I wrote a piece about Persona 3 over on Games Are Evil earlier today. Go read it, please.
I have, as you may have guessed from the fact I chose to write about Persona 3 today, been playing Persona 3. I have been meaning to play the extended FES version for many, many years now and have started several times. This time I intend to finish it, including battling my way through The Answer, which I understand is a bit of an ordeal. Then, if I’m feeling particularly masochistic, I will proceed to play Persona 3 Portable as the female protagonist.
I fucking love Persona 3 and 4. They are still my favourite games of all time. I own the first two for PSP/Vita, too, but found the first one a little hard to follow plot-wise and haven’t delved particularly deeply into 2 yet. Fortunately, each one stands quite nicely by itself — though 3 and 4 are nicely interconnected, even if certain aspects clash (why do the kids in P3 need Evokers to summon their Personas, but the ones in P4 don’t?).
My love for these games stems primarily from the fact that they push all my gaming happy buttons. I love JRPGs and I love visual novels, and Persona 3 and 4 combine the best bits of both genres. You have a simple-to-understand, hard-to-master combat and character development system; you have an in-depth storyline tackling very “human” issues. You have “saving the world” drama; you have characters dealing with personal crises that can, at times, seem more important than impending disaster. Somehow the game manages to avoid pretty much every cliché that critics of JRPGs hate to create an emotional, mature experience with an absolutely badass soundtrack.
The highlight is, of course, the cast of characters throughout. And as I said in my piece over on Games Are Evil, the interesting thing about Persona is that it’s not only the heroes and villains who “matter” in the grand scheme of things. The “Social Link” mini-stories that arise as the protagonist gets to know his new school friends and people in the community are fascinating plotlines to follow through in their own right, and help to lend a greater sense of poignancy to the overarching narrative of the Persona-users attempting to Sort Shit Out. In other words, everyone has their own demons to deal with — sometimes these are literal demons, others they are the barriers we create for ourselves: fear, anxiety, shyness, a lack of self-belief. Watching the protagonist touch the lives of these people and be there with them as they come to terms with their own issues gives the small game world a much greater feeling of “life” than almost any other RPG I’ve played.
It also, once again, highlights the difference between Eastern and Western game design philosophy. When it comes to RPGs, I am firmly in the Eastern camp. I am yet to come across a Western RPG that has captivated me in the same way as the Persona series. You can rant and rave all you like about the beautifully-rendered worlds of Bethesda adventures or BioWare’s (increasingly questionable) storytelling chops, but, for me anyway, no-one has the Japanese beat when it comes to interpersonal relationships and a sense of “human” drama amid supernatural chaos.