So you remember last time we did this whole retrospective thing, when we were writing essays on each game of the Saints Row series and then all of a sudden they decided to release the fourth game about the time we would have finished up? Most people would probably just write that off as coincidence. But if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I am far from being most people. After much consideration, I’ve been forced to come to the conclusion that I have magic powers. If I write enough words about a series, it will put the arcane forces into motion and summon the next game into being. It’s a heavy responsibility, but I’m going to use these powers for the good of everyone. See, there’s one series that is truly among the best of its peers, yet hasn’t had a real sequel for half a decade. I speak, of course, of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona.
You’ve probably heard of Japan. If you haven’t, it’s that place where approximately 28% of weird on the internet comes from. They’re very committed to their craft of making everything weird, and very little passes through their hands unscathed. Give them pillows, they turn those into girlfriends. Mention Mein Kampf to them, they’ll make it a manga. Try to teach them about Jesus, they’ll turn him into a busty, scantily clad blonde woman who’s constantly the victim of sexual aggression.
So I guess we should be glad that when introduced to the basics of Jungian psychology, they just ended up making a series of JRPGs out of them.
The Megami Tensei series is one of the longest running JRPG series there is, with the first game actually coming out a couple of months before the original Final Fantasy. The series is known for several things, including its high degree of complexity and challenge, its heavy use of mythology and religion, and its high degree of focus on spin-offs in comparison to other series.
And it’s the last of those points that brings us to the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series. One of Megaten’s first spinoffs, the series launched on the PS1 in 1996 and has been going strong since. Probably intended as a more accessible gateway to the famously opaque main series, the Persona games certainly dial the challenge and complexity the series is famous for back quite a bit, ending up being merely really hard rather than Megaten’s standard controller-crunching difficulty. In exchange, the Persona games are among the most character-driven and plot-focused of Megami Tensei’s offerings. As the series go on, they only get better at this aspect, building up sprawling epics that absolutely will make you care about at least some of the characters on offer.
Both the gameplay and plots centers around the titular personas, the characteristics a person adopts to deal with others made manifest in the physical realm. Every character in your party has formed their personas into some sort of god or mythical creature, and draws strength from them in addition to being able to summon them to deal with their enemies. These personas are obtained through various means across the games, but they are the central pivot holding everything together. Other bits of Jungian psychology, such as shadows and the collective unconscious, also get a fair bit of play throughout the series, but it is always the persona at front and center.
Battles are turn-based and often require quite a bit more thought than your standard JRPG. Just hammering on the ‘fight’ button indiscriminately will get you nowhere. Instead, you have to take advantage of the various strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your enemies to truly succeed. The series has a heavy emphasis on dungeon crawling as well, with buildings twisting themselves into maze-like structures the likes of which would drive any engineer mad. Resource management is also a central point of gameplay, moreso than most other JRPGs.
For the first three games, the Persona series is extremely experimental. They’re constantly trying new things, including several that you’d be crazy to try to put into any serious game. The experiments don’t always work out, but when they do, they work wonderfully. In any case, playing these games gives you an experience that’s certainly unlike any other, and it’s honestly interesting to watch the series progress from being just a few alterations away from Shin Megami Tensei If… to being something so stridently different from any of the series’ other offerings.
The tone of the Persona games is a little more varied than the main series’ usual dour resolution. In fact, this is one of the more optimistic series in Shin Megami Tensei canon, with your characters actively averting apocalypse rather than simply surviving and dealing with its aftermath. That said, the series does take some really dark turns, moreso than many other JRPGs would dare. Serious danger and death are always lurking in these games, but that does not mean there’s never any bits of levity. In fact, some of the more memorable scenes from the series come from the characters just forgetting about the everpresent threats and just enjoying themselves for a while.
Just like last time around, we’ll be putting up a separate entry for each game. These entries will contain a lot of words. Hopefully, they’ll be good words, though. We’ll be taking a look at every aspect of these games that my meager little brain can come up with. And hopefully, I’ll develop a better understanding of them myself. You can try to, reading over what I have to say about them. Given the size of the series and the time it takes me to do these, it’ll likely take me a while to be complete, but I’m sure it’ll be a worthwhile journey. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some games to play.