Persona 5 on Playstation 4 (Video Game)
TL;DR: Fight monsters whilst attending Japanese high school. A completely unique gaming experience and very highly recommended.
The Persona series is part traditional JRPG and part Japanese high school simulator. Sounds weird, but anyone who has played one of the previous games in the series will know how unique and fun this combination is — and this most recent installment is the best yet.
In the game, your character’s Persona (their alter ego) battles monsters in an alternate dimension featuring a variety of dungeon settings (a bank and an Egyptian pyramid are my two favourites so far). Meanwhile, back in the game’s “real world”, your test scores and relationships with your schoolmates help improve your powers in the virtual world.
Everything about Persona 5 is beautifully designed, right down to the menus. Even the post-fight and loading screens offer more visual flair than most entire games. It’s a unique and stylish gaming experience that comes highly recommended.
Ethnos (Board Game)
In short: This game is a nuanced combination of earning points for playing card sets and controlling the map. It’s quick, lots of fun, and full of replay potential.
Based on its Conan-esque cover art (which I like), you might assume that Ethnos is pretty much a tabletop version of Dungeons & Dragons (which I also like). But it’s actually more of a dressed-up Rummy-style game with a map control twist — along the lines of Ticket to Ride, but far more dynamic.
The goal of the game is to get the most glory points, which you achieve by playing sets of cards and placing tokens on the board (a map of Ethnos and its 6 kingdoms). When you play a set, you must give up any remaining cards to a general draw pile. This rule creates tension when you know another player is looking for a specific card, but you need to play your sets to get points or take over a kingdom.
The deck comprises 12 tribes (giants, merfolk, halflings, minotaurs, and other fantasy denizens) and three dragon cards. The dragon cards divide the game into three point-gathering phases called “ages”: each age ends when the third and final dragon card is drawn.
Only 6 of the 12 tribes are in play each game (chosen randomly) and each tribe has a different special ability, making Ethnos hugely variable from play to play. The tribes’ abilities can give advantages in card play or map control, so the winning strategy will differ based on these and other mutable factors. Overall, it makes for an exciting and ever-changing game experience.
Florence (Board Game)
In short: Florence is a short game, but its standout design, music, and storytelling make it absolutely worth 45 minutes of your time.
Florence is a unique mobile game now available on both iOS and Android. It tells the story of a young woman falling in love for the first time. At the start, you get to know Florence, who is all of us when we’re in our 20s: working a job and just going through life. She meets Krish and they go through the ups and downs of a relationship together. The game provides an emotional glimpse into a part of life we can all relate to and reminds us how the people in our lives change us (hopefully for the better).
What makes this game so exceptional is how the story unfolds as you play. The entire experience flows seamlessly and the gameplay makes you feel involved and emotionally invested in Florence’s story. The music and art are standouts here and make every minute enjoyable. Although it is a short story, there’s no better way you could spend a free 45 minutes.
Shred Kelly (Band)
My pick gives you: Irresistible energy, neon ski jackets, and manic banjo playing.
I first discovered Shred Kelly through the irresistible 2015 track “Sing to the Night” and its accompanying video: a perfect representation of the vibrancy, joy, and manic banjo playing that defines Shred Kelly’s particular variety of “stoke folk”.
This March, they were back on my radar with a vengeance as I prepared my ears for their Victoria show on the 30th. I was especially pleased to discover their carefree, addictive new single “Archipelago” (from the recently released album of the same name) and the delightfully weird video for “Family Oh Family”.
I would enjoy Shred Kelly’s music regardless of their nationality, but their overt Canadianness makes them all the more endearing to me. They hail from a small Rocky Mountain town and aren’t afraid to shoot music videos during the snowy winter (including the aforementioned “Sing to the Night” video — which, really, you should watch. It’s great.). When I’m far from home, Shred Kelly will certainly appear on my nostalgia playlist alongside The Tragically Hip and other quintessentially Canadian groups.
Malibu by Anderson .Paak (Album)
The short and sweet: An amazing R&B/Soul hip-hop album with big vibes.
I discovered this 2016 album very recently and have been listening to it quite a bit these past few days. What I love about this album are the elements of very thoughtful R&B/Soul compositions supplemented with smooth hip-hop elements. The first track, “The Bird”, teases the soul with colourful lyrics, tasty saxophone chops and an overall sense of warm nostalgia.
Rachel Rising by Terry Moore (Book)
In short: I spent an entire day going through the seven graphic novels and wanting more after finishing them.
As you’ll see in some of my future Pop Culture Picks, I am a voracious reader of books, magazines and comic books. This month’s pick was an accident. I caught a recommendation on Twitter about how the series had been added to the Unlimited Reading List of Comixology (a subscription-based service offering a mountain of comics to read from multiple publishers).
At first I was unsure, but I was drawn in by the story arc of a modern girl being reanimated from the dead and searching for her killer. Add in the eternal battle between good and evil, a town with a history of witches, and a young girl destined to host the anti-Christ, and it became an immediate binge. Soon it evolved into a deeper story of lost love, family, and self-transformation. Do we control our own destiny or are we just playthings in larger game around us?