BABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABY! The Persona 3 Retrospective! Part 1: Introduction

Persona Retrospective Introduction

(Revelations:) Persona

Persona 2:Innocent Sin

Hell yeah!  We’re back with this!  It’s been, what, four years since we did the last entry in our much vaunted Persona Retrospective?  You thought I gave up on it, didn’t you?  And look at how much a fool you are now!  No, you gave up on me!  You think four years matters to one such as I?  I never forgot.  And I never quit.

Well, maybe I did.  Sort of.  You may notice that rather than finally doing the second half of Persona 2, I’m coming right in your face with Persona 3.  That’s true.  And I’m sorry.  I’ve actually tried a couple of times to get the next step in this retrospective going with good old Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and I just can’t.  I was halfway through the game when I made a big cross-state move and life transition, and couldn’t keep up with my usual playtime in the aftermath.  Then, sometime later, I picked up Persona 2: Innocent Sin again with the intention of getting background on that for the eventual Eternal Punishment analysis, but frankly, although the Persona 2 duology does a lot of really unique things and is a very interesting game in all, its design has aged a bit.  Not as poorly as many other games, but I found, with a lot of things I was going through then and continue to go through now, I just didn’t have the patience for it.

So we’ll skip it and come back to it later.  For now, it’s Persona 3 right up in your grill, suckers!

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Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh Aether, you sexy hunk of pure genius, isn’t your time already very full?  And didn’t you just start another project where you’re going to be reviewing all the Godzilla movies?  Are you really going to be able to keep up with another commitment?”  And sure.  That would be what sensible people would think.  But I’m to busy being awesome to be sensible.  I’m not one to let fear of failure or fear of commitment stop me.  I’m going to bite off more than I can chew.  And then I’m going to chew it.

In case you haven’t noticed, I like talking about the thing that I’m going to be talking about for a good while before I really get into talking about them.  But let’s get into that now.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3

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Okay, up until this point in the subseries, Persona games have been all about taking the ethos of the greater Shin Megami Tensei series and making it more familiar, more accessible, and more character-driven, while also experimenting the hell out of it.  Shin Megami Tensei has been very WRPG-influenced, and the Persona subseries takes that and fits it into a JRPG shell, creates room for a hell of a lot of character exploration, then adds a whole lot of new, wild, and largely unpolished features onto it.  Persona 3 follows on in that progression.

But it’s also the turning point in it.  See, Persona 4 and 5 don’t carry the same wild experimentation the earlier games did.  Instead, they take the model that Persona 3 built, and polish it further, and further.  And they make beauty out of it.  Persona 3 is a fantastic game.  But it’s like a raw gem.  It’s valuable.  It’s beautiful.  But it needs some rough edges pared off and a lot of polish to really shine.  Persona 3 is a turning point in the Persona subseries.  This is where, I would say, it really hit true greatness for the first time.  And the developers recognized it, and went in the same direction for future entries.

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To really get into Persona 3 and what makes it what it is, we have to talk about another game.  Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.  The first SMT game of the PS2’s era.  And it would represent as much of a shift for the SMT franchise as a whole as Persona 3 is for that SMT subseries.  Shin Megami Tensei games had largely stuck to its classic WRPG influences all through the SNES and PS1 entries, but by the time the 6th console generation had rolled around, frankly, technology had far outpaced that mode.  Even WRPGs themselves were drastically different from the Ultima/Wizardry days.  The technology was capable of so much more than the pure first person grid-based dungeon crawler with minimal world interaction was providing, and the largely 2d and simple visuals those games utilized were growing outright bland in that new world.  So Nocturne brought the series roaring into the new era.  Fully 3d environments, visuals that more accurately represented the urban apocalypse the series brought through, more involved visual storytelling, and a completely redesigned crew of monsters that would be distinctive of the series for years to come, it’s presentation has made SMT what it is every since.  The gameplay updates were no slouch either.  Battles were no longer matters of numbers against numbers, but made much more strategic with the press turn system in which the amount of turns you have were tied to your manipulation of elemental strengths and weaknesses.  Enemy encounters designed so that even basic random battles would test you, requiring so much more than just mashing attack as was standard for most RPGs.  Dungeons built so that the important thing in success is your long-term resource management across hordes of challenges as much as your ability to overcome individual battles.  It created design elements that had ramifications across the entire series.

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And all of that carried through to Persona 3, in some form.  Previously, the SMT series had a more eclectic and varying mix of demons and what roles they held.  Nocturne really codified and brought consistency to the mythological set of demons the series held, and Persona 3 slotted them firmly into the role of your personas.  Your enemies and adversaries were made completely different in both tone and origin, marking the first time the series had such a significant demarcation between persona and enemy.  They use the same visuals for the beasties, too, as do all 3d SMT games from that point further, building and taking advantage from the Shin Megami Tensei trademark design.  The press turn system was imported in a more limited form, with both you and your enemies being able to gain a single extra move for targeting your opponent’s weakness, or lose one if your own are hit.  Tonally, well, SMT has always been about destruction and apocalypse, but Nocturne brought new impact to that in the 3d era, and Persona 3 took that and run with it.  Although it’s not as dire as Nocturne was, it’s still rather oppressive, and it takes that to a more personal level.

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Persona 3 is generally considered the first of the modern Personas, and to many people, apparently Atlus included, the subseries starts here as far as they’re concerned.  This is the first game that has the social link system, where a lot of emphasis is on getting to know and helping NPCs through a sort of visual novel/dating simulator-esque interface, that has become such a series trademark and one of the biggest draws of Persona games.  Although 4 and 5 would make minor updates to it, this is also where they established the game model largely used in everything following.  Whereas previously, every character could use multiple personas, but had some limits on them, and a lot of their capabilities were based on their stats, starting with Persona 3, only your main character could use multiple personas but they had no limits on them and their stats were determine by said persona, making your main character effectively over a hundred characters you could choose from.  These is where you get Lotus Juice and the Jpop soundtrack setting the mood, driving home just how modern this series is in comparison to others of its genre.  The Persona series had been pretty heavy with its theming and storytelling in the Persona 2 duology, but this is the first time the series with so deep in its plot and multi-layered in its themes.  Everything where you have a certain amount of days to do everything you need to do while the plot and conflict progresses on a fixed calendar, where managing your available time as a resource is essential, where basically everything in the combat engine comes from, it all comes from here.  Persona 3 represents not just a paradigm shift in the Persona series itself, it was so utterly different from every other JRPG out there, and yet, for all its experimentation, it still came together in a fantastic form.  Honestly, it’s no wonder this is the model all the rest of the games took after.

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On Shin Megami Tensei

Athena over at AmbiGaming had posed the question recently. What’s a game you love but never talk about? I recently started replaying it again, so it was a pretty easy answer for me. Shin Megami Tensei. I’ve talked about other games in the series, some of them at length, but I don’t really talk about the Super Famicom original all that much. That got me thinking. Well, everything gets me thinking because my brain is just so big from knowing so much stuff, but that got me thinking specifically about this game. Maybe it’s time to correct that whole not talking about this game thing. Let’s talk about Shin Megami Tensei.

You might know the Megami Tensei series. The majority of the releases for the past decade and a half have seen western soils. Outside of the Persona series, they’re not really hitting mainstream attention, but they still draw plenty of their own groups to them. They series as a whole is known for a lot of things. Mixing a lot of recognizable figures from religion, mythology, and folklore, and letting you fight/ally yourself with them. Being really hard. Having God as the big bad guy. Or, back in the old days, being a classic JRPG series that never had a hope of being marketed to America through NOA’s content policies.

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That last one is how I first came across the game. The Megami Tensei series is one of my favorite ones. It was Persona 4 that introduced me to a lot of it, showed me magic and convinced me to dive in deeper, but my introduction to the series actually came years earlier with this game. Back when I was a cub, I had a friend. I know, I know, stem your surprise. Anyways, friend’s older brother was big into import games. Had himself a modded SNES, which seemed super cool and elite until I grew up and learned that all that entailed was knocking out the little tabs in the cartridge holder so that the SFC cartridges fit in the American SNES. As I recall, he had himself a rather sizable collection of Japanese games as well. Friend and I had some good times alternatively watching him play and playing through a bunch of games, including this one, although outside of when he explained things to us, we really had no idea what was going on in game.

Fast forward a couple of years. My family had moved away. Our parents kept in touch, but he and I didn’t. After graduating college, I committed to spending a year as an Americorps volunteer in an economically blighted area in middle of nowhere America. Early on, my mother had sent me a care package. Well, apparently she’d been talking to her friends about it, because my old friend had sent her a couple things to include in there, including the old copy of Shin Megami Tensei. I ended up spending long, long hours with that game, trial and erroring my way through the Japanese text until I finally found a translation guide online and could play it fully. I spent a lot of time with that game. That proved to be a very transitional time in my life, wherein I lost a lot of the old and found a lot of the new, and a lot of my memories about all that have gotten tied up in my thoughts about Shin Megami Tensei.

Artistic works, whether visual arts, movies, books, games, whatever, often end up meaning something to us, moreso than the work itself. Shin Megami Tensei is one of those games to me.  It’s been a constant companion for me, a game I come back to every once in a while just to relive.  It was even the subject of the first LP I ever attempted, although a similar transitional time in my life interrupted that.  Maybe that’ll be one that finds new life here eventually.

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Ranting ‘Bout Rogue Galaxy

If a game is bad, people will make fun of it forever.  If a game is good, there will be someone out there who just will never shut up about it.  And it’s probably you.  Give it a rest sometime, jeez.  So what happens to the games that fall somewhere in between?  Are they just doomed to be lost to history, nobody who cares enough one way or the other to talk about them?

rogue-galaxy-08-20-14-1.jpg No, that doesn’t happen.  Thanks to the subjective nature of opinions and the endless possibilities of people and experiences, everything is loved by at least someone.  But it’s pretty easy for something to just disappear outside your personal sphere of experience in this world.  For me, Rogue Galaxy is just such a game.  I only knew it from some vague memories of some friends of mine renting it once.  I only bought it because I came across it while I was nostalgic for that friendship after it ended.  I hadn’t played it past the first act for years, finally beating it just now.  And man, that was an experience.  I’ve seen it largely described as an ‘average’ quality game, hence why you don’t see many people raving about it one way or the other.  Yet, it’s not average in the same way most other games are, in being good, but not good enough.  No, Rogue Galaxy mixes good game and bad game like oil and water, and somehow that balances out to average.  Which, as it turns out, gives me way more to think about.  I was planning on writing a post about the game, because if I have to spend all that time in a game that is ‘average’ and therefore clearly beneath me, I don’t want to be the only one to suffer.  But I just could not decide on what subject.  So I just decided screw it, I’ll just mash all the possible posts into one big dumb chimera post.  This is that post.  And now you’re reading it.  Your life has never been better.  Let’s go stream of consciousness on this sucker.

  • So, if you take yourself some sci-fi and start softening it up, at some point it starts to become pretty indistinguishable from fantasy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Star Wars rode that line beautifully.  Dune did as well, at least until it came to Sting in his underpants.  Then it was all fantasy.  Rogue Galaxy takes the line about as far as it goes, to the point that you wouldn’t be amiss calling it a ‘Fantasy Game with Sci-Fi Elements’.  You should try that sometime.  You will gain friends.  Anyways, if you took away all the space stuff, you would have yourself the exact same game in a slightly different genre.  You have your elves, Scottish dwarves, kings and queens, swashbuckling, pirates, magic, animal people, all that.  The separate planets are all monoclimate, and only have one city each, so they’re all largely indistinguishable from standard videogame countries.  The atmosphere is such that it all works, though.  You take your story seriously, and that leads to questions like “how do I keep running into the same people with a whole galaxy to play with” and “how do you get a worldwide government in place that can all agree with each other” and “why don’t I get to see more of this entire stupid planet than just this postcard-sized space of real estate?”  You get a bit lighter with it, you get to get away with it.
  • Just one thing I want to share, here’s an excerpt from a walkthrough for the game, put together by one “Shinji” Chow: “All in all, an average RPG that all RPG gamers should try and give a shot at.”  It’s a bit of a jump from “Oh meh” to “Everyone has to play this!” but I remember being the exact same way about RPGs at the time this came out.  That is largely the reason why the PS2 era is taking so blasted long for me to get through in my “Beat Everything” endeavor.

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  • The back of the game advertises “Over 100 hours of gameplay!” The game actually took me 47 hours to beat, so a bit longer than most games that make that claim.  Thing is this game gets harder to want to play the farther along you get yourself into it.  When I got to the end, I had stopped enjoying it a long while ago and was going by sheer force of will.  The developers here seem to have forgotten that your hours don’t count if they suck.  So much in this game seems designed to just take more time without adding to the experience.  Most of the worst of it’s optional, so, you know, fine.  All that stupid pokemon bugquest, all the worthless encounter grinding for more points, all the trial and error item crafting, I ignored it all, and never missed it.  But there was one thing they forced you through that absolutely killed my interest in the game.  Cut-and-paste dungeon design is never forgivable, but this game takes it to the extreme.  It got to the point where I was dreading any indoor dungeon, because I knew it’d just be the same few rooms over and over and over.  I just don’t understand why they did it.  This game obviously had money behind it.  They shouldn’t have had to resort to such lazy, lazy design.  But maybe they blew it all on that big ol’ dolphin pimping sidequest.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that the ctrl+c dungeons took what could have been a solid game and dragged it down into the mud.  This was singlehandedly the reason I am so glad to be done with it.  I would have loved the game so much more if it’s dungeons had just left you the first instance of any given hall or room, but then they would have all been like five minutes long.
  • One thing that did kind of irritate me was discovering or opening up some big lost area that nobody’s been to for centuries, and finding it full of people. Like, somehow everyone else got there before I did.  What even was the point of that?  Aside from a few shops that I don’t need because you can teleport at save points, they added nothing to the area.  Fallout 4 does something similar, dropping drugs that were only developed post-war and motley pipe weapons to areas that supposedly haven’t been touched in the past 200 years.  If you’re the first person to get somewhere, that’s supposed to mean something.  That’s a place that’s different from all these other locations you explore.  Both games just spew it all away.

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  • I’m glad it turned out Kisala was adopted. That way I don’t have to think about Dorgengoa having sex.
  • There’s no getting around it. Rogue Galaxy’s plot is as simple and clichéd as it’s possible for a JRPG to be.  You can see any given plot twist coming for miles, and nothing gets any real mileage.  The game’s really comfortable there, though.  It’s not a story that ended up as such due to a lack of creativity; it feels like it was deliberately written to be as rote and familiar as it could be.  It’s not a good story, per se, and never gets engaging or draws you in, but it’s not really trying to.  It’s kind of an admirable thing, seeing so much design, time, and effort go into making something so deliberately standard.  It’s the plot equivalent of junk food.  Not everyone wants it, and too much of it is definitely a bad thing, but a bit once in a while is not such a bad thing.

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  • I have a huge amount of trouble keeping the names of Rogue Galaxy and Rogue Legacy straight.  Same with Radiant Historia and Radiata Story.  Feels like somebody could make a small little change in order to make life just a little bit easier for a certain sexy informed game connoisseur.

Snap Judgments: Bravely Default

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I don’t buy a lot of new games when they’ve just been released. I’m both too cheap to pay the launch MSRP, and patient enough to wait until I can get them in the sub-$20 range. So, I figured that on the rare occasion I happen to get a game when it’s still relatively new, I should do something to celebrate. Something…. bloglike.

Such was the case when I recently picked up Bravely Default. 3DS games don’t drop in price quite like most do, so when I was lucky enough to find the game at a significant discount, I jumped on it. I just knew, in playing it, that I’d have to put together a post, so I could be just like those cool kids who play all the new games and finally get invited to parties again. Unfortunately, well… some of you long-time readers, who we’re totally going to pretend I have, may have noticed that posts have slowed down the past couple months as life started taking my lunch money and beating me up after school. That hasn’t stopped being a thing that happens, so unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to play much.

I could just wait until I’ve beat the game to do something with it, but by that time, all the bloggers with such things as “disposable income” and “free time” and “merely average levels of beauty” will have beaten the game to death. Instead, we’re going to jump on this bandwagon right as it’s rolling by. No plan, no context, no real format, we’re just laying ideas on the page as soon as they come up. So, without further ado, here are just some random thoughts of the first two hours of the new 3DS epic, Bravely Default.

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I am Thou… The Persona Retrospective: Introduction

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.

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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.

You thought I was joking.

You thought I was joking.

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.

Capitalism, Ho! Aether Plays Recettear, Part 1

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I’d like you to join me a bit, as we think back and reflect. Remember the first traditional video game RPG you played. Final Fantasy? Dragon Quest? Maybe something like Ultima or Wizardry if you’re truly old school. Or it could be something like Skyrim if you were born sometime since the future happened. Doesn’t matter, we take all types here. Now, think back to that game, and remember what you experienced your first time through. Remember the grand vistas, the challenges conquered, the people you saved. Now, assuming your head’s on straight, the noble shop owner should be popping up in your minds eye. Yeah, that guy! Wasn’t he the greatest, always taking your money and giving you weapons and knick knacks in return. Wasn’t he the most interesting character of all the cast? Didn’t you always wish you were playing as him instead of those lame heroes you were forced to be? Well, this is the game for you.

Recettear is a quirky Japanese game from developer EasyGameStation and localizer Carpe Fulgur and about the glory of enterprise, about the freedom of business, about running a classical RPG item shop. In this game we follow Recette Lemongrass and her partner/loan shark Tear as experience the joys of capitalism by running a shop in a fantasy town catering to a wide variety of adventurer needs. Is it a good game? I don’t know, I’ve played a bit of the game, but I’m going into this mostly blind. But that just means we can learn about this game together, right?  It’ll be you and me, reader and writer, bonding as we experience the rises and falls of business and embark on countless fun little misadventures!  As you may have guessed from the title, I’m going to Let’s Play this sucker, but I’ve got a bit of a twist here. See, in real life, one of my primary tasks at work is running an economic development program centered around helping people start up and operate microenterprises. Essentially, I’m a small business management consultant. Will my real world business skills lead Recette to massive financial success? Probably. Video games and business are two of the many things I am very good at. In fact, I’d put good money on my discovering glorious success in this game. Of course, just talking about it is no fun for any of you, so let’s find out!

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