Koromaru is a dog. With human-level intelligence that can summon a persona. It’s barely explained. In fact, for that matter, it contradicts other information given about personae, in that the whole reason Aigis is shaped like a human and not a tank or something is that it’s necessary for her to see herself as human in order to be able to manifest a persona, but here’s this dog with a persona so whatever.
Anyways, Koromaru is basically Hachiko. He used to live with a monk that would take him on nightly walks. One day, the monk got killed by shadows, and Koromaru continued their nightly walks alone, and spent a lot of time hanging around the shrine the monk used to take care of. Then one day, the team detects some shadows roaming outside Tartarus attacking the shrine. Akihiko heads there, only to find the shadows already dead and Koromaru injured. Putting 2 and 2 together because he’s not the dumb meathead the later games think he is, Akihiko realizes this dog must have a persona. So he takes him back to the team, they get him medical care, and then Koromaru joins up with S.E.E.S.
Every Persona from this point forward has an animal-like character. Persona 4 and 5 makes sure its a character that can talk, however. Koromaru can’t, which poses some problems. To be fair, they do a decent job of communicating Koromaru’s personality through his actions, such as it is, and Aigis can understand his thoughts and sometimes interprets them for others. From that, you learn that Koromaru is very loyal and protective of those he considers family, and admires bravery. He also likes certain TV shows demonstrating brave people, and has a near human-level comprehension of the world. But they only take it so far. Koromaru gets left out of a lot, not having much input in dialogue heavy scenes, not usually being with the party when they’re away from the dorm, and not really having much in the way of impact on the plot. Which is a shame. We only get a shallow view of Koromaru, and there was a lot more room for developing him. As a result, he’s the most forgettable member of the cast, to the point he either doesn’t get included or gets bound together with another character for most of the spinoffs.
He does have one big moment, however. In the midst of the party’s darkest moment, when Shuji Ikutsuki betrayed them and was in the midst of crucifying them, he didn’t bother crucifying the dog. It was Koromaru who tore the device he was using to control Aigis away from him, enabling her to break free from her programming and save the party. So, if it weren’t for Koromaru, the party wouldn’t have survived to save the day and make millions of dollars in game sales. That counts for something, at least.
In combat, Koromaru’s speedy. The most speedy. He’s the fastest, most accurate, and most evasive character in your party, and tops most shadows in all those areas, too. On the flip side, he’s really not durable. Shadows will have a harder time hitting them than anyone else, but when they do, he’ll go down fast. Other than that, not especially much to write home about. He uses knives to fight, and is accurate but not so damaging with them. He does pretty decently with magic, and has an arsenal of fire and instant-kill darkness spells behind him. Given the only other character with dedicated fire spells is Junpei, who is realllllly not great at magic, he’s the one to go with if your MC’s personas are focused on other things. He’s also a very direct character. Doesn’t have a lot of tricks to him, pretty much just basic attacks and direct damage or instant-kill spells. His persona is Cerberus, which both fits his doggy nature, and I’m also pretty sure is a reference to Pascal, your dog that you turned into Cerberus in SMT 1. He does not get an ultimate persona. That requires personality development, and when you barely show up in the plot, well…
Nobody likes Ken.
What? No. No, we’re not doing that. No Ken. I’m not going there. You can’t make me.
Ok, so Ken is this little prat that nobody actually wants around because he ruins everything he touches. And that’s about all there is to say about Ken. Let’s move on.
Seriously. There are things mankind is not meant to know. The existence of Ken Amada is one of those things. Trust me.
You don’t trust me.
Ken Amada is an elementary school student, whose mother was killed in an incident early on in S.E.E.S.’s shadow fighting career when Shinjiro Aragaki lost control of his Persona during the Dark Hour. Obviously, this makes him an orphan, since fictional fathers only exist when most convenient for drama. Some time later, Shuji Ikutsuki has him start staying in the S.E.E.S. dorm, recognizing that he’s got the potential for persona. He’s unaware of the connection S.E.E.S. had with his mother’s death at first, until Akihiko leverages his presence to bring Shinjiro back onto the them. At some point, he recognizes Shinjiro, but keeps it quiet, scheming things in the background even as he awakens to his persona and takes part in the combat team.
Ken’s pretty subdued in personality. He largely keeps to himself, and seems stuck in his own mind and emotions. He doesn’t like being a kid, and desperately wants to be seen as a grown up. He tries to model himself around his idea of what ‘maturity’ is, drink coffee black but not realizing hot sauce is a strange thing to add to it when you joke about it, hiding his love for kids action shows, and drinks a lot of milk even though he’s lactose intolerant in a bid to become taller. This even extends to his combat traits, too. He uses a spear, a weapon way too large for him, to compensate for his small size, and his Persona is the largest in S.E.E.S. Unfortunately, this trait seems to heighten Ken’s isolation, with his trying to act like he’s not a kid distancing him from his peers his age, while the fact that for all his acting he’s still rather childish colors his relationships with everyone older.
By this point, I’m mostly known for my video games blogging here, but I have a long history of crafting stories. I do that in my D&D games, did a lot of creative writing over the internet, have a bunch of novels and short stories on my hard drive in various stages of completion, etc. I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve got some experience. And I have worked out the secret to writing good, endearing child characters. It’s one simple rule. And that is: Don’t Put Child Characters In Your Story. We’ve got different expectations for fictional characters than we do for real life people. We don’t have as much patience for all the complexities and fluctuations and inconsistencies that are inherent in being human when we’re seeing them as characters on a screen. Or with real life people we don’t know that well or are already inclined to dislike, for that matter. And kids are inherently really crappy people. And there’s a lot of reasons why. But when they’re a character, they have all that crappiness, yet we don’t sympathize with the reasons why. And creators generally assume we’ll have some sort of inherent regard or affection for them simply because they’re children, and we don’t. And then children operate by different rules than the rest of adults in fiction. More free from consequences and risk, no matter what they do. It’s a combination of factors that ends up making them absolutely insufferable. Almost every time. There’s a few sympathetic and earnest child characters in fiction, but they’re few and far between. Nearly all of them in adult- and teen-oriented media are just the worst.
So Ken’s got a huge mark against him as soon as he shows up in the story. Just by virtue of being a kid in my video game. And then his story arc makes him worse. So Ken gets his persona powers. Joins your combat team. Fights alongside you, lining up his cause with yours. The whole time, he’s seeing Shinjiro there. Blaming Shinjiro for his mother’s death. And plotting his revenge. And when there’s a full moon shadow, the most critical time for your team to be in peak form, he pulls back and calls Shinjiro out to him while the rest of you are taking care of business. There, he attempts a murder-suicide. His timing’s really bad, though, as Strega interferes. They reveal that Shinjiro’s dying anyways, and he gets really distressed about it, that he’s losing his revenge because Shinjiro’s already dying. And then they attack, and Shinjiro sacrifices his life to protect him. In the aftermath, everyone’s dealing with shock, and trauma, and the kid still just makes it all about him.
And that’s really the end of his story. Like, those are pretty horrible actions for any party member to take, being murderously hostile to a pretty much innocent member of your team and through it betraying all the rest of you. It’d be a moral event horizon in any game. And there is plenty of opportunity to write someone back from that. Show them having character development, growing, and changing from that. It’s a pretty typical thing, to show a character’s darker moments as a means of making more meaningful them in the light. But they don’t do that here. After that moment, you see Ken at his worst, all of his relationship with you as a means of making his revenge a reality, no care to betraying all of you, and reflecting on that, he’s barely accountable for any of that, and then his involvement in the story just ends. He’s still around, afterwards, he’s a party member for the rest of the game and he’s got comments and personality, sure, but his story arc is done. He doesn’t play a major part in the plot, there’s no further development of him, nothing to take you away from that incredibly harmful climax he had. They had a single story arc in mind for him, which had him acting negatively to the rest of the group and leaves the viewer with a very dour impression, and then had no real further material for him, which really makes it hard for him to rise from that.
So there. Nobody likes Ken. And that’s why.
In gameplay, Ken’s also probably one of the least useful party members, which really doesn’t help matters either. He’s a red mage type, well-rounded without excelling in any one area, but this is a game where it’s the combination of specialists that really bring you to success, and his generalist approach makes it hard for him to meaningfully contribute in comparison. He’s a healer that’s more sturdy than Yukari and he’s the only character to natively get instant kill light spells, so he does have to two points of use, but both are pretty circumstantial. Otherwise, he gets lighting spells but only the single target ones and not the skills to augment them, and some physical skills that are again only single target and pretty limited in comparison to most of your other party members. So he’s basically a combat sample platter, showing a little bit of everything but can’t take any of them too far. Which, that whole doing many things at once without doing any of them well could also be appropriate for a kid desperately trying to be an adult, so, you know, kudos to that integration. His initial persona is Nemesis, the Greek goddess who punished those who showed hubris and arrogance to the gods. His ultimate persona is Kala-nemi, an evil, sorcerous rakshasa from a classic Hindu epic.
Also, in the PSP version, the FeMC can get into a romantic relationship with him. He’s 11. That’s messed up.
Let’s move on.
Shinjiro was one of the original members of S.E.E.S., a couple of years before the protag entered the picture. It was he, Akihiko, and Mitsuru charged with defending Iwatodai from the shadows unleashed by the dark hour, although they didn’t have the numbers to hunt down the full moon shadows or make inroads into Tartarus, so were purely a reactionary force and weren’t really able to make progress against them. One fateful night, he lost control of his persona, and it ended up killing Ken’s mother. Happening in the dark hour by supernatural means, there wasn’t any evidence leading back to him, but he felt such deep guilt over it that he broke off his association with S.E.E.S., started taking persona suppressants in spite of their fatal side effects, and dropped out of school and polite society in general. He’s got a long history with Akihiko, growing up in the same orphanage as close friends and being at Akihiko’s side and supporting him during and after the death of his sister, and Akihiko still maintains semi-frequent contact with him. Otherwise, he seems homeless, not working or having anywhere in particular to live, mostly hanging out in a back alley with a bunch of thugs. His only other connections are with Strega, the group of enemy persona users that want to maintain the Dark Hour, whom he relies on for his supply of persona suppressants.
Akihiko puts on a cold, tough guy exterior, which sees him fitting in really well with the thugs hanging out in his alley. Really, though, he’s a very kind-hearted, caring person. He demonstrates that a couple of time by rescuing your team from some non-supernatural trouble they find themselves in early on when they encounter the town’s criminal element. He’s also first introduced visiting Akihiko in the hospital, and it’s clear the too have a very close relationship. That same care for others is what drove him to ostracize himself and begin killing himself with that anti-persona medication in the first place; he feels so much guilt over his persona killing another person and fear of harming others again that he takes hugely drastic measures to prevent that from happening. He resists all of Akihiko’s efforts to pull him back to S.E.E.S., all up until Ken, the one he has harmed so much, joins the team and begins putting himself into danger, at which point he joins in, probably to help keep him safe. Even when Ken tries to kill him, Shinjiro doesn’t put up any resistance until Ken mentions he’ll kill himself afterwards. His main worry was to not have Ken end up like him. So really, given that he’s been so concerned, so sacrificing his life for others already, it’s really in line that he’d freely give his life up in other’s defense.
Shinjiro is only with your party for a brief time, but he seems way too cool to last even during it. Like, they were forced to condense all the interesting bits and insights that would normally be spread into him into a short period of time but they still handle it really well, which makes him seem really deep while he’s there. He’s got quite the connection with animals and ability to understand people, and he loves cooking and is an amazing chef. Even the gameplay subtly encourages you to like him; the area that opens up right after he joins has a lot of enemies weak to physical attacks, his specialty, so he’s the most useful party member for that brief period he’s with you. He’s very blunt and direct, but also quite intuitive and can be a good teacher. And the best part is all of this is handled with subtlety, only coming up a few times. Ken Amada might be the worst-written character in the game, but Shinjiro Aragaki, whose story is tied with his, is probably the best.
In combat, Shinjiro is purely focused on physical attacks. Absolutely. Junpei is mostly physical attacks with some aggressive magic, Aigis is physical attacks an buffs, Shinjiro does nothing else except hit and hit hard. His stats are perfect for it. He’s very slow, but is accurate enough, and his strength makes those attacks the most damaging of their type at base level, and his axes get critical hits often and he’s pretty easy to get in ‘great’ condition, boosting his capabilities further. More over, his persona has neutral defenses against all attacks and elements, which is more valuable than you’d think, as it means nothing less than a crit on him can knock him down and give your enemies extra turns. His persona’s abilities are really powerful, to boot. So yeah. His character is amazing, his combat capabilities were amazing, her really was too good to last. His persona is Castor, half of the Gemini twins with Akihiko’s Polydeuces, patrons of sailors and horsemen. He doesn’t get an ultimate persona. That would just make him too cool for comprehension.
Damn, you were rough on Ken. But I can’t blame you. He completely acts like a prick about Shinjiro, and though his lack of maturity and past trauma might explain a lot of that, it’s still irritating. As for your point about child characters in general, I pretty much agree that it’s really hard to write a good one that’s actually endearing. I’d say Atlus themselves managed it with Nanako in Persona 4, but then she wasn’t nearly as involved in the central story of P4 as Ken was in P3. And you could argue that when she did get very involved in the plot late in the game, it was handled pretty poorly.
Also very agreed on the FeMC dating Ken thing. Just imagine if the genders had been flipped — this is almost like P4 protagonist dating one of Nanako’s schoolfriends, and he’d be thrown in prison for doing that. And rightfully so. So why is it okay in P3P? Who knows.
And yeah, Shinjiro is one of the best characters in the game. The bond he had with Akihiko felt very real.