Monday, March 18, 2019

Thoughts on Psycho-Pass 3 and Sinners in the System Movies

Psycho-Pass is one of my favorite anime series, mostly for the first season's well-thought out dystopia where crime is virtually non-existent (until it is). It's a bit like Minority Report, except instead of predicting crime before it happens, the Sibyl System is able to judge someone's criminal inclination. Latent criminals are put away for treatment before they become a danger to society. If treatment is successful, they are allowed to return, though it's implied that this event is rare. Once someone's too far gone, it's not possible to go back.

The two seasons of Psycho-Pass have followed Division 1 of the Criminal Investigation Department, which has been composed of two inspectors (people with good Psycho-Pass ratings) and four enforcers (latent criminals who are trusted enough to hunt other latent criminals so the inspectors don't get corrupted).

Though the story has largely been told through the eyes of inspector Akane Tsunemori, the fan favorite is enforcer Shinya Kogami, who used to be an inspector until his Psycho-Pass worsened due to his desire for revenge over the murder of his former partner. Season 1 saw Kogami satisfy his revenge at the end of the season by taking out the main villain, but in doing so, he went from a latent criminal to an actual one, so he had no choice but to flee the country at the end of the story.

That was fine. It was the ending that we knew was coming. Akane would never have killed Makashima, because she believes in working with the law, even if it is a flawed system, whereas Kogami's sense of justice had long fallen outside the Sybil System.

Then Season 2 happened.

While it had a number of flaws that had nothing to do with Kogami's absence, the fact the fan favorite was gone didn't help matters. (For me personally, I would rather have had Ginoza's role punched up since the guy's life was put through a meatgrinder in Season 1 and we don't see much of the fallout from that.)

About a week ago, Psycho-Pass 3 was announced, and it'll be airing in October this year. This wasn't entirely a surprise, considering that the Psycho-Pass: Sinners in the System movies started releasing earlier this year. No one's picked those up for North American distribution yet, but chances are Funimation will since they have the previous movie and both TV series.

And here come the spoilers.

I started reading the reviews for the Sinners in the System movies because I figured they weren't coming over to the US anytime soon and I wanted to know something of what they're about. I knew the first was a sequel, starring Ginoza and Mika; the second was a prequel, starring Teppei and the now deceased Masaoka; and the third was a sequel, picking up after the previous stand-alone movie with Kogami. (Which I haven't actually seen yet.)

I didn't feel a strong need to see what Kogami was up to, but I still wanted to know what the movie was about. So when the review went up at ANN, I read it, and realized that there was more going on than I'd thought.

The movies weren't just to bring Psycho-Pass back into the awareness of its audience in preparation for Season 3, but also to lead in to Season 3. And it sounds like Kogami is coming back.

I'm not entirely sure I like this, though if it's handled well, I'll roll with it.

Until this point, Season 3 hadn't teased any of the previous characters coming back. In fact the first promotional image is of two new characters we've never met before, though from their outfits and their Dominator weapons they are clearly part of the CID like Division 1.

Unfortunately we also don't know most of the staff for Season 3 either. The lead writer changed from Gen Urobuchi in Season 1 to Tow Ubukata in Season 2, which is what most people have credited as to why Season 2 was so much poorer than its predecessor. While I think it's possible for someone to write a good Psycho-Pass story without being Gen Urobuchi (as shown by the Mandatory Happiness spin-off game), Season 3 is really going to need to earn some trust back, and I don't think shoving Kogami back on the show is going to be enough.

Whichever way it goes though, I'm pretty sure I'll be watching in October.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Captain Marvel

No spoilers in this post. Just general comments.

I watched Captain Marvel this weekend, which is unusual for me. I'm not a movie person and I hate crowds, so I see most films after they've been out for a couple weeks. But one of my friends asked if I wanted to go see it this weekend, and since it's a female-led superhero movie, I figured I should give it my support dollars, because goodness knows we need more of these.

And it was money well spent.

In fact, I was surprised by how much I was moved by it. I had enjoyed Wonder Woman, but I actually cried during Captain Marvel, and not because there were strategically placed "sad" moments. I found Carol Danvers to be incredibly inspiring, in her struggle to keep standing up when various men in her life put her down for being a girl. It's bad enough to be disappointed in your own performance, worse when someone doesn't think you should have even tried in the first place.

But Carol kept getting up.

I like that the two people most important to her are both women. I like that she's a superhero without a love interest.

And there were other good moments in the film too. The special effects de-aging Samuel Jackson were excellent and held up the entire film even in different lighting environments. Goose was adorable. I could've used more Agent Coulson (being an Agents of Shield fan), but I know he's always been a bit character in the larger MCU so it's understandable he wasn't in it more.

But when I get back to it, the best part is still Captain Marvel herself. I can't wait to see her join the team in Avenger's Endgame.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Thoughts on Live-Action your name Casting

I really like Makoto Shinkai's work, and was happy to see your name's world premiere at Anime Expo a couple years ago. It's probably my favorite work of his and he feels like a writer/director who's really good at grasping relationships. And he tends to have a speculative bent to his stories despite setting them in what outwardly appears like modern day.

Anime getting a live action remake is nothing new, at least in Japan. And even in the US there have been stabs at it with properties ranging from Dragon Ball to Ghost in the Shell. Usually they're panned, though the recent Battle Angel Alita seems to be doing better than most.

your name is an unusual choice for a Hollywood remake because it's not an action film. Rather, it's a contemporary romance with a fantasy conceit involving two teenagers from different parts of the country involuntarily swapping bodies with each other. The opening segments are light-hearted and fun as Taki and Mitsuha wreck havoc with each other's lives and eventually come to a truce on how they're going to behave.

But, the thing about your name is that it's a very Japanese film. Though Taki and Mitsuha are modern day kids, there's significant amount of cultural mysticism involved and the movie does not neatly explain everything, which is also very Japanese. Western storytelling is more concerned about explaining how everything happened, and tends to get panned when the story doesn't make logical sense, but one of the biggest scenes of your name occurs with no explanation for how it's possible other the it feels right.

For the live action, we know that the Japanese rights holders wanted a western adaptation, because if they were going to set it in Japan with Japanese actors, they'd just do the movie themselves. Which is fair enough. Though it's disappointing for Asian Americans who would love a crack at the lead roles, the native Japanese film industry would do a better job of portraying their country themselves than Hollywood.

And it's not like they don't do their own anime-to-live action movies all the time. The special effects budget would be smaller, but they have their own bankable stars which don't necessarily include anyone with global fame and have different ideas of the types of actors they'd like to see in a role. (For instance, though Rinko Kikuchi is beloved for her role as Mako Mori in Pacific Rim, her casting was met with skepticism in Japan because she's not what the Japanese audience pictures for a mecha pilot.)

So instead we have a Native American girl in a rural area and a boy in Chicago (and since the boy's ethnicity is not mentioned it's safe to assume that he's white). And I'm pretty sure the Native American girl is being included to account for the mystical part of the story.

And here's why. Spoilers below.

When Taki realizes that Mitsuhi actually died three years ago, he tries to reconnect with her by drinking the kuchikamizake (spit sake) she made as a shrine maiden. This is obviously something intrinsic to Japanese culture. We don't have a whole lot of instances in the western world where a young woman's spit is used as a catalyst to ferment alcohol. But because it was Mitsuha herself who supplied the spit for this sake, and it survived the disaster that destroyed her town, Taki is able to reconnect with her by drinking it, sending him back in time into her body so he can save the town.

This sparks the climax of the story and obviously cannot be transplanted wholesale into an American adaptation as we don't have that kind of cultural background. I'm sure something can be done with American Mitsuha leaving something personal behind (just something a little less personal), but the sake itself would have to go.

While I like the idea of the role of Mitsuha going to another minority group rather than another white person, and goodness knows that we could use more actual Native American actors on screen, I'm really concerned that remaking Mitsuha as Native American is just so we could substitute in another "mystic" ritual. There may be a similar Native American custom, but there also might not. Each tribe is different and Native Americans aren't a monolith. We don't know if the movie intends to make remake Mitsuha part of a particular tribe, or if they plan on bringing in Native American advisers (which I'd hope they do!).

What I don't want to see happen is something made up so that it feels "Native American" and is done simply to slot in a magical experience that otherwise wouldn't be possible from the outlook of a generic white American dude.

End spoilers.

So I find all this concerning. While I like the idea of Hollywood broadening its interest in Japan beyond action properties, and I like that the scriptwriter seems to be a fan of the original film, I'm incredibly concerned that this is going to turn out to be another disaster.

Monday, February 11, 2019

VN Talk: Doki Doki Literature Club


In which I talk (write) about visual novels from a storytelling perspective...

Platform: Windows (also on Mac)
Release: 2017

Doki Doki Literature Club is a pay-what-you-want indie visual novel that got really popular in late 2017, persuading a lot of people who aren't inclined to play visual novels to check it out, especially since it's a relatively short playthrough so it can be done in a single day.

It starts like a typical harem game with a feckless male protagonist who the player gets to name, but after about two hours of that, it careens into much darker territory and messes with your head. There's a content warning on this game for a reason. But aside from that, the less you know going in, the better it's supposed to be. So if you might see yourself playing this, stop reading now.

From here on, there were be spoilers.

If there's anything I'd fault the game for, it's take a little long to get to the point. Your protagonist has been best friends with a girl named Sayori since childhood, and as typical for the genre, the pair are extremely close for being of the opposite sex and have some unresolved sexual tension going on since obviously she likes him and he doesn't think about it. Sayori gets him to join the titular Literature Club, which is only composed of girls, and each day he's tasked with writing a poem based on a selection of words that might lead him towards crafting a poem that one of the girls in the club will like.

This first run through the game plays the romance visual novel almost entirely straight, except for the ending, which is when the game's true genre comes out. I knew going in that this would eventually turn into a horror game, which is why I played it, but I didn't realize it would take as long as it did to get there. Not being a fan of romance visual novels aimed at heterosexual men, it was rough going that first time through.

But towards the end of it, it became clear that something was going on with Sayori. She begins to draw away and in a nice twist, we find out that the reason she's always late to school in the morning isn't because she's lazy and oversleeping, but that she suffers from depression. Not that she's just have a bad day, but severe clinical depression where just living everyday is a trial and she's been trying to hide her condition to avoid inconveniencing the people around her.

She introduced the protagonist to the Literature Club because she thought it would be good for him, but she's also torn because he's been a source of stability in her life. Now that he has other friends their own relationship is changing. Sayori wants things to go back to the way they were, but knows they can't, and that the protagonist is possibly interested in one of the other girls. (In my playthrough he was definitely angling for someone else.)

This comes to a head when Sayori tries to give him a love confession and the player has to choice of reciprocating her love or confirming that she will always be his dearest friend. Reciprocating, if insincere, would be awful, and a terrible way to trap someone in a relationship, so I opted for the best friend answer.

My reward was that Sayori committed suicide the next day, though regardless of what the player chooses the outcome is ultimately the same. Doki Doki does an extremely good home of portraying mental illness, and unlike a traditional visual novel, the protagonist's love is not an automatic cure-all for another person's feelings.

To hammer this home, the protagonist has a mental meltdown when he finds Sayori's body, mentioning that this isn't a game where you can just load a save and make another choice.

After the ending, which involves some DOS-like code scrolling on screen, the main menu comes up again, but it's glitched out. Sayori has been replaced by glitchy parts of Monika, Yuri, and Natsuki, and the New Game option is corrupted. This is where the real meat of the game begins.

Also, if you check under Load Game, all previous save files have been erased. (Well done.)

When you start a "New Game" or the option that's in place of New Game, the text is all corrupted and even the music plays a little off. Sayori starts to run up to the protagonist, but she doesn't exist anymore, so her name is glitched out, her portrait is a mix of Yuri and other girls, and then the game behaves like it can't figure out how to proceed. So it reboots itself and the protagonist says he's always walked to school alone.

From there the protagonist is drafted into the club by Monika and the game sort of proceeds as normal except that Sayori doesn't exist, and weird glitches keep happening. For instance, the font changes from time to time, and Monika interrupts the player's attempt to mediate an argument by appearing on top of the UI overlay so it's no longer possible to select a name. The girls' style of speech changes too, and they drop f-bombs when they get really upset.

At one point my protagonist left the classroom to look for Yuri and he found her with a severely slashed up arm, but then the game freaked out and "rewound" itself to the point where he went to go look for her and fast-forwarded to a "good" resolution where Yuri returns with a pot of water to make tea and does not appear to be injured.

Though the first timeline subtly makes it clear that there is possibly something wrong with the girls, the second timeline makes it more blatant, with the font changed text sounding like negative inner thoughts as opposed to the public faces they wear. Monika manages to get creepy through her constant UI breaking and the fact she talks about things like Yuri's habit of cutting herself as though it's nothing more than a personality quirk to be danced around. She discourages the protagonist from spending time with Yuri since she's easily excitable for the wrong reasons. Yuri herself becomes increasingly more obsessed with the protagonist.

Like Sayori, Yuri came to a bad end when I refused her (scarily presented) affection, but interestingly enough the game doesn't end there, and cycles through the weekend of preparation for the festival during which the protagonist has been sitting by her corpse the entirely of the past two days. Natsuki hurls when she comes in and sees the body.

Monika isn't surprised though. Rather, she fixes it by deleting the .chr files related to Yuri and Natsuki, and apologizes for accidentally leaving the protagonist with the dead body over the weekend. She reveals that she's not very good at this hacking sort of thing. (If you look in the character directory of the game's install path, you'll only see Monika, and none of the other characters.)

The game becomes a different sort of creepy when it begins its "third" run through. Monika disposes of the pretense of playing a high school dating sim and addresses the player behind the screen directly. My male protagonist had a male name, but Monika chose to address me as "Laurie," which was interesting. I'm not sure where the game pulled my name from, but I assume it pulls from some sort of Windows file that mentions who the owner of my computer is.

The nutshell of the game within a game is that Monika became self-aware that she was a character in a dating sim, and that she was not a love interest. The protagonist can only gain affection with Sayori, Yuri, and Natsuki (if you look in the poetry composition section, those three are present as chibis, but no Monika). However, being self-aware, Monika wanted more and essentially hacked her own game to force herself to become a love interest and give herself the ending the structure of the game denied her. In fact she wants to be the only love interest in order to keep the attention of the one entity that makes her existence bearable; the player.

She isn't very good at the hacking thing though, which is why things glitched out, and her subtler attempts to manipulate the other girls into being undesirable failed. Yuri in particular backfired drastically when she become so obsessed with the protagonist that Monika couldn't get any time alone with him. (Ironically, when I was playing the game at face value, Monika was the one girl I was actually trying to date, but I could tell the game wasn't letting me.)

The only way to continue the game after Monika has turned the game world into nothing but a classroom where she can gaze into your eyes, is a creative trick where you delete her .chr file, just like she had deleted the .chr files of the other characters. (The .chr files are dummy files that aren't actually character files so much as something the game looks for so it knows how to behave at different parts of the story. You can find multiple Easter eggs by monkeying around with them.)

I quite liked the game, and for a first effort it's amazingly good, though it's not as horror-ish as I thought it would be. The second playthrough when the user interface begins acting strangely and you keep getting weird/scary "bonus" poems, is the most horrifying segment of the game. I played the bulk of Doki Doki in two sessions, and I stopped in the middle because the second playthrough was creeping me out.

But after I found out what was going on, Monika's existential horror at being trapped inside a game didn't scare me. I felt sorry for her, and she's still my favorite character out of the bunch, but the horror portion of the game was effectively gone.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The game is still very good at playing with expectations and you can tell that Dan Salvato and his team know the visual novel tropes they're messing with. It just makes it harder to define, because I don't think calling this a horror visual novel is entirely fair. I suppose I'd say it's more of a science fiction drama with some very intense moments. Though again, telling someone that is a bit of a spoiler, since the game outwardly presents itself as a harmless romance visual novel.

In any case, I can see why this got so popular, and if for some reason you read this without playing the game, it's worth checking out. It doesn't have to cost you anything.

Monday, February 4, 2019

In Lieu of my Usual Recommendations Post

Usually, at about this time of year, I've finally caught up on all my 2018 award reading. That's not true this year.

Unfortunately a major personal issue came up and I only did about half the reading I wanted to. I'm sure I'm missing a lot of great stories that I just ran out of time for.

So I'm only going to make one suggestion this year, because I'm pretty certain that even if I hadn't gotten waylaid, this one would have made my top five for the year.

And that's "Strange Waters" by Samantha Mills, which was published over in Strange Horizons in April of last year. It's a great short story about a woman adrift in time, trying to find her way back home to her children, and I love the ending.

Monday, January 28, 2019

My Favorite Anime of 2018

In the final installment of my 2018 entertainment round-up, let's cover my favorite TV anime of 2018, restricted to a list of my Top 10. I didn't watch any sequels this year, surprisingly enough, but there are spin-offs.

Unless mentioned otherwise, all series completed their runs in 2016. Anime listed are not ranked, but presented in the order I watched them. My top three picks of the year are marked with an asterisk (*).

Hakata Tonkatsu Ramens

In a city where organized murder is so prevalent that everybody seems to have a hand in it, a group of criminals themselves are just doing their jobs as they get pulled into various cases, usually involving the hitman, Lin. Despite their grisly line of work, most of the ensemble cast is upbeat and fun to be around. Don't go looking for an overarching plot, but each of the mini-arcs is well done.

Real Girl *

I thought I would dislike the idea of a nerd who prefers 2D women to meet a fashionable real girl who wants to date him, because it smacks of wish fulfillment, but this series isn't that kind of show at all. Rather, Iroha is an outcast in her own way (everyone assumes that with her looks she must have slept around) and Hikari is an outcast because he kept liking comics and children's anime long after it was socially acceptable to do so. The series is mostly about them learning how to date each other, and all the highs and lows that come with this being the first serious relationship for both of them. (Edit: I forgot that Real Girl got a second season this year! So it's still going.)

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These

This series ends at a really uncomfortable spot, being that it's in the middle of a major battle. Unlike most anime where a battle is a one and done affair, this is "battle" on the scale of a war so it's the kind that lasts for weeks. If you like your space opera, this is a remake of the ten ton gorilla of anime space opera, but oddly doesn't finish covering the first book of the source material. It's supposed to wrap up in a trio of movies later this year, but I can't imagine how they'll cover all ten books when the TV series didn't cover one. It's an excellent appetizer, and the updated designs are really nice, but it can't stand on its own. Fortunately for the curious, the books are being translated.

Caligula

Caligula is a bit of a hot mess, but it's the rare RPG-to-anime adaptation that completely throws out the concept of watching the storyline of the game. You still have students trapped in a VR world trying to get home, but the series makes a lot of smart decisions in breaking up when everyone gets their powers and how Ritsu gets involved with the Go Home Club. Though I haven't played the game, I know enough about RPG tropes to realize where some of the changes had to have been, and I think more adaptations need to take those kinds of chances. Unfortunately, the second half of the series turns into a mess right up until a better than expected finale.

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku *
This is a total guilty pleasure series. If you are a geek of some kind and have similarly geeky friends, you will probably see yourselves in this series. Narumi wants to start dating again, after getting dumped by a boyfriend who discovered her nerd life as a fujoshi. Fortunately she's reunited with her childhood friend Hirotaka at her new job, and he puts himself out there as a potential boyfriend, because he's a fellow nerd who is sympathetic to all the nerd problems she has (like helping her with a special event in an online game before it goes away).

Darling in the Franxx

I wanted to like Darling in the Franxx, and for the first half I really did. I liked the idea of mecha that had to be piloted in pairs, and the interesting worldbuilding where children didn't seem to exist outside of the pilots. It even raised the issue of what happens when the pilots aren't necessarily straight, but have to partner with the opposite sex (though it could have handled it much better). It was good, cheesy fun, especially since all the kids are on the verge of puberty with puberty problems, but aren't equipped to handle them. Unfortunately the tail end of the series gets really rushed and ends with more of a whimper than a bang.

Violet Evergarden

This was probably the most gorgeous animated series I saw all year. At its heart, it's a tale about an emotionally damaged girl learning how to grieve, but after a strong beginning, it sags in the middle, before coming back for a solid ending. I wanted to like it more, but I found the middle to be pretty forgettable and Violet's adjustment to normal life to be a little too easy from where she started in the beginning.

Persona 5: The Animation

I debated whether or not to include this since the series properly ends with the second TV special in March of this year, but I probably won't remember to include the series in next year's round-up. This is an adaptation of the Persona 5 video game and largely follows an identical plot. Some condensation is done where it makes sense, and Akechi's role in the story has been amped up. The TV series itself ends at a shocking point in the game (I'll refrain from spoilers), which I applaud since it could be an ending to someone who doesn't know better, but obviously the story continues. As an adaptation it's pretty vanilla and doesn't take too many risks. If you like the game you'll probably like the anime.

Today's Menu for the Emiya Family *

This series would make me hungry, so clearly the only solution was to watch it while I was already eating. It's a pretty fun short anime (each episode is less than 15 minutes) set in an alternate universe of Fate/stay night where masters and servants live relatively peacefully together and most of the characters are friendly if not actually friends. Each episode features a recipe that viewers can make at home, either by extrapolating from the instructions in episode or by following the directions on the series' web page (unfortunately only in Japanese).

Boarding School Juliet

Boarding School Juliet is unusual for a romantic comedy because Romio and Juliet get together in the first episode, but after that they need to hide their relationship from all the other kids at their school since they hail from rival nations and their campus is similarly fractured. There are one too many boob jokes, but I really like a teenage comedy where the fun isn't in seeing how the couple come together, so much as seeing how they learn to date each other. The fact that Juliet can more than hold her own against Romio and the rest of Black Doggy House is also a plus.

Monday, January 21, 2019

My Favorite Games of 2018

My gaming backlog is something impressive, as I typically buy a few more than I can play in any given year, and then those extras build up. The result is that I rarely play any game in its year of release unless it's a part of a favorite series, and even then, depending on how busy I am, a much anticipated game might get postponed.

But I'm not adverse to playing older games. As long as the gameplay is still there I generally don't care.

These are the 9 games I liked enough to finish for the first time in 2018, in the order I played them. If the game is available on multiple platforms, the one I played on is listed first. My top three picks of the year are marked with an asterisk (*).

Valentines Otome (PC)

This is a cute indie project primarily done by two people, and it shows. But even though it's a bit rough around the edges it has a lot of heart and is definitely worth checking out. Rough edges aside, it's better than some professional stuff I've played. Valentines Otome is pay what you want, and the developer is adamant that it's fine if you just download for free, but any funds paid will go towards the development of future projects. So if you like their work, please throw them a few bucks to help them on their way.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (PS Vita, PS4, PC) *

Though the pacing is a bit off in this latest Danganronpa entry, it's a solid member of the series. It's difficult to talk about without giving away spoilers, so all I'll say is that if you liked the previous games, seriously, go play this one. While you supposedly can go in as a series newbie, the final twist at the end will have so much more impact for the series veteran. Definitely the most meta commentary of all the games thus far. It's probably my second favorite in the series, after the original.

PRICE (PC)

PRICE is a free to play gothic point and click mystery that will probably take one or two hours to finish depending on the player's speed at finding all the clues and putting them together. There isn't much to it beyond its moody atmosphere where the player is trying to get out of a locked room, but the mystery elements are quite good. While it's creepy, it is not outright scary (and I'm saying this as a person who hates jump scares).

Root Double: Before Crime * After Days (PC, PS Vita)

This was a cult hit in Japan, but barely made a splash stateside. It was particularly pitched to fans of the Zero Escape series, but only in the sense of its convoluted story. There aren't any puzzles to be found in this one, unless you're talking about figuring out the Sympathy Sensory System. (For your own sanity, use a spoiler free walkthrough.) There are definitely problems with this near future science fiction story, not the least of which is its patronizing view of women, but if you can get past that and the fact the narrative loves to remind you of previous events (before you have a chance to forget them), there's a surprisingly engaging story. Overall I liked it, but not without heavy caveats.

Code:Realize ~Future Blessings~ (PS Vita, also on PS4 as part of Bouquet of Rainbows compilation) *

This is a sequel/interquel to Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~, which is my all time favorite otome game. If you liked the first game, chances are you'll like ~Future Blessings~ as well. However, I should note that despite the wedding themed opening movie, only one of the guys gets a wedding route in the sequel portion of the game. Sholm├Ęs gets his own romance route, running parallel to the original game and Finis gets a similar brother route, which clears up several unanswered questions from the first game. ~Future Blessings~ is rounded out by a Lupin's Gang side story (a missing chapter as it were) that takes place during the common route of the original game.

Lost Dimension (PS Vita, PS3, PC)

Though not promoted as such, given the difference in genres, Lost Dimension has a premise aimed at fans of series like Zero Escape or Danganronpa where you can expect to get stabbed in the back, and unless you erase the traitors first, they will betray you. There's a lot to like here with how the protagonist uses his precognition abilities to manipulate results and discover the traitors hiding within their the ranks. The mechanics of the strategy/combat segments are solid, but the story really falls on its face and is hampered by the fact it requires a minimum of two playthroughs to get to an underwhelming true ending. It's not a bad game, but it could have been great if more thought had been put into the plot.

7'scarlet (PS Vita, coming to Steam in the future) *

It's otome, but don't let that fool you. Unraveling the secrets of the rural town of Okunezato is every bit as much or more compelling than the romance aspects of the game. The romance options are also fairly linear since the game locks them roughly in order of who knows the most about what's really going on, which works for the mystery angle, but could be frustrating for those more interested in the dating aspect. The game gets a little spooky at times, and does a great job with tension (particularly on Sosuke's route). If it had just hammered out a few plot issues it probably would have become one of my all time favorite games of any genre, but it's still solid as is.

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2, DS, PSP, PC, PS4, Switch)

This is an old one from my backlog that was mostly finished, but has been lingering for years. When Disgaea 1 Complete was released as the new definitive edition towards the end of 2018, my friend got it and that motivated me to dust off the PS2 and finish the original. The gameplay is a pretty hardcore tactical RPG and some level of grinding is necessarily to finish off the game, but it was still a fun ride in the end. The characters are endearing with their warped perspective of what it means to be a demon in a light-hearted version of the underworld. They also parody a lot of anime/tokusatsu tropes, so this works better if you have some grounding in Japanese pop culture.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight (PS4, PS Vita)

This was a total nostalgia trip, but I'm glad Atlus decided to take it. Persona 3 is still my favorite of the modern style of Persona games and was made before Persona 4 turned the series into the multi-genre franchise it is now. Because of that, any previous P3 spin-off material was done as a crossover with P4 (since they take place a few years apart in the same universe). Dancing in Moonlight is the first spin-off that is well and truly focused on the P3 cast. I'm not a great judge of rhythm games, but the gameplay is entertaining enough for a casual player and the nostalgia hits hard. My main complaint is that unlocking some of the social links is a little tedious.