Mighty No. 9: An Odyssey in Futility

It happened. Mighty No. 9 actually released last week after more than a year in delay. Despite the firestorm of criticism, I bought it, played it, and finished it. I’d like to give you my thoughts on the game, but first we should go through the odyssey the last few years have been.

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In September 2013, former Mega Man director Keiji Inafune and Comcept – the studio he founded after leaving Capcom – launched the Kickstarter for Mighty No. 9. It was truly a perfect storm. At the time, anti-Capcom sentiments were at a peak. The company had cancelled the highly anticipated Mega Man Legends 3 after Inafune’s departure and there was serious question as to Capcom’s status in the home console market amidst financial strife. Much like Konami has been the past year due to its divorce with Hideo Kojima, Capcom was a public enemy to gamers the world over.

This resulted in over $4 million in public funding through direct Kickstarter contributions and PayPal donations. On the final day of the campaign, Comcept held a livestream to watch the time tick down and the money pile up. I vividly remember that final hour. I recall one employee half-heartedly turning away from the camera and saying to another person, “I can’t believe how much money we’re making!”

I was one of those people – the backers. Twenty of that $4 million was from me. I feel comfortable with my reasoning at the time. As far as game directors go, Keiji Inafune was my first love. As a child, before I knew who even Shigeru Miyamoto was, I knew Keiji Inafune. He had given me Mega Man (or so I thought). He had given me my favorite game of my childhood: Mega Man X4So believe me when I tell you that the struggles and shortcomings of Mighty No. 9 are very real to me. The sentiments that I hold for Mighty No. 9 are not born from groupthink or Internet meme-culture.

After the game officially went into development, things were for the most part quiet. Backers were sent monthly updates. We were asked for input on occasion. Comcept for a short time did ask for more money to insure voice acting would be in the game and gauge interest in potential DLC. It wasn’t until the beta was released in late 2014 that conflict truly began to appear. Some voiced concern that the art style was unpleasing and that the gameplay was bland. I did my best to temper my expectations knowing that Comcept is still a young studio and this is still a budget game despite record crowdfunding.

As the initial spring of 2015 release window was closing, worries increased without Comcept locking down a release date. In April of 2015, it was announced that the game was delayed until September 15th but it came with the caveat that publisher Deep Silver would be bringing the title to retail with physical copies on PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U. Additionally, Deep Silver’s support meant that the planned voice acting and DLC would be funded. As a collector, I was pleased and could stomach the small delay in exchange for owning a physical copy of the game.

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However, backers soon learned that there would be no way to parlay our previously guaranteed digital version of the game for donating into a Deep Silver published physical copy. In other words, for people like me who prefer physical media, we would have to commit to essentially buying the game twice. This was an annoyance, but again, I could look past it. Physical copies were never promised to us. Deep Silver only stepped up as a publisher because of the immense support the game received at the time of its campaign.

What did get on my nerves was Deep Silver announcing a special
“Signature Edition” of the retail version a couple of months later with only 10,000 to be made. Backers were not informed by Comcept that a definitive collector’s edition was forthcoming and by the time it had been announced, it had quickly sold out at online retailers. The most dedicated and loyal of Comcept’s user base had been left out in the cold. Fortunately, before release, more of these became available (due to preorder cancellations) and once actual photos of the ‘signature’ box were revealed, it turned out to not be anywhere near worth the asking price.

Already damaged by lackluster beta footage and one delay, Comcept made a disastrous misstep in July of 2015. A pair of Kickstarters were launched for Red Ash: The Indelible Legend. Red Ash was an obvious attempt to recreate the Mega Man Legends series – right down to its name. In Japan, Legends is known as Rockman Dash. Red Ash? Re-Dash? Get it?

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The main Kickstarter for Red Ash failed and the side campaign for an anime based on the game barely succeeded. Almost nothing has been said of Red Ash since last summer, but as the Kickstarter was going down in flames, Comcept let it be known that a Chinese company –  FUZE – would be funding and publishing the game whether the Kickstarter failed or not.

While all of this was happening, rumors began surfacing of Mighty No. 9 not meeting its September 15th release. Think about that. Comcept had one crowdfunded game still in development after a delay with heavy speculation that it was going to be delayed yet again, but was coming to the public with another crowdfunding project at the same time. It’s no wonder why they went from one of the most successful Kickstarters of all time to falling nearly $300,000 short of funding a second game.

As these rumors were spreading, moderators on Mighty No. 9‘s backer-exclusive forum did their best to quell them and intentionally lied to backers. Shortly after the Red Ash campaign ended, the delay was officially confirmed. What a surprise that Comcept was ready to be honest once it was no longer accepting money from us.

In September, Comcept sent emails to backers that announced a February 9th, 2016 release date. It was explained that the game was in its final stages of development, but there were still bugs relating to online play on the aging engine they were using as well as port difficulties because they were developing for every platform. At this point, after being delayed into a completely different calendar year than originally planned, Mighty No. 9 had become a meme for Internet onlookers.

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In Comcept’s defense, due to just how many features they were promising and the plethora of platforms they were releasing on, Mighty No. 9 had grown to being a much larger project than originally intended. I find it ironic. The Kickstarter campaign had done so well that Comcept’s greed for more money led to them adding stretch goal after stretch goal to entice more money from the public. As people gave more and more, features were added to the game – including the online features that would plague development. What is the greatest irony? These features really were never necessary or desired by many players. I played through the game without doing anything relating to online play.

Against my better judgment, I began getting excited for Mighty No. 9 again in late January. I replayed Mega Man X a couple of times to remind me of Inafune’s greatest accomplishment. My skills and mindset were in tune to play one of these games again and accurately judge it. I was making plans for the game. Comcept and Deep Silver had been quiet. There was nothing from retailers to suggest the February 9th date wasn’t solid. Then, from seemingly nowhere, Mighty No. 9 was delayed for a third time. Even worse, it was delayed – at least according to Comcept – for the same reasons it was delayed the second time; online functionality still wasn’t working properly.

At that point, the game could not have a worse public image. Gamers far and wide, whether they ever planned to play the game or not, despised Mighty No. 9 and all it stood for. Mighty No. 9 was a publicly funded game marred by delays, public relations incompetence, and sheer tone-deafness at its own identity. And it wasn’t all on Comcept. Deep Silver had its own hand in hurting the game’s image late in the process.

But then it finally happened. Mighty No. 9 ‘went gold‘ and released on June 21st, 2016. However, “released” is actually a generous term. The Vita and 3DS versions still are not finished and it isn’t known when they ever will be (my backer code is for the 3DS version, by the way). The Mac, Linux, and Xbox 360 versions also were not ready to go directly on day one. So technically, on release day, Mighty No 9 was only on half of the platforms that its Kickstarter campaign promised.

Believe it or not, to say Mighty No. 9 came out on five platforms last Tuesday is even generous still. The Wii U version launched with massive functionality issues as rumors of users having their consoles “bricked” were spread. The bricking rumor (which would mean consoles becoming inoperable) was largely debunked, but many users reported hard crashes and having to unplug their console.

The talk of Mighty No. 9‘s development struggles being solely about online functionality had been disproven. The game has real issues across all platforms in regular gameplay. Speaking from first hand experience, I was fortunate enough to not experience any bugs, but did see some performance problems on PlayStation 4 regarding frame pacing. For a side-scrolling game without the best visuals, that is unacceptable.

Yet all of this could have been forgiven by me if the game was just good. If Mighty No. 9 just played at the level of its predecessors, such as the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero series (the latter of which was developed by Inti Creates who has fingerprints on Mighty No. 9), then at the end of the day, I could look past the three years of frustration and imperfect game build. But it doesn’t play like those games.

Mighty No. 9 is not a good game.

In three sittings over the course of 72-hours, I played through and finished Mighty No. 9 last week. The further I got in the game, the worse it became.

Note: I played through the Mighty Numbers stages in order of 1-8

At its core, Mighty No 9‘s gameplay design is very foreign to me. To put it simply, in this game you shoot enemies into a damaged state and then absorb them by dashing through them. The entire game is designed around this mechanic. What that means to me as a Mega Man veteran is that because of the speed level, it’s not accurate to compare Mighty No. 9 to the classic series. It’s closer to the X, Zero, and ZX series in terms of gameplay, but lacks the wall jumping feature from those games which – in Mighty No. 9‘s case – makes level traversal more difficult and arduous than it had been in older games. Beck instead can jump to and hang on ledges to steadily scale walls up or down. And, yes, that is as big of a downgrade compared to wall jumping as it sounds.

Something that immediately struck me as off was the fact that the dash feature was not mapped to one of the face buttons, but instead to the right bumper (R1 on the Dualshock 4). This made no sense to me. Anyone who’s extensively played Mega Man X knows that it should be mapped to the right face button – ‘A’ on a SNES controller and Circle on a PlayStation controller. In previous games, this was because with one motion of your right thumb, you could easily transition from dashing to jumping to shooting.

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A= Dash, B= Jump, Y= Shoot

This unusual discrepancy is inconsequential because you can remap the buttons to your liking, but it struck me as a concern. It was a sign that Mighty No. 9 wasn’t completely in-tune with what made the games it was trying to be a spiritual successor to fun. In fact, this became a growing theme with the game.

If you’re a fan of Mega Man X, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t seen Egoraptor’s Sequelitis video on the game.

I don’t see eye-to-eye with Egoraptor on a lot of things, but there is a very good point made in terms of what conventions from Mega Man Classic remained in Mega Man X. The series is known for having amazing controls to this day. For nearly 30 years, Mega Man has had perfect movement speed, jump arcs, and character weight. Mega Man epitomizes what it means when a 2D game has “tight” controls. Mighty No. 9 throws that idea in the trash.

I cannot tell you how many times I died directly due to the fact that Beck controls like a feather. Everything is just so floaty. The dash feature, which should make the game more navigable, can sometimes be your worst enemy. It can be difficult to gauge just how far it will take you. The dash also makes you more vulnerable than usual, so if you’re hit during it, expect to be stopped in the middle of your tracks and sent flying backwards. Additionally, you cannot attack while dashing. This annoyance is compounded by the fact that like the original 1987 Mega Man game Mighty No. 9 features no ‘damage boost,’ meaning if you get hit and then fall into a spike trap or the equivalent, you’re instantly dead. There is no invincibility period when it comes to that.

I said it’s a foreign game to me because over the years, I’ve adapted to the mindset that Mega Man games with dashing functions were best played as quickly as possible. Don’t fight what you don’t need to. If things can be jumped over, then jump over them. Mighty No. 9 has similar mechanics, but is predicated on fighting everything you see so that you can absorb the enemies, get temporary upgrades, and increase your high score. It’s as though the dash was built solely for absorption and the designers were discouraging the player from using it to aggressively transverse the level. In other words, even though this game has a dash and the level flow of a Mega Man X game, play it slow and methodically like a classic series game. Again, it makes me question whether or not Comcept truly understands how players play the games that they were trying so hard to emulate.

Mighty No. 9 is a legitimately difficult game. Some of that comes from design. Some of it is from just how poorly realized its mechanics and levels are. To my fellow Mega Man fans out there that haven’t played it, I give you my word that the difficulty is real to even players like us and not just to those who haven’t spent countless hours playing this kind of genre.

Difficulty can be a good thing when what you’re playing feels rewarding. Mighty No. 9 has some stages that are average for what you’d expect in a game sought over by Inafune. Other stages are unmitigated disasters. Countershade (Mighty No. 8) comes to mind instantly.

This stage is one big circle that has the player going from room to room searching for Countershade who is sniping you from a distance. When you find him, you get a couple of shots in and repeat the process. In the later encounters, the room he appears in has instant-death traps strewn about for an easy kill to make you repeat the entire process from the beginning. If he appears in the beginning room, it’s especially deadly.

I cannot think of any level in a Mega Man game that is a bigger disaster than this. There’s no thought to the enemy placement. You feel obligated to kill everything you see because you know you’re probably going to be doubling back through these rooms later. It’s incredibly easy to suffer a cheap death and start the whole level over due to the lack of damage boosting. To top it all off – or perhaps to soften the blow – once you do get to the actual boss fight, Countershade is ridiculously easy. I don’t think he hit me more than once.

That stage is not alone. Brandish’s stage (Mighty No. 7) has you car hoping on a speeding freeway. With the way damage works in this game, one hit could mean an instant death as if you were playing Ninja Gaiden on NES. What’s really wrong here is that you can be punished for going too fast. Brandish will appear throughout the level to destroy pre-determined vehicles. One vehicle in particular allows you to land on it and then shortly after speeds off screen; causing you to either go backwards to another car or fall to your death.

In Seismic’s stage (Mighty No. 4), one section has you destroying barrels to progress as a large drill encroaches on you from the left side of the screen. One of the barrel placements is nearly impossible to destroy unless you have the shooting upgrade from having absorbed an enemy or Patch (the helper robot) gave it to you upon re-spawning. The barrels are also destructible using some of the skills you gain from beating bosses, but if you had come to this stage first, passing this segment would have felt like blind luck. The way to do it without any upgrades or skills is to make use of the ‘action’ feature that allows Beck to jump backwards and shoot towards the ground when you hit the right trigger button. But this feature is so seldom used and never taught to you that passing that section may as well be up to chance.

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Yes, there are things in Mighty No. 9 that are simply not taught to you through gameplay. Did you watch the Egoraptor video? A lot of that video is done to ultimately make the point that so much of what the player needs to know is taught through the level design of the the very first level – the iconic Highway Stage. Mighty No. 9 instead has a bunch of tutorials hidden on a side menu in the stage select. And when I say “a bunch,” I mean there are literally dozens of things to read about regarding the game’s mechanics. It may as well be a PS1-era user manual.

The ‘action’ feature is one of the most useless functions I’ve seen in a game like this. The type of enemy placement in this game really is no different than previous Mega Man series outside of it not being as well thought out. You didn’t need a new angle to attack enemies from, which is why I may not have destroyed a single enemy with this feature. What’s worse is, due to the Dualshock 4 having analog triggers, depending on how you hold the controller and how tensely you play, you can accidentally trigger this function with the slightest pressure.

That feature is not alone in being nearly useless. I found little to no use for nearly every skill I gained from beating the Mighty Numbers. Like in Mega Man games, the skills you gain will give you an advantage over a boss who is weak to that skill. I found myself never needing to do that because truth be told, the bosses were fair enough to beat with just the standard buster. Only Aviator (Mighty No. 6) and the final boss had me experimenting with the skills to find an easier way. On top of that, the skills are difficult to use, in my opinion. The old system of cycling through them with the bumpers in Mega Man X was far more simple and easy to use on the fly than what Mighty No. 9 did. Basically the cycling feature works on a visual idea of up and down rather than left and right. Plus you have to hit an extra button to actually equip the skill and un-equip to go back to the buster. You also can’t change what’s equipped through the pause menu.

One thing you can do through the pause menu is consume the equivalent to E-Tanks/Sub Tanks. However, how you acquire those tanks is much different. The ‘I’ and ‘II’ tanks are found through absorbing enemies. So if you do your due diligence and destroy lots of enemies on your way to a boss, you can get there with what are essentially two lifelines. The problem with this, however, is that like any other upgrade you get from absorption, they disappear on death. This means when you die on a boss, you will be lucky to have even one tank if the helper bot, Patch, gives you one upon re-spawning. Against the final boss in particular, if Patch is unkind and the three goodies it spits out don’t include a tank, you may as well throw that attempt in the trash.

This is a maddening piece of game design. In previous games, Sub and E-Tanks were a commodity that the player valued and stored. As long as you didn’t get a game over, you could pile up to nine E-Tanks in the Classic series and use them against bosses to your heart’s content. In X, the Sub Tanks were unaffected by death and how you managed them was completely up to your skill of knowing how to fill them and when was the optimal time to use them. In Mighty No. 9, whether you have one may be up to complete blind luck. I realize I’m stumbling into a trope of modern gaming right now, but I ask you to think of Dark Souls. Imagine if in a Dark Souls game whether or not on your next boss run you would get to use your Estus Flask was completely up to chance. Imagine if when you re-spawned at a bonfire there was a little troll there deciding whether or not to give you the flask on this life. That’s what happens in Mighty No. 9.

And again, nowhere is this more frustrating than the final boss. At best, I could get to halfway through its second form on only one life bar. To finish it off, I would need a tank. It also isn’t as though the final boss was interesting or thrilling to fight.

Spoilers ahead, obviously.

Dare I say, there may not be a final boss worse than that in the entire Classic, X, Zero, or ZX series. Everything about it was just so uninspired from its art design, the attack patterns of the first form, the first form not having a unique boss song, and the overall apathy I had at the significance of the fight in the story.

The story itself was lukewarm mush that I could barely care to follow. There was the obvious homage to the very first Mega Man: Beck is robot forced to take up arms against his brothers and sisters from the same creator just as Rock had to become Mega Man to stop six of Dr. Light’s other creations in Mega Man. But the ultimate payoff as to why the Mighty Numbers were malfunctioning and what was the root of the problem felt mailed-in by whoever wrote the story. The entire endgame felt very rushed and incoherent.

Furthermore, the storytelling itself was bad. Cutscenes were done with the already poorly done 3D-models of characters interacting with static mouths.

It just looked far poorer than it was probably intended to. If it wasn’t in the budget to do fully animated scenes, it would have been a better idea to have presented the dialog like a storybook with characters’ portrait arts speaking – like you see in JRPGs and similar to Mega Man X8.

Still, I don’t want to give you the impression that there is nothing positive in Mighty No. 9. There are good things in this game. For one, I like that you could use the tanks without pausing by hitting the Dualshock 4 trackpad (I assume it’s the equivalent of ‘select’ on other platforms). The Mighty Numbers you defeat are not killed, unlike the Robot Masters and Mavericks of the older series. This means once the other bots are defeated and cured of their malfunctions, they re-join your team, in a way. The Mighty Numbers can then aid Beck in helping clear future stages. For example, Dynatron (Mighty No. 3) came to my aid in turning off electrified death traps in Countershade’s stage. This was a really cool feature and a throwback to stages being affected by other stages you’ve cleared like in the original Mega Man X. However, this concept also meant there wasn’t a traditional boss rush before the final boss. I can take or leave that custom, to be honest. There is a boss rush mode available after you beat the game.

The boss fights were, for the most part, fine (the final one aside). Again, nearly every bosses was perfectly beatable using only the buster. Each fight did invoke a nostalgic feel of fighting a Mega Man Classic boss and trying to win the ‘health-bar race’ against my foe. On average, boss fights were never too easy or too difficult (Mighty No. 1 Pyrogen having an instant-kill not withstanding). In fact, I’d say the stages themselves were tougher than the bosses, which makes me again wonder if they were meant to be that way or just came out that way due to faulty design.

Music was hit and miss when it comes to what I expect from Inafune’s games. Some tunes were catchy and others were forgettable. I would say Mighty No. 9 has better music than the average video game, but it doesn’t stack up well against several Mega Man games. I will have to listen back in the future to get a better handle on this topic.

There are other things that bother me that I don’t hold against the game. For example, I really dislike the art direction and choice to make it a 2.5D game. But with that said, those things don’t make or break whether or not the game is actually good. Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is going for a similar look, but its latest gameplay demo looks far better than Mighty No. 9 ever did pre-release. Bloodstained, too, has Inti Creates working on it.

That leaves us with the whys and hows. Why did Mighty No. 9 end up the way it did? I’m only in the position to speculate. A lot of negative things are said about Keiji Inafune these days. There is an unmistakable narrative that he is a conman that cares more about his games being fiscally successful than he does them being critically successful. You may have seen or at least heard of this infamous Hideki Kamiya tweet.

Kamiya, a legendary director in his own right (Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, etc.), has multiple times blasted his former Capcom colleague on Twitter.

Though Kamiya is normally very outspoken and brash on Twitter, he isn’t wrong. In fact, a backer thought Kamiya was so not wrong about Mighty No. 9 that they had their name appear in the credits as “Kamiya was right.” And I have to agree with Mighty No. 5040. Kamiya was right in calling Inafune a businessman but not a creator. At the very least, in present time, that is the case.

From my perspective, Inafune and Comcept have been obsessed with making Mighty No. 9 (and Red Ash included) a financial success for their company. That’s why there’s been talk of Mighty No. 9 getting a sequel, an animated series, a live-action movie, and anything else you could think of. Mighty No. 9 was met with such a positive reception that the mindset has always been to parlay it into the most profitable franchise it could possibly be rather than making the best one-time product Comcept could make and then taking it from there. That is why, in my opinion, we got one of the most disappointing games in history. The focus and attention to detail simply was not there, nor do I think all $4 million was properly invested into the product we received.

And you know what? I understand. I can get where Inafune and Comcept are coming from in that regard. Comcept is a small studio. Since its founding, all Comcept had done was co-develop on titles like Soul Sacrifice and Ninja Gaiden for Vita on the behalf of publishers. Mighty No. 9 was to be their first intellectual property to see the light of day. Its financial, longterm success will undoubtedly have an impact on a lot of people’s livelihoods. Trying to put the property in the best position to succeed by securing licensing deals and whatever else is understandable – but not at the cost of making a subpar game or lying to the people who donated to your cause.

In the end, Mighty No. 9 leaves me wondering what happened to the man who created Mega Man X or whether that man existed at all and was just a mirage created by a multitude of talented people working under him for years. Keiji Inafune has always had an inflated legacy. He’s often credited for being the father of Mega Man when the man truly responsible for the first game was its director, Akira Kitamura. Kitamura also directed the legendary Mega Man 2 which is often still heralded as the best game in the entire franchise. Inafune was just an artist at the time who made it all come to life.

Even still, when I think of Inafune’s true accomplishments, I think of X. The first Mega Man X is still one of the best games ever made in my opinion, and Inafune certainly was a creative force on that from art direction, to concept, and game design. How is it that this creator – who would also spearhead Mega Man Legends and Mega Man Zero – could now be revered as nothing but a businessman?

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Sadly, I wish I could say “never again” to Keiji Inafune, but I can’t. In September, a game codeveloped by Comcept and Armature Studio will launch for Xbox One and Windows 10: ReCore. How much of that game has actually been developed by Comcept is very questionable to me seeing as Armature is stationed right here in my hometown of Austin, Texas. A Polygon article from last year makes it seem that Comcept is handling philosophy while Armature does the legwork. Armature has a respectable legacy and ReCore has looked exciting, so I can say I will buy at least one more game with Keiji Inafune’s name on it in my lifetime.

That, of course means I’m not completely against buying a Mighty No. 9 sequel, Red Ash, or any other Comcept developed game. I always urge people to keep an open mind and at least wait until release before burying a game. If the sequel does come, I’ll wait for people I trust to actually play it before making a decision on whether to give Comcept another chance.

I also would like to put a word in to not discount the crowdfunding process just because of Mighty No. 9. Crowdfunding is a dangerous new concept in gaming and I understand why people are weary of it. Those that buy-in are taking part in the ultimate preorder; paying for a game in full (and sometimes more) before it’s even developed based on faith. Preordering itself has a growing, negative stigma in gaming due to the belief that it leads to developer and publisher complacency. It’s easy to understand why crowdfunding can be viewed in an even worse light.

I’d argue that the positives crowdfunding has done for gaming outweigh the negatives as of today. The success stories, big and small, in my view outnumber the missteps. It ultimately falls on the shoulders of the individual to make the decision to fund a game or not. I respect those that choose not to ever crowdfund on the basis of principle. However, I do not think it’s a practice that should go away just because it isn’t perfect. I’d hate to see true creators be left out in the cold because some have abused the process or let their donors down in some way.

Concerning us Mega Man fans, we must continue to wait. As far as I’m concerned, we have still yet to receive a proper Mega Man game, homage or otherwise, in several years – unless of course you count Shovel Knight (a great game made possible by crowdfunding). Sadly, I suspect the next Mega Man game proper by Capcom will either be on mobile or, perhaps even worse, be licensed out and based on the animated series coming in 2017.

Then again, maybe the next game will be a proper effort. Capcom, for as evil as it seemed a few years ago, has not given up on Street Fighter. Capcom hasn’t given up on Resident Evil. There’s even rumblings of Devil May Cry returning in the future. Maybe – just maybe – our favorite blue bomber will be given his just due again. I would say there’s never been a better time in the last five years to begin development on a new game than now; in the wake of Mighty No. 9‘s heartache.

But until the time comes, I will keep playing my older favorites and wishing our friend a peaceful sleep.

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Persona 4 Golden LP Completed

The 2016/2017 (thanks again Atlus USA) Persona 5 Hype Train rolls right along. Persona 4 Golden is now in the books.

Just like P3, it is a max Social Link run on New Game+ to take advantage of the game’s optional boss fight. Footage is captured from the PlayStation TV at 1080i and de-interlaced to 1080p using the XRGB Mini Framemeister.

Starting tomorrow, the next stop on the P5 Hype Train delves us deep into the realms of romance…

Persona 5 May-June Roundup

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It’s been quite a while since I posted something solely about Persona 5. Unless of course you follow me on Twitter, where I literally cannot shut up about it. And while it has only been about a month and a half, in the world of P5, it feels like ages since the Tokyo Tower event given just how much more we’ve learned about the game. Be prepared to read a small novel below.

The most important thing to come out is that the English version of the game will release on February 14th, 2017 in North America as Atlus USA looks to ‘take the hearts’ of the western audience on Valentine’s Day. There are still no concrete plans for European publishing and it isn’t looking good. I know this is frustrating to our European friends, but I must once again remind you that the PlayStations 3 and 4 are not region locked and urge you to import the game from America if you want a physical copy. If you’re fine with a digital copy, you can easily set up a North American PSN account, buy NA PSN credit through a third party, and download the game on launch. Either route is costly, yes, but this is Persona 5. It is worth it for not having to wait who knows how long to see the game get a proper PAL release.

Honestly speaking, a 2017 release date is gut wrenching to me. Again, if you follow me on Twitter, you know I did not have kind words for this announcement. Atlus is a frustrating company. Its problems with getting its games on shelves in Europe are well known, but beyond that it still seems as though the parent company keeps its western branch in the dark. Atlus is a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

The localization window for P5 is the same as it was for P4 back in 2008, which is painful to see because of how much the Persona franchise has grown and the fact that Atlus is now married at the hip with Sega – a major developer and publisher in the industry. Surely, I thought, this would mean a quick localization turnaround for the largest release in the history of the company. I was hopeful for an October release with the first week in December being the absolute latest. February is soul crushing.

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In Atlus USA’s defense, they have been rather busy. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir released recently and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is out this week. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse will be out in September. And finally, much to their credit, Atlus USA will also be localizing and publishing Caligula for next year. That alone bought them a lot of forgiveness from me.

Speaking of P5 being worth it, I should say that I will not be waiting until February to begin my journey with the Phantom Thieves. I will be one of several American players importing the Japanese version in September and the plan right now is to stream at least the opening hours of the game live on Twitch. I plan to do so with a digital copy of the game, meaning I should be able to play it once it’s September 15th in Japan.

Keep in mind that I don’t know the language, so this may not be the best idea. I do have at least some experience in this. The last time I played the Japanese version of a game prior to its American release was Mega Man Battle Network 5 all the way back in 2005. With the help of some external guidance and my knowledge on the series, I was able to finish the game and not feel like I had missed on any part of the experience. The hope here is that will also be true for Persona 5.

If you’re interested in importing the game, then here’s a guide from Persona Central with all the available retailers. Keep in mind many of the retailers also have exclusive pre-order goodies as well. TRADUKO Soft will also provide a guide for helping us blind players learn the basics and finding our way through the game’s standard features.

(pst, follow Mystic)

And of course, while I and others won’t be posting spoilers, the Persona Twitter community will certainly be talking a lot about the game on the down low, so you don’t have to be alone in trying to figure the Japanese game out.

Now let’s really get into the game by talking about our cast of characters. The three new young ladies from May were revealed to be Makoto Niijima, Futaba Sakura, and Haru Okumura.

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Their Personas? Johanna, Necronomicon, and Milady, respectively.

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Makoto and Haru are each third-year students; making them your Senpai. Futaba is the age of a first-year, but it still isn’t clear whether she attends Syujin High like most of the other Phantom Thieves as she’s never been depicted wearing anything resembling the school’s uniform.

Then there’s the ninth and final party member revealed on June 15th as part of Atlus’ presence at E3: Goro Akechi.

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Goro, who I stupidly thought might be Ken Amada, is a high school aged detective (real original there, Atlus). His name is either inspired by or a play on the name Kogoro Akechi – the Japanese Sherlock Holmes if you will who has appeared across Japanese fiction for years (including Lupin III). His codename amongst the Phantom Thieves is “Crow.” That’s all we know so far. I still have suspicions about Goro and what could possibly be so special about him that details about him are so scarce, but we’ll save that for another time.

Also revealed on June 15th was the name of the new social system: Cooperation. “Cooperation” had been part of the main menu UI seen all the way back in PV01, but my prevailing thought at the time was that it had to do with online play similar to Persona 4 Golden and Persona Q. Instead, it replaces the Social Link system (at least in name). From Hashino’s interview back in February, we learned that a lot of research had been done in improving the social system, so I’m sure the name change coincides with whatever functional changes that have been made as well.

Three ‘links’ or whatever you’d like to call them were also revealed: Munehisa Iwai (Hanged Man), Sojiro Sakura (Hierophant), and Tae Takemi (Death).

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Tae and Munehisa were also each in PV01 as vendors. Munehisa runs a weapons shop and Tae runs a medical clinic. Sojiro is the main character’s caretaker and a friend to his parents. Of course, he also has the same surname as Futaba. As far as I know, there’s no concrete evidence as to what the relation is, if there’s one at all. However, it is interesting to me that one of the recent screenshots of what appears to be a Cooperation event with Futaba shows her in the MC’s room (with Morgana still present) and there doesn’t appear to be a romantic context. Could Futaba be moving into the home in the middle of the game? Or perhaps she’s there from the beginning and there’s ultimately more than meets the eye about the young hacker.

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One quirky thing about the design of the new arcana is that Tae’s card appears to be drawn with the Roman numeral XIV even though Death’s numeral is XIII. Mystic explained to me this is likely an allusion to the significance the number four and the association with death it carries in Japanese culture due to the words for each sounding similar. It may be that the numeral was drawn to look like both numbers, even though it is in actuality still XIII.

In addition to Cooperation, another big gameplay mechanic was revealed during E3. The traditional Megami Tensei demon negotiation system is back in Persona.

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Given P5 returns to the old way of fighting demons/Personas rather than the Shadows seen in P3 and P4, this was a logical step. Now when the player successfully knocks down all enemies on the field, they will enter what’s called a “Hold Up” (a phrase used for robberies) and have the option of going for an All Out Attack or beginning negotiations with a demon to earn either items, money, or convincing the demon to become a Persona for the main character. This in all likelihood means there is no variant of ‘shuffle time’ (seen in P3/P4) in the game.

Here are some quick-hitter notes about the game that have been revealed over the last month:

  • Romance is definitely still part of the social system.
  • The stylish screens we’ve seen for each character (Haru’s “Adieu” animation, the MC’s “The Show’s Over” screen, etc.) happen when a battle ends on an AOA.
  • When a battle ends normally, you get the result screen where the MC congratulates the team and runs off (seen in Hashino’s 5/5 interview).
  • The game has four difficulty settings at the start of a New Game: Safety, Easy, Normal, and Hard.
  • P5 has been given a C rating in Japan by Cero which is for ages 15 and up. It joins P4G as the only Persona games with that rating. Other games had ratings for younger audiences and up, which differs with how the ESRB has typically rated Persona in America.
  • There is online functionality. It will likely work similar to P4G’s. You can also see how other players answered questions you are asked in class.
  • Ann has been going back and forth between spelling variants of her name (Ann vs. Anne). The material at E3 had it spelled minus the ‘e’ which is what it was a couple months back prior to it being spelled Anne at the time of the Tokyo Tower event.
  • Through the Amazon Japan pre-order bonuses, it’s been revealed that Ryuji’s arcana is the Chariot.
  • The team’s melee weapons are as follows. MC: daggers, Ryuji: blunt objects, Ann: whips, Morgana: short swords, Yusuke: long swords, Makoto: fists/gauntlets, Haru: axes, and Goro is unknown.
  • Nuclear and telekinetic skills have been added to combat which do extra damage to enemies in a negative status.
  • Shigenori Soejima said at E3 that character designs for P5 have been in development since P4 was still being worked on.
  • A video at Atlus’ E3 booth had Morgana greeting guests with an English voice. The suspected actress is Cassandra Lee Morris.
  • The song featured in PV02 is a battle theme in the game and features vocals by Lyn. It may or may not play for every standard battle or only during ‘Chance’ states (player advantage). For example, in P4G the original P4 battle theme, “Reach Out to the Truth,” became the player advantage battle song whereas “Time to Make History” took over as the standard battle theme.
  • A woman appearing in magazine screenshots shortly after 5/5 shares the same surname as Makoto and appears to be a law/authority figure of some kind. Her role is unknown.
  • Maps can be found in Palace dungeons and Third Eye is used in P5 to aid the player in solving dungeon puzzles.

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Finally, we have another big Persona 5 event to look forward to on July 19th. The event is called “Take the Treasure” and will emanate from the Tokyo National Museum. Playable demos will be made for the first time and attendance is by invitation only through a signup in Japan. There will also be a live stream for it taking place at 6:30 am eastern time in the United States.

That’s all for now. At a future time, I’ll have another post with further speculations about the game and its story that can be made from analyzing the trailers we have so far.

Caligula to be Localized by Atlus USA

Dreams do come true.

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Caligula, the previously written about Vita JRPG launching in Japan next week, has been announced to receive English localization at the hands of none other than Atlus USA with a spring 2017 release in North America and Europe. The English version will be for digital download only and will keep the Japanese audio.

The game is being published in Japan by FuRyu and directed by Takuya Yamanaka. Tadashi Satomi, the scenario writer for the original Persona and both Persona 2 titles, is also the scenario writer for Caligula.

E3 2016 Reaction

With E3 winding down, it’s time I flush all these thoughts out of my brain. Who won? Who lost? Who cares?

If I had to say what conference was the best, I would say Sony. Sony’s keynote on Monday night was succinct and didn’t waste time to show games – overly long orchestra section to unveil the new God of War notwithstanding.  Sony had a couple of big announcements, showed more of games people expected to see, and generally did nothing but please. Oh, and we learned that Hideo Kojima’s new game will be called Death Stranding and stars Norman Reedus. Rest peacefully, Silent Hills.

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On the other hand, if I were to pick the one thing unveiled at E3 that was the biggest highlight, it would be Microsoft’s Project Scorpio. The rumored Xbox One upgrade was confirmed and is promised to be the most powerful home console in existence. If you’re apart of the PC master race that won’t matter to you. But for those of us in the console market, which I am proud to be apart of, the technical specifications of Microsoft’s new machine could make Xbox One the go-to system for multi-platform releases in the second half of generation 8.

Then again, even when Microsoft does have something cool to show at E3, they still can’t seem to get their house in order. There have been mixed messages regarding the future of Xbox. I’m focused on Phil Spencer’s comments that without a 4K television, the upgrade from a standard Xbox One to Scorpio isn’t worth it for current owners. This is despite the new system having been said to have a positive effect on games already released that have a varying resolution. Eurogamer’s Rich Stanton also explores what the divide in the Xbox family means moving forward.

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On Tuesday morning, Nintendo finally came out to play with its Nintendo Treehouse stream. The big N caught some flak leading up to E3 for choosing not to hold any sort of formal event and forgoing unveiling its new hardware – codename NX – set to release next March. Instead, Nintendo held its Treehouse stream to showcase its upcoming Legend of Zelda title which will release on both Wii U and NX. Now known to be fully named The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the new Zelda looked nothing short of amazing. I’ve been a detractor from modern Zelda for quite a while; publicly chastising the last major entry, Skyward Sword, at every chance I get (despite its critical acclaim). When it comes to Zelda, I’m not easy to please because I hold it to such a high standard due to it once being the most creative and innovative series under the best game developer in the world. Breath of the Wild gives me hope to see Zelda return to a true open world experience seen in the original Zelda and Link to the Past while adding in new design philosophies. Hopefully the era of the ‘Zelda formula’ and trying to recreate Ocarina of Time is dead. Call it the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Fresh Air.

The big three developers with conferences of their own – EA, Bethesda, and Ubisoft – didn’t do much to move the needle for me. EA wouldn’t shut up about sports. Bethesda is bringing back Quake and very subtly teased a new Wolfenstein. Ubisoft spilled the beans about Watch Dogs 2 leading up to E3 and was met with the public’s apathy.  

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Atlus brought Persona 5 to E3’s convention floor on Tuesday. I’ll cover everything that’s happened with P5 since the Tokyo Tower event last month at a later time. As far as E3 is concerned, floor goers were treated to new gameplay footage that dazzled.

Overall it was a good week. There are good games to look forward to, a shakeup in the console market, and best of all, P5 and Zelda looked awesome. Here’s my ranking of E3 games I’m looking forward to:

#10 Scalebound: Scalebound made the cut because I was afraid that if I didn’t include it, Hideki Kamiya would somehow find out and block me on Twitter. What was shown at Microsoft’s keynote didn’t blow me away, but I still think Kamiya and Platinum Games can deliver another great character action game.

#9 Watch Dogs 2: A lot of people think I’m crazy for not writing it off yet. Admittedly, some of Watch Dogs 2’s marketing is cringe worthy due to its outdated Internet culture references that just scream that it’s trying too hard. Still, I can’t help but wonder what if I had never given Assassin’s Creed II a chance just because the first game wasn’t great. Word is you can play through this game non-lethally. That’s a positive step. Hopefully Ubisoft can deliver the video game version of Person of Interest that I still want.

#8 Resident Evil 7: This is more a curiosity than anything else. RE7 looks more like a traditional survival horror game (ironically with P.T. influence) than it does a Resident Evil game – at least RE4 and onwards. The demo made available is getting mixed reviews. This is definitely a new chapter for Resident Evil and I applaud Capcom for taking a chance.

#7 The Last Guardian: TLG is coming in October of this year, which quelled suspicions that it would slip to 2017. The game continues to look artful and inspiring, just as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were. It won’t be long before we learn just how it measures up.

#6 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night: Koji Igarashi’s crowdfunded game quietly was present on the E3 floor. Everyone who donated $60 or more to the project received a download code for the E3 demo. I haven’t gotten to try it yet, but what I’ve seen looks great. IGA has truly continued the legacy he started while being the director of Castlevania.

#5 Cuphead: The 1930s Disney-inspired side-scroller didn’t get showcased like it did last year, but the latest gameplay video for E3 looks good. Its developer, tiny Studio MDHR, is still eyeing a 2016 release on Xbox One and PC. I look forward to experiencing their truly one of a kind game.

#4 Final Fantasy XV: This feels odd for me to write as a self-proclaimed “Not-a-Final-Fantasy-Guy.” FFXV’s decade long journey to release will end this September and I find myself being more and more impressed as I see it. I’ve never been a fan of Final Fantasy’s gameplay or storytelling, but FFXV is beginning to become a game that I feel I have to play in order to feel abreast with gaming as a whole. Hopefully all that Square Enix money and marketing will be backed up by a game worthy of it.

#3 ReCore: I’ve been quietly anxious about this game since it was revealed at last year’s E3. The Armature developed and Comcept guided title looks to be a unique addition to the Xbox One (and Windows 10) list of exclusive titles. I’ve been waiting to see the guys at Armature do a title this big since splitting off of Retro (makers of Metroid Prime). And while Mighty No. 9’s development has been a disaster, hopefully Keiji Inafune still has some creativity in him to aid to this project.

#2 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: What can I say that I haven’t already? The new Zelda looks great and we’ve only seen it on Wii U. I look forward to seeing how different and hopefully even better it is on NX. My excitement in Zelda and Nintendo has been restored.

#1 Persona 5: P5’s extended look at its average day gameplay left me hungry for more. Dungeon and battle gameplay is so much more alive than it was in P3 and P4. What has started as a grassroots movement among Persona fans is spreading to the general gaming world. Despite not getting shown on any conference or major stream, P5 rivaled Zelda for E3 buzz on Tuesday afternoon and nearly beat Zelda for Game of the Show. The hype is growing.

Sexism at E3: Real and Perceived

My goodness is that headline uncomfortable to write. Let’s be straightforward. I’m a man. Ethnically speaking, I identify as white because, while my bloodline isn’t completely true to that (hispanics are the fastest growing demographic if you haven’t heard), culturally, that’s what I am. I’m a millennial male devoid of any sort of significant ethnic heritage and fully assimilated to the American way of life. In other words, I am square in the middle of what’s considered to be the gaming industry’s key demographic.

So with that in mind, I have to be mindful of what I say regarding this topic. I don’t want to be misunderstood or have anyone put words in my mouth. On that note, at this very moment, there are people having heated discussions over sexism in the gaming industry in this country. I guarantee it.

There are a lot of ways to tackle this issue – a lot of instances and examples that can be covered. I’m focusing on one event (E3) and two games: Battlefield 1 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

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EA’s Battlefield 1 launches this fall as that series once again looks to dethrone Call of Duty as the most popular first-person shooter franchise. The game’s peculiar title stems from it being set during World War I – the first game of its stature to have the distinction of retelling one of the great wars in quite some time. Because of its historical reference point, EA let it be known that players would not be able to play as female characters in online co-op, as women largely (understatement) did not see combat during WWI. However, the game’s campaign mode, which is said to jump across multiple perspectives, will feature a woman’s perspective in some way.

Due to how relevant a topic sexism is in gaming today, EA quickly drew detractors. People were quick to point out women did serve in WWI.

During WWI, about 12,000 women enlisted in the United States Navy and Marine Corps. About 400 of those women died, though not necessarily due to combat. Keep in mind that the U.S. suffered over 116,000 military deaths during the war (over a third of which were directly in combat). So while it is true that there were women in the war, at least on the yankee side, it would be more correct to say that there were virtually no women.

Was EA’s choice to not have women in Battlefield 1’s co-op sexist? In my opinion, no it was not. Granted, co-op, in terms of storytelling, is a bit ephemeral. Are we to believe that each round of the countless co-op games that will be played in Battlefield 1’s history is an accurate representation of any given battle during the war? I suppose so, as ridiculous as that sounds. I’m not here to argue whether that’s feasible or whether the co-op should or shouldn’t be part of the ‘realism’ of Battlefield 1’s WWI inspiration. I merely think that is what EA would like you to believe and there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that.

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That brings us to Zelda. Nintendo’s famed franchise saw its first extended gameplay demonstration and title reveal this week. Many questions were answered about the long awaited game’s identity. One of those questions was whether or not this would be the first main Zelda game to give players the option to play as a female incarnation of the series’ iconic hero, Link. The answer was no.

Admittedly, this caught me by surprise. Nintendo has been a fairly progressive company when it comes to equality in the gaming industry and there had been a noticeable push from their public to include a female Link. That push was fueled in no small part by the fact that a female Link, known as Linkle, debuted in Hyrule Warriors Legends for Nintendo 3DS earlier this year.

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And yet come time for the main game, Linkle is nowhere to be found. Naturally, people had questions. Zelda director Eiji Aonuma had this to say:

“So yes, there were rumors [about a female Link], and we did discuss as a staff as to what would be possible if we took that route… We thought about it and decided that if we’re going to have a female protagonist it’s simpler to have Princess Zelda as the main character… If we have princess Zelda as the main character who fights, then what is Link going to do? Taking into account that, and also the idea of the balance of the Triforce, we thought it best to come back to this [original] makeup.”

If I’m understanding him correctly, and to be fair, I and the rest of the English speaking world may not be because these words were through an interpreter, he and his staff are of the opinion that the only proper way to have a female lead in a Zelda game would be for Zelda herself to be the player’s character. However, doing so would apparently emasculate Link and leave him without a purpose. I guess that means in their eyes, you couldn’t have a game where the roles are reversed: where Zelda goes on a quest to save or aid Link. That may be what he was referring to when he noted the balance of the Triforce; where Link has always represented the Triforce of courage and thus, to stay true to the universe and Zelda timeline, you could not have a passive character holding the Triforce of courage. When thought of that way, I can see what he means.

However, this still does not answer the real question, which is why Link, the character that holds the Triforce of courage, cannot be female. There remains no good answer as to why the player cannot simply choose to have their Link be male or female other than Aonuma and his staff just not wanting that to be a reality. At this point, you can only ponder why that is and I struggle to find a logical reason.

It’s ironic to me. Here I am, examining two major games showcased at E3. One, Battlefield, is in my mind, very much at the center of uber-masculine, violent gaming culture just as its rival Call of Duty is. Zelda on the other hand, is a classic Nintendo title predicated on artful design and storytelling alongside inspired, cutting edge design philosophies. Yet somehow, Battlefield is the game I’m defending and Zelda is the one that is coming off as sexist. No offense to EA and Battlefield players, but that’s really disappointing to me because I expect a lot more out of Nintendo and the Zelda franchise.

It is shameful. This issue and Aonuma’s comments, are a blemish on what was otherwise a perfect coming out party for Breath of the Wild. It’s not too late. The game isn’t releasing until March at the earliest to coincide with the launch of the NX platform. How difficult would it be to make this change? Perhaps too difficult, but I can wish. Regardless, I hope Nintendo feels blowback from this decision and Aonuma’s comments. This decision and what was said, are both incorrect from an ethical standpoint and a public relations standpoint.

Does keeping it the way it’s always been mean Zelda has always been sexist? I don’t believe so. But acknowledging that you were well aware of the public’s growing desire to see a female Link in the game but choosing not to make that available based on illogical, gender-biased reasoning is definition sexism. That is disappointing to even write. I am in no way a white knight for gender equality in gaming. But as I’ve made clear countless times through social media, I hold Nintendo and Zelda in particular to a higher standard in gaming. Zelda has once again let me down – only this time, it isn’t because they’re trying to make another Ocarina of Time clone.

Let’s Catch Up

If you’re reading this, then thank you. Because this is clearly not being advertised as any sort of news regarding the outside world. It is only about me and my personal life. If I interest you that much, then you deserve my gratitude.

The last month, despite being fairly lax in terms of time, has been rather tumultuous. I’ve alluded to this on Twitter, and will eventually be making a video about in July, but I recently was hit with my first strike on YouTube (and shortly after, my second). I don’t want to dodge responsibility. It was my fault and I should have been more careful. It is true that I upload a lot of copyrighted content, such as the P4 Animation clips, but I do so knowing that they’re already claimed by third-party networks and that I won’t make money on them. Basically, it means those content owners are okay with me using their stuff as long as they keep the money on it. That’s fair.

The strike, of course, came from Persona 5 related content. The first was in fact from Atlus Japan’s account. I suppose I could go fighting it to Atlus USA’s PR department, but I’d rather not shoot myself in the foot in resisting. Live and learn, as they say.

To tell the truth, I’ve never made a dime on YouTube. Where this really hurts is the loss of features; namely custom thumbnails and the ability to post videos longer than 15 minutes. That’s going to severely water down presentation starting in July.

I also plan on doing a round-up on P5 news, as the hype train just hit a major snag with North American release being announced for Valentine’s Day of next year. I’ll likely wait until after the new Dengeki PlayStation feature gets reliable translations.

Obviously, E3 is next week so I’ll have plenty of thoughts to share on that. Look forward to it.