Monthly Outlook: September 2012

Well it looks like this month is all about Persona 3. I powered through Persona 4 through the winter a few years ago, so maybe fall will be Persona 3 season. It’s a weird progression, starting with P4, then going to P4 Arena, and now to P3 so I could get some more background on the fighting game.

Whenever I start to get into a JRPG, it feels to me like settling in to watch a movie. It’s a long-term commitment and you devote a certain amount of attention to the experience. Sometimes the format or presentation aren’t right, and the game loses me (like Final Fantasy XIII did). Sometimes the format and presentation are perfect, and I think that’s what Persona 3 is like.

Persona 3 gameplay

It’s interesting to see how Atlus reinvented the Persona franchise with this entry, and to see which elements carried into Persona 4 (spoiler: all of them). Things both games have in common:

  • Day-by-day story format: Gameplay is broken up into individual days spanning the course of a year. Each day is divided into segments where you can perform certain actions.
  • Character progression: You have to balance your character’s growth between building up your personality, your friendships, and your strength in battle. Improving your personality traits allows you access to more friendships (Social Link), which you advance in order to create more powerful Personas which you can summon in battle.
  • Social Links: The game has you become friends with other characters by actually going out with them, doing fun/not so fun stuff together, and generally helping them solve their own life problems. I think it’s pretty clever, encouraging to proactively forge friendships.
  • Old school JRPG combat: Forget about user friendliness here, it’s all about grinding, random stuff happening, and probably resorting to FAQs. Have fun traversing floor after randomly generated floor and wondering when you should go back for the save point. You can analyze enemies in combat but good luck divining what strategies you should use against the tougher bosses.
  • Lots of talking: Though Persona 3 gets you into the action much faster than Persona 4 does, there is still an incredible amount of dialogue (mostly in concert with semi-animated character portraits). I’m fine with dialogue if it’s interesting, so P3 gets a pass here.

Persona 3 gameplay

What’s different is largely stylistic and thematic. Persona 4 had a strong Jungian undercurrent (and also borrowed from Nietzsche, I hear). While it’s impossible to deny the Jungian themes in Persona 3, they seem a little more shallow. Shadows here are just mysterious entities, not immediately associated with an aspect of your personality (though there’s still a lot of story I haven’t seen, so maybe this changes). Personas however are stated to be aspects of your personality, reinforced by the way your friendships empower various types of Persona. It’s a nice touch that links gameplay with story.

P3 is very seeped in pop culture aesthetics like its successor, but it’s somewhat less silly. I mean, you don’t meet a bear mascot in like the first mission. The story revolves around you being called upon to defeat shadows, who are running around in the real world attacking people. Each day at midnight, time freezes and a tower called Tartarus appears, and your party thinks it contains the answer to why the shadows are appearing. You’re given this plot line pretty early, and it’s fairly more straightforward than the whodunnit of Persona 4.

So yeah, this is what’s been occupying a lot of my time lately.