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Pepsiman

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I beat P5 in Japanese about a month ago and can confirm there is absolutely a plot driven reason behind the voice change in that version, so this is just the localization staying consistent with that element. They do some pretty neat stuff with the voice, stuff that's kind of impossible to pull off in the same way in English for a variety of reasons I won't get into to avoid spoiling people, but suffice it to say I'm very curious to see how New English Igor pans out in that version as well.

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Pepsiman

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It wouldn't be my first choice for Xbox exclusives to remaster, either, but certainly from a preservation standpoint, it's nice that there'll be a version of that game out there that runs on contemporary hardware for posterity. I want to say progress is finally being made on original Xbox emulation in recent months, but it'll still be a long time before that system is in a good place for mainstream users looking to emulate those games, so in the interim, like someone else wrote, I can appreciate giving these quirkier games a second shot at life so that they don't truly wither on the vine in the interim. I'd say it's definitely indicative of the internal culture that Spencer has been able to cater that this sort of project is even possible to begin with now. It's nice.

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Pepsiman

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@majormitch: Hi! Sorry for the slow response. I never got a notification for some reason, so hopefully this isn't too late. Anyway, to respond to your questions:

1. Yeah, in terms of the actual gameplay flow and combat mechanics, IV and Apocalypse are very similar. There are appreciable refinements in Apocalypse, but they're only really noticeable if you've been playing SMT games for a pretty long time. IV by itself was already in many ways one of the best modern renditions of SMT's formula (and still remains super solid, naturally), but given how closely Apocalypse hews to that foundation, it's fair to say that it doesn't reinvent that wheel so much as just polishes it into an even smoother circle, so to speak. Very hypothetically speaking, you might find IV slightly harder to go back to in spots if you decided to go back and play it later (I know you said you're constrained for time), but that's mostly because Apocalypse's new additions mainly boil down to improving quality of life issues in the game. Otherwise, you can't go wrong either way since IV itself is only a three year-old game as it is; it hasn't had a whole lot of time to age to begin with.

2. Broadly speaking, no, your time commitment should be roughly the same regardless of which game you decide to pick up. IV probably has the potential to last you longer overall because it does have more story content to explore in the periphery (Apocalypse has side quests and stuff still, but I feel they were fewer and farther between), but if we speaking mostly in terms of clearing the critical path, both games are roughly the same length from what I remember. The routes that you choose to take towards the end of each game's storyline can impact your final time to a degree, but generally it's not that drastic; to my knowledge, the routes are balanced to take roughly the same amount of time to finish the game overall. There is a potential exception in the form of the neutral route by IV, which can definitely take more time to beat if you aren't prepared for it ahead of time, but it's pretty difficult to unlock that on your first run without consulting a guide (it's possible, speaking as someone who did it, but seemingly rare), so I wouldn't say it's a going concern since it'll be your first time wrapping your head around what makes mainline SMT games tick anyway.

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#4  Edited By Pepsiman

I played Apocalypse in Japanese, so I feel I can speak to the merits of both games. They each have their pros and cons, even if they're overall generally excellent at what they do. In terms of sheer mechanics and approachability, I definitely agree that Apocalypse is the more refined game overall, albeit not by that much, if only because IV was already a significantly polished game to play in a lot of respects. It's definitely true that it's a gentler introduction to the systems that define a Shin Megami Tensei game specifically versus Atlus' other games. The difficulty curve up front is toned way down in Apocalypse while still doing a solid job of getting you up to speed on how demon negotiations and the like work. (You're also able to switch between difficulty levels at any time, though I found that to be tempting much less often than in IV.) That being said, I do think the dungeons in Apocalypse are generally much more of a slog to get through compared to IV, even given that game's hard initial dungeon. The dungeons in the latter half of Apocalypse in particular get so tedious in terms of arbitrary traps and whatnot that you can't really plan ahead for that they nearly made me put the game down for good, especially the last two. Apocalypse features some of the worst Atlus dungeon designs in over a decade. They may have gone back and fixed some of these things for English localization, but I have no idea and given how rare it is for Atlus games to have significant content changes these days between versus, I'm doubtful it actually took place.

Narratively, like the others said, IV and Apocalypse go for pretty different things, so your mileage will potentially vary significantly depending on what sort of storytelling you like to get out of your RPGs. IV doesn't have nearly the same level of emphasis on character building that Persona games traditionally have; instead, the emphasis is more on world building, especially by way of talking to NPCs and engaging in sidequests. I still really like the main storyline in that game, but the characters themselves are largely archetypes that are designed to help you evaluate and explore moral issues within that world. It's totally an approachable game in its own right if you haven't played any of the other entries, but some (not all!) of the best parts of that story and how it's executed rely on you having previous experience with the older games, especially the first two games, of which only one has been made available in English officially through Atlus USA within the last few years. There are great little call backs to that history, but they're very easily missable if you don't have that experience beforehand, which I think is partly responsible for why that game's story wasn't well received in some circles.

Apocalypse, on the other hand, still has player choice and morality stuff built into it, but there's a much bigger emphasis on character development and the thematic stuff that it explores in relation to all that is at times arguably a lot closer to a traditional Persona game than an SMT one like IV is. I would personally argue it doesn't often do a particularly great job at re-exploring fairly worn territory and that it makes parts of that story weirdly hackneyed to a fault in ways you don't often see in other big Atlus games, but it's hardly an outright train wreck, either. It is, however, true that some of the major beats of the story do make significant references to characters and events in the previous game. Overall, it's mostly a standalone game, but some character cameos and plot twists might not feel quite as potent without that prior history. Either way, I would personally argue that you shouldn't come into this game expecting Persona-level character development and banter, but it's generally at least solid at what it does, even if I have my own misgivings about this change in stylistic direction on a personal level. I'll also say that I think the way the game is structured makes it feel like less of a grand adventure compared to IV; it doesn't really "go places" both literally and figuratively to quite the same extent, which I found to be pretty disappointing, but not an inherent deal breaker.

So, overall, I would say play Shin Megami Tensei IV if:

  • You don't mind a storyline where character development takes a bit of a back seat and you'll have to talk to NPCs and take up side quests in order to get the most out of its world building and back story. (I can say that a lot of my favorite moments from this game are from that axillary content, however, and that it's worth your time exploring if you have the time, energy, and motivation to do so should you pick this game.)
  • You're okay with an initially high difficulty curve for the first dungeon. I would argue that this is by design so as to ensure you come out of it with a solid understanding of all the major combat mechanics, but I'm sympathetic to those who found it a little excessive and intimidating back when the game first came out. The difficulty curve smooths out significantly after that first dungeon, though, and, at least in my case, the majority of your deaths may well come from the game's optional fights, rather than the main storyline.

Otherwise, play Apocalypse if:

  • You really do prefer character-driven stories and are what you've come to expect from Atlus games as a result of your time with Persona games. Again, I would emphasize that this game's character building has been done better before in other Atlus games, especially within Persona proper, but it's usually pretty okay. In exchange, though, I'd say that the world building, NPC dialogue, etc. aren't nearly as strong as IV's in comparison, but it generally is just an issue of different strokes for different folks, rather than the game fundamentally failing at anything critical in that respect.
  • You'd prefer something of a gentler introduction to SMT mechanics that aren't shared across Persona games and a smoother difficulty curve that generally skews somewhat easy by default. While the raw combat and negotiation mechanics in Apocalypse are definitely refined over IV, the actual act of playing the two games is overall really similar, so you won't inherently be missing out on that much mechanically if you choose to go for IV instead. You'll just need to be prepared to have it go a little rough at first in that initial dungeon, but it really does prepare you well (maybe even too well) for the rest of the game.

Hopefully that helps! Between the two games, I honestly like IV a lot more overall than Apocalypse, but I've also been playing Atlus RPGs for nearly 10 years at this point, so my criticisms of it are ultimately probably pretty relative to someone who's completely new to mainline SMTs. Ultimately, with a little patience, I'd say you can't go wrong either way, but Apocalypse still has enough elements are recognizably mainline SMT that it's probably the slightly safer bet if you don't otherwise have strong feelings about the type of storytelling it does.

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Pepsiman

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It comes from 1CC Shirts, a site that does a limited run game shirt every month for only that month (although this month is an exception because the owner is getting rid of backup extras) before unveiling a new one and starting anew. The shirt Jeff was wearing was this one, although you're about 10 months too late, alas. I've never bought anything from that site, but the shirt quality is purportedly quite good, as the owner makes them by hand. I probably will once there's something I like, but I digress.

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Chiming in to say it's affecting me, too.

Windows 8.1, newest version of Opera (37.0.2178.43).

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#7  Edited By Pepsiman

@loamlife said:

@arbitrarywater: I remember watching the treehouse live last year one of the guys was saying that finding voice actors who could also sing was a real problem for the localization so clearly they were trying to dub it at some point. Whether it feel through because of sales, or because translating songs and finding voice actors who can sing is hard is anyones guess. Probably a bit of both. Maybe treehouse is just sick of death threats

I'll chime in as someone who localizes Japanese games for a living. You and arbitrarywater are pretty much on the right track in terms of what's likely compelled the localization to keep it Japanese-only, namely that it's hard to find people who are both skilled at acting and singing. Now, of course, there's the option of simply hiring separate singers to handle those parts specifically, but obviously the problem you run into at that point is finding a singing voice that sounds plausibly like a given character's non-singing voice so as to not provoke any potential dissonance among players. This is obviously doable, as it happens in movies all the time, but I suspect union issues (singers can apparently be part of organizations like SAG-AFTRA like voice actors) might prevent this from being as readily viable for games, especially for projects that kind of straddle that weird fine line between being large in scope while probably having a somewhat limited sales potential, as is the case here. It still wouldn't be impossible even in such a scenario, but it might not be a headache that's worth dealing with. If that's the case, then, what I find interesting is that the licensing fees for retaining the original Japanese voice acting was that ideal by comparison; they can be so prohibitive in many cases if localization rights aren't factored into a contract up front that many game localization agencies can't simply afford to retain them, even if fans often clamor for them. That being said, I've never had to work on a project that's dealt with these sorts of issues, so I'm mostly providing educated guesses here.

One other thing I can speak to more definitively, though, is the issue of native Japanese games sales and how they impact localization resources. The calculus for this is fairly complex and obviously varies from game to game, but nowadays, Japanese sales numbers don't play as big of a role in determining whether a game gets localized and how much resources said localization gets, at least not in the direct sense that people tend to assume. There's a handful of reasons for this, so let's break them down:

  1. Japanese games sales are increasingly insufficient by themselves for getting a traditional console/handheld game to a break even point financially. Obviously, this is predominantly because the non-phone Japanese game market has been contracting for years now. It's not that there's no money to be made, but if you're a Japanese developer wanting to make an ambitious game, it's pretty difficult to make a return on development costs solely within Japan simply because the audience size isn't what it used to be. If you're in the rapidly diminishing middle tier budget-wise, you might be able to get away with not localizing your game if the opportunity doesn't come along, but anything bigger than that and you're probably going to incur losses unless you're a really big IP like, say, Dragon Quest and are clever about how you spend your money and monetize the game (e.g.: making Dragon Quest X an MMO with a monthly subscription fee). Many Japanese games at this stage being developed by publishers of respectable sizes are often developed with the intention of producing localized versions from day one or near day one simply as a means of not losing money. This is to say that the decision to localize a Japanese game often occurs before the first Japanese sale has ever been made, even if the localization announcement doesn't take place until after the Japanese version's release.

    A prominent example of this is the Trauma Center games that were also made by Atlus; western sales for each installment were so much better than Japanese sales by many orders of magnitude that the intention for later installments was to essentially foresake the Japanese market and focus on making the development costs back from western sales. This worked really, really well until they got to Trauma Team and then the series kind of went quiet after that. That's how dependent they were on sales of the localized versions of those games, that they couldn't even count on the support of the Japanese market to immediately justify one more stab at it.

  2. When localizing a Japanese game, some costs are going to be pretty fixed to a minimum degree no matter how the project is managed, at least if you want everyone on the project to be able to pay their bills and eat. X amount of text will tend to cost X amount of money, either in terms dollars/cents per word when dealing with freelancers or salaried man hours if it's being done internally and, likewise, when you have lines of dialogue that need to be voiced, you can come up with pretty reasonable estimates as to how much that'll cost just based on how much time and resources that aspect has to take to just get done in general. Obviously, a little bit of flexibility is ideal, as every project has its quirks and not all of those quirks are entirely evident from the outset, even if you think you know the game well and are confident you know what you're getting yourself into, so costs can go up and down, but how well a game does in Japan isn't really going to impact that budget, at least if the publisher is willing to pay enough to get a good localized product.

    This isn't to say that sales can't impact localization decisions. If discussions about a game's localization don't take place until after its Japanese release and said Japanese release absolutely craters, that can kill localization prospects, as publishers at that point are often just interested in minimizing their losses, rather than potentially repeating and amplifying them with attempted foreign releases. And if a game does do really well, especially if it surpasses internal expectations, some companies might be open to spending a little extra money just to throw more polish on the localization. In #FE's case, lackluster Japanese sales could have made Nintendo a little wary to expend time and energy resolving those native English singer issues, but given how localization work obviously began before the game was even out in Japan, as well as the fact that they apparently were trying to make an honest effort to have English versions for those songs, I'm less inclined to believe Japanese sales numbers were the main culprit for keeping the game dubbed in Japanese.

I thought I had more reasons to elucidate on, but I guess those two points got big enough by themselves to cover most everything off the top of my head. One other thing I'll also note is that Nintendo probably wasn't entirely surprised to see Japanese game sales go the way that they did; given the market size for non-phone games over there, anything that actually breaks 100,000 copies is a pretty respectable success these days. The really popular franchises can obviously do even better and sometimes you have surprise hits like Splatoon that do 1 million+ just within Japan alone (although that's exceedingly rare in this day and age), but if you're a mid-tier publisher like Atlus or NIS, often the best you can expect for most games is 100,000-300,000 sales tops, with smaller games able to potentially break even at sub-100,000 sales if they're budgeted well. But for those bigger games, even at Japanese retail prices of $60-$80+ per game brand new, sales numbers at the higher end can still be too financially close for comfort given the realities of game budgets, platform holder fees, and market size issues that I've already discussed, hence why many are incentivized to bet on localized versions from the start.

This was more text than I was expecting to write, but hopefully that all makes enough sense!

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Bless you for doing this again. I just happened to catch this update in the new post widget on the front page and have done my part on social media to let the masses know Christmas has come early once more~

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I was so close to buying this...but then I realised that I'm a little burned out on the black and white / black, white, and red colour scheme.

Actually, a lot of the unlocks in the game consist of different palettes for the game and they vary really significantly. Basically, when you die, there's a ranking progression that takes place and you always get something new at level up, so pretty much at the end of your first few runs, you'll be getting new palettes. Some just replace the red with some other color (I'm actually quite fond of the aqua blue rendition of this formula, generally easier on the eyes), but some eschew the black entirely in general. You're only going to get three colors no matter what you pick to my knowledge, but you're definitely not forced to commit to the default scheme if you don't want to.

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This is super cool stuff, duder! I saw Swery tweet about it earlier, but thought it was worth properly commenting on here so hopefully more folks catch it on here. c: