to take part in the game’s ongoing narrative. Combine that with the game’s extremely engaging main characters and it’s great use of old art, and the game’s onto a real winning formula.
For all of game’s flaws, I would heartily recommend it. Fans of the Ace Attorney games will get a kick out of the nods and winks to the game’s core influence, while others new to these styles of game will appreciate that it’s a great gateway into the genre that requires no prior experience with either the characters or the game play. Take a look if you get a chance, and let your delight take flight.*

*Look, we’re allowed one bird pun, right? After holding back on just flooding this review with them, I think I deserve that much.

A study of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE; a cautionary tale of expectations and withholding information.

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There appears to have been a fusion accident.

(In classic fashion, we here at Culling and Co. productions like to strike while the iron is completely frozen over, by talking about a game that came out into international territories over a year ago, and over two years ago in Japan. Still, I like to think all this time has allowed me to disconnect to the sheer emotional side of my reactions to the game, and will hopefully allow us to get some objective perspective on the game.)

The Fire Emblem series and the Shin Megami Tensei series are two very different kettle of fish. The former is a turn-based tactics series that emphasises positioning and exploiting a rock-paper-scissors style strength and weakness system, whose story tends to favour optimistic themes of comradeship and overcoming evil. The latter may also be turn based, but it’s gameplay focuses on a more traditional system that has a huge amount of customisation and insanely in depth and challenging battles. Likewise, the stories in the games tend to be about the constant struggle humanity has to face between Order and Chaos, made worse by the fact that the world is usually on the brink of ending (if it isn’t already dead or dying).

Both series are great fun in their own kind of ways, but what if you combined the two? What would happen if you took the tactical action and grand adventure of Fire Emblem and joined it with the challenge and grit of the Shin Megami Tensei’s grim world? It sounds like an idea that two slightly drunk friends might come up with, right after debating if Master Chief could win in a fight against the Doom Marine. However, against all odds, an official, full cross-over game was actually announced and holy hell. Can we talk about this announcement trailer?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK5-EIzDtKo

It’s incredibly simple, and only serves to announce the game is actually being made, but it captures the feeling of each game rather well, and joins the concepts pretty decently. SMT has foreboding music following its characters appearing on screen, who flicker into existence through a haze of static, as if the video itself is only just able to render them. The foreboding drums of the SMT segment flow almost seamlessly into the FE portion of video, however. The uplifting score of the FE series is all the more pronounced thanks to what preceded it, and the FE characters soon dwarf the effect of fire on the screen. The two styles definitely differ from each other, but they each draw out the other’s strengths: SMT’s gritty and serious aspect comes out in full force when placed next to more fantastical FE, who’s triumphant and grand size is made all the more clear when placed next to the more sombre SMT. It’s the very final few seconds of the trailer that really catch the eye, however. We’re given a view of a city bathed in a blood-red light over an eerie body of water. The moon looms large over the city, the light reflecting from it almost coming off as harsh and glaring. Something resembling embers seem to be flying from the city, directly up to the moon, before the ‘camera’ shorts out and everything is replaced with blackness.

So, we have a trailer that doesn’t give away much, but its last few moments create a strong impression. Considering SMT’s signature mature tone, and the fact that FE isn’t exactly free from having the occasional tragedy striking, popular speculation places the tone as somewhat more serious and dark. Basically closer to SMT’s usual tone, or at least a little bit darker set of events than is usual for FE. And honestly, who could blame them for that idea? Even at its lightest, FE stories always take place in on-going wars, where all the magic and Pegasus (Pegasai? Pegal? Whatever) in the world can’t distract from the fact that people are dying left right and centre. This speculation wasn’t helped by the fact that the publishers were being pretty tight lipped about the project: the above trailer was the first and last piece of news anybody would see about the game for years, until just a few months before the game actually came out.

Speaking of which, they released another trailer a few months ahead of release, to raise awareness and awake the sleeping giant that was the combined might of the SMT and FE fan bases. After two years of near radio silence, the fans were eager to see what the heck this cross-over actually looked like. They were more than a little bit surprised, however, that the cross-over looked like…this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fS24IxelBA

…So from a series known for its fantasy setting and varied character designs being combined with a series known for its mature and serious edge, we get:

– High School students
– Idol singing
– And most confusing of all, a design style that is more in line with the Persona series (a sub-series of the SMT franchise).

To say there was confusion and outrage would have been an understatement.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE (try saying that five times over) would be the game’s name, and it’s release would go on to suffer a lacklustre release, perhaps as a result of this whiplash of expectations. This would result in a pretty poor set of launch sales in Japan and a similarly middling Western sales figure. To its credit, its lifetime sales were not abysmal, but considering this was the marriage of two pretty big franchises, it seems kind of a letdown.

Now, I’m not going to throw shade on the game. I’ll admit to never having played it (it’s a Wii-U exclusive, and I’m not made of money), but I am kind of fascinated by the game for it’s design choices in the context of it being a crossover game.

First things first, why idols? That struck me as the most unexpected thing see in the game, especially since it plays such a large part in the themes. There are singers in the FE series, and they make pretty okay units, but idols don’t really gel well with the themes of either franchise. Heck, Atlus (the game’s developer, and the creators of the SMT and Persona games) had been pretty critical of the idol scene in one of their previous games, Persona 4. They didn’t completely demonise it, and the character involved eventually comes to terms with it, but it still feels like an odd direction to take. I suspect the whole idol thing didn’t really help the western sales either; it’s a pretty popular scene in Japan, but not only is it practically unheard of in the west, a fair number of people are probably uncomfortable that performers are so regularly sexualised despite being under 18 years of age. It definitely didn’t go over well with a lot of fans at any rate, since many thought it was a completely out of left-field pull that doesn’t really invoke either of the games it was supposedly based on.

The other problem it faces, at least from what I can see, is the game doesn’t really feel like it came from either SMT or FE. At best, it kind of feels like it came from Persona: the stylistic menus and effects, the huge and varied colour pallet, the fact the core cast are all high-school students all feel like elements that would have fit nicely into Persona’s area of expertise. To the game’s credit, the boss fights are definitely spawned from the creators of SMT, in that they’re incredibly challenging (or so I’ve heard. Again, Wii-U, not made of money, etc). Other than that though, there’s no real connection to SMT’s themes or characters, and the only thing it has on FE’s side is that there is one named FE character who is involved in the plot. Other FE characters show up, but I’d say those appearances are closer to references. The characters look, sound, and act fairly differently, making it seem like the character on screen is just loosely based on their name-sake. I’m not saying it had to be a straight cross-over, but I wouldn’t have blamed anyone from looking at the screenshots for assuming this was some kind of Persona spin off game, rather than a SMT-meets-FE crossover extravaganza. More than anything else, it’s disappointing that a game that was supposed to bring together two fan-bases ended up turning away many from both.

The third and pressing question I have to ask, though, is why the heck was this kept so much in the dark? They announced the game, and left fans to stew on the idea for two years, barely letting out even a scrap of info. I get that game development is an extremely complicated process where you can never be sure what the game is going to be like even as you’re making it, but it seems like a recipe for disaster. Fans didn’t know what kind of crossover this could be, if it would straight up use characters from either franchise, or if it would simply use the themes from both. So, naturally, they tried to come up with possibilities in their heads, something that’s easy to do when you’ve got two years of waiting and no info to work with. Even as they unveiled just what kind of crossover it actually was, the damage was already done: everybody had already built up an image that was impossible to meet exactly. While this is hardly the game’s fault, if you’re going to risk making a product that’s radically different than the two it’s based on you need to make sure that people know that before they get their hopes up.

A common argument made in favour of the game is that it should be judged for its own merits, and not be damned due to the expectations of the fans. While that’s fair enough in many ways, let me play devil’s advocate: if the game wants you to judge it by its connections to its home franchises, why shouldn’t you? This game was announced as a cross-over between the two series, the title more or less has both franchises in it, and they can’t stop making some basic references to both throughout the game’s run.  Make no mistake, the game wants you to know it came from both franchises because they were banking on it selling for that exact reason. If the game had simply been made by the minds behind both series, and had been identified as its own product without any connections to other games, then I suspect there wouldn’t have been as much blow-back. I do wonder if that would have affected sales, though: for as much as the underwhelming launch sales seem to indicate fans weren’t happy, would anybody have cared about a completely new IP? Were the sales, ho-hum as they were, only made because of the connection to two much beloved franchises.

Ultimately, all these points may be moot: there are rumours of a sequel circulating around, suggesting that the somewhat middling sales haven’t deterred Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE’s creators. Honestly, I hope it works out for them, since they did indeed take the boldest option of going for a game that wasn’t a straight forward mixing of universes, and I hope the fans of the game have something neat to look forward to. But I’ll also sympathise with fans who had hoped for a simpler crossover, because it appears that the possibility for such a thing grows ever more distant. I’ll admit that there is a part of me that’s kind of bummed out that we’ll never have a kind of Smash Bros. moment where we find out if Chrom could beat down Mara (ha), but c’est la vie.

At the end of the day, the only thing I can say with 100% certainty that the developers and publishers did ‘wrong’ was that they left they fans hanging with too little info. If they had been more up-front about the kind of game they were creating, there wouldn’t have been quite as much gasoline poured onto the bonfire, and there wouldn’t have been as much disappointment when the actual gameplay was revealed. I understand that maybe even they didn’t know what kind of game it was going to be when it was announced, but it still feels kind of manipulative to sell a game on its merits of being both a SMT title and a FE title, and for it be almost neither. This really does appear to be a case of ‘fusion accident.’

In any case, thanks for reading! Keep an eye out next week for our regularly scheduled upload (assuming we can actually get it ready by Sunday, when these things are supposed to come out, rather than early Monday, because we’re awful at scheduling). Take care!