Reviews

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES

While our blue-haired hero is essentially a blank slate, you actually feel something like sympathy for him, and, by proxy, for any high schooler with too much to do.


Publisher: Atlus
Genres: RPG
Price: $29.99
Multimedia: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES
Platforms: PlayStation 2
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Mature
Developer: Atlus
US release date: 2008-04-22
Website
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Developer website

When you sit down with something that falls into the genre of role-playing games, how much of a role are you willing to play? Are you simply sitting down to walk around, explore a bit, talk to some folks, get an idea of where to walk to next, and fight some monsters on the way to getting there? This has been the template for the role-playing game since, oh, about the time Dragon Warrior hit the NES. Countless role-playing games have toyed with the formula in various ways, but for the most part, that's what you're getting.

Still, the very name assigned to the genre of role-playing titles suggests that such games could encompass so much more. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, originally released midway through last year, explores one of the ways in which role-playing can go beyond battling monsters and engaging in inane dialogue with characters that'll be dead in a plot point or two anyway. Namely, Persona 3 forces you to play the part of a high schooler, with all of the stress, angst, and complex social balancing that such a role would imply.

Think about this dichotomy:

On one hand, there is a 25th hour in every day, during which the majority of the general population transmogrifies into a coffin, while the very, very few who don't are left to fend for themselves against evil little (and, sometimes, not so little) beasts called shadows. Your protagonist is one of those very few, summoned to a school at which a few more of these same special types happen to reside. As one of this chosen few, it also so happens that you are able to summon "personas" at will; basically, these are pieces of your soul that can be unleashed on unsuspecting "shadows" (the baddies, of course) or used to heal yourself and your friends. Oh, and you basically shoot yourself in the head with a big ol' gun to evoke these personas. In order to ultimately vanquish the shadows, you must uncover the secret of Tartarus, a tremendous, twisty, ever-changing tower that crops up in place of the local high school during that 25th hour. It's a very dark, but absorbing world you inhabit, and it's easy to want to learn more about what the hell is going on.

MEANWHILE...

During the day, your protagonist is a student in that same local high school. You can join student council, sign up for a sports team, hang out with your buddies, ask girls out on dates, get quizzed by teachers, get stressed out by exams, and so on. While the way in which you "play" this particular side of the game does have some effect on how you do in the exploration/fighting portion of the game, the truth is that in playing it, you actually start to feel stressed out -- like, high school stressed out, where you're simultaneously worrying about friends, cliques, extracurricular activities (student council, sports teams), exams, being put on the spot by overzealous teachers, and so on.

Admit it, you're wondering what dating Elizabeth is like...

The point is that while our blue-haired hero is essentially a blank slate (and a slightly disaffected-looking one at that, what with his constant hands-in-pockets stance and his seeming indifference to the events happening around him), you actually feel something like sympathy for him, and, by proxy, for any high schooler with too much to do.

Of course, the difference here is that you can turn off the game, which allows it to stay exhilarating rather than to become numb the way adolescents' lives can get when overstimulated in these ways. It's a play dynamic that you're almost forced to put Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 down, because it quite literally stresses you out...and then, after leaving it for a while, you feel compelled to come back, because you actually start to miss that stress, the push to succeed in all of your exploits.

It is actually that very stress, however, that is very much missing from "The Answer", the pseudo-sequel to the original Persona 3 that comes as a bonus on Persona 3: FES (on which the original adventure is titled "The Question", naturally). "The Answer" is a JRPG version of Groundhog Day, in which the cast that's left from the original Persona 3 (without wanting to give too much away of the game's surprising and tragic plot) is caught in a "time skip", and they can't get past March 31, 2010. Of course, surprising new characters pop up, epic battles are fought, and a new "dungeon" (this one called "The Abyss of Time", naturally, given the problem that seems to have cropped up) must be traversed in order to get to the bottom of the mystery of the time skip. Got all that?

The problem presents itself when one of the primary plot points becomes the fact that one of the byproducts of the time skip is that the members of the team cannot leave their dorm -- you are quite literally trapped in one building. This means no exploring, no socializing, no interaction with people beyond those directly connected to the plot. It's a dungeon crawler with a hub, rather than the full-on role playing experience of the original game, and as such, it can't help but be something of a disappointment.

Big enemies vs. bigger personas = EPIC.

Despite this, it's difficult to fault Persona 3: FES for this since "The Answer" is, essentially, bonus content. And a lot of it, too -- it'll take you longer than most full games just to slog through the extra material. How you feel about that probably depends an awful lot on how you feel about dungeon crawlers; some people can't stand the idea of randomized maps, treasures, and enemy placement, while others live for that kind of stuff. I could go either way, generally, but the fairly fast-paced Persona combat system combined with an engaging and interesting story (in a completely off-the-wall anime sort of way) tips the scales in favor of "The Answer". Really, who doesn't want to know what the answer to life is?

Anyone who has ever had even the slightest interest in role-playing video games and has not already made Persona 3 a part of their collection (surely an alarming number) should be running out and buying Persona 3: FES. At the very least, in its full, Director's Cut form, you're getting one of the very best RPGs to hit the console scene since the turn of the century. If you happen to enjoy it, there are a huge number of hours of enjoyment to be culled from it. On the other hand, if you're already familiar with the Persona 3 universe, your feelings on the new stuff added for the sake of the Persona 3: FES release might be mixed. Clearly, it's hard to not want to support those who made such an incredible game; unfortunately, "The Answer" is not nearly the experience that the original Persona 3's "The Question" is. It just might leave experienced, longtime players of the original feeling a bit bittersweet.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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