Snap Judgments: Persona 5

Everyone who knows I play, which is a lot less people in my personal life than one might think, have been asking me about Mass Effect Andromeda.  Figuring I would have pounced all over it.  I have had to keep reminding them that although I’m not disinterested, there’s another game that my heart already belongs to, coming out at right about the same time.  And although I’ve got a lot of love to go around, in this case, I’m wanting to take the time.  Make myself a commitment, at least for a while.

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Persona 5.  I have been looking forward to this game like none other.  At least looking  forward in the sense that I totally consumed the first couple trailers they put out years ago, then avoided every single piece of content about the game since in the hopes of protecting my precious virgin experience.  I like to play hard to get.

It came out yesterday.  I’ve spent most of my free time since it came into my hands with this little beauty here.  And, it’s so rare that I play a game when it’s so fresh that I thought I’d make note of the occasion and record my thoughts so far.  In brief, though.  The more time I spend here is the less time I spend playing Persona 5.

So, a bit of book keeping up front, I’m 5 and a half hours into the game so far.  So this might have spoilers for that bit of it.  Outside of that, though, nothing.  And really, that 5 and a half hours is still the intro.

Persona 5 has a slow paced start.  So did Persona 4, and 5 is a bit faster paced than that, but even so, outside of the en media res opening, it still takes a good hour before you’re getting into any action.  So, you know, be ready for that.

Although it is also possible to lose the game before it actually starts, just by answering the first question incorrectly.  That was pretty fun, actually.

The big things that stand out to me about Persona 5 is just how messed up the game world is.  Even before the series started exploring the social aspects between characters, that’s always been a big feature, seeing how the supernatural junk you’re fighting impacts the day to day life of what should be an otherwise normal town/city.  In Persona 5, whatever’s going on seems to be hitting the town hard.  Every single adult you run into is a total piece of trash.  Completely self-focused, all your interactions with them center on how much they would rather be without you, and none of them seem to have a single care for anyone else around them outside of doing their jobs.  All your playable characters are the subjects of some nasty rumors and the derision of their peers.  The city is plagued with people just randomly losing their mind, and most people only care about how it affects them.  If this wasn’t so total, you could take it as just a part of the ‘oppressive order vs. emancipation’ theme they’ve been pushing since the first trailers, but the fact that the city gets so dour, there’s definitely something more going on there.

Your Personae are unexpectedly dark as well.  Whereas previously, they found strength in your self-assurance, and were based in the faces you put on to interact with the rest of the world, in this entry, your personae are based in your rebellion against the rest of the world, and call upon your hatred and lust for vengeance for strength.  I don’t know if it’s forthcoming, but I’d be really interested in seeing an explanation for that.  Philemon’s still hanging around, and although Igor seems a bit changed, he’s still the one managing your Personae for you, so it seems they’re at least closely related to the old personae, but still, there’s a pretty clear difference here.   Likewise, the real-world source of your personae have changed.  Whereas the leading personae used to be drawn from mythology and folklore from a specific nation, here, they seem to come from fiction and history from all over Western Europe.

That most assuredly center’s around the otherworld of this game, the Metaverse.  You travel between the real world and the Metaverse by means of a cell phone app OF DOOM.  In said Metaverse, you find ‘Palaces’ who have ‘Rulers’ which are the shadows of people in the real world.  Shadows, as you may remember from 2 and 4 or if you know Jungian Psychology, are the repressed parts of the personality that a person will refuse to recognize in themselves.  In the Persona-verse, if a shadow gets strong enough from a single person, they can take a form of their own.  To be honest, the shadows were some of the narratively deepest parts of Persona 4, so I’m glad to see them get some more play here.  At least judging by the only shadow I’ve encountered so far, they’re going to be based on more than just your party members this game.  They can seemingly impact the behaviour of their real-world counterparts as well, possibly explaining why everyone in the real world is such garbage.

The Metaverse itself is heavily based in perception and belief.  Regions get altered in the Metaverse based on the perceptions of strong personalities in the real world.  To use the only example I’ve run across so far, an overpowering teacher’s view of his school turns the school in the Metaverse into a castle with his shadow as king.  A pretty direct metaphor, there.  Toy weapons work just fine in the Metaverse if they look real enough, because their targets believe they’re real, and as a result, an airsoft store turns into your armory.  This gives me HUGE flashbacks to Persona 2, in which if enough people believed something, it would change reality to make it true.  I’m kind of interested if that callback will actually come to fruit.

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The mechanics of this game are going to be very familiar if you’ve played Persona 3 and/or 4.  It’s obviously running off of the same design, although it does work in some refinements.  Some might justifiably take issue with the fact that the gameplay is largely the same as it used to be even after a 9-year gap between major releases.  I’m cool with that, though, largely because 1) Persona 4 was a masterpiece and I would gladly take more of that and 2) there’s nobody else who’s delivering the type of experience Persona does, so the model has not been spoiled or even really advanced in the interim.  Your mileage may vary on that front.

One of the few major shifts in gameplay mechanics comes in the form of dungeon design.  Namely, that there actually is some now.  I am excited for this.  Persona 3 and 4 had procedurally generated dungeons, which is almost never a recipe for compelling gameplay.  Now, at least in this first area, we’re getting premade dungeons.  I’m a little hesitant about this, because even at their best, the SMT series has never had great dungeons, but it’s still sure to be better than the randomly generated ones of the past two games.  The initial ones show some promise, playing into the stealth mechanics the game uses.  It puts a lot more weight on sneaking up on enemies and starting the fight from behind them than did previous games, and I got a lot more use out of obstacles, corners, and other dungeon features than I have in previous SMT games, so yeah, good signs here.

A lot of the renovations to the gameplay of Persona 5 seem to be drawing back from the mainline SMT series.  Once again, you have your player characters wielding both melee weapons and guns, which has been a mainstay of most of the Megami Tensei franchise but has been absent in the Persona series since the first game.  Demon negotiation is back, and it uses the classic Shin Megami Tensei call-and-response model rather than the activity/emotions system that the older Persona games used when they still had demon negotiation.  For that matter, I find it really interesting that the enemy shadows are now the traditional Shin Megami Tensei demons that had recently been only showing up as your personae, rather than the unique tarot-based shadows of the past two games.  In fact, that’s how you gain new personae, you talk to the demons once you’ve knocked them all down and remind them that they’re personae, and not shadows.  Given that these shadows are a part of the collective unconscious, and that assuming Persona 5 directly follows from Persona 4 it’s part of the same timeline as Shin Megami Tensei If…, the present-day Devil Summoner games, Persona 1 and the second half of Persona 2, in which these demons were running rampant all over the real world, well, it makes the Wild Fiction Theorizer part of me want to get busy.

While I’m in that vein, it’s not a gameplay feature, but the Persona series is set in Tokyo for the first time.  SMT games usually are, but the Persona series has avoided that thus far, preferring to go towards fictional cities and towns instead.  I find myself wondering if there’s going to something coming out of that.

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I haven’t gone into the plot long enough to make a good judgment on it, but I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.  It’s definitely one of those stories that’s going to take a while to come to fruition, so not wowing me yet, but I can see the same things that made me fall so in love with Persona 4 at play here.  I’m interested in seeing how it rolls out.  Themes of control, imprisonment, and crime are very strong, here.  The early marketing for this game promised that the story would be about breaking free from the imprisonments of the social order, and although I haven’t really picked up on that so far, I can see how theming that we’ve been given so far could translate into that pretty easily as the series progresses.  Thieves are heroes, authority figures are evil, and you need to save the world by criming.  I’m into the characterization, too.  I’d better be, because that’s been the strongest part of the series’s writing since the turn of the millennium.  Again, not been spending enough time to see things come to fruition yet, but I can see the promise there, so far.  I do find myself getting waaay too much of Morgana, the game’s mascot character, already, however.  So far, he acts like the bratty know-it-all you’ve seen in too many video game children so far.  I could turn around on him, I did on Teddie my first time through P4, but, you know, sooner would be better than later.

There is one big problem I’ve had with my time so far.  It’s something that’s not going to carry through the whole game, but I’ve been absolutely writhing underneath it.  The game has those tutorial rails on HARD.  Five and a half hours in, and I really don’t feel like the game has truly given me control.  You’re put in a whole new area that’s obviously deep and active and it won’t let you see a single inch of it that you’re not supposed to.  The game dictates where you go and when, which parts of the dungeon you see and when you have to leave, and so, so much of what you can’t do right now.  There have been a lot of times where I’ve wanted to go a direction the game wasn’t comfortable with me going yet, checking out a new store or some such, and I got the whole ‘you can’t get ye flask’ deal.  Every where I go, I’ve been running into limitations because the plots in a different area or the game hasn’t told me what to do yet.  And when it does tell me what to do, it will brook no disagreement.  I was forced to sacrifice my strongest persona because the game decided it was time to teach me about fusion even though I have played literally two dozen SMT games with that mechanic, and the only fusions I had available at my level involved that one persona.  Look.  I know I’m pretty, and some people think it’s impossible to have both looks and brains, but I’ve been around for a while.  I’ve played a game or two.  I know how to do it.  It feels so, so much like someone’s trying to teach me to walk like a baby when I’m capable of running a marathon.  It’s the biggest leech of fun in what should otherwise be a great experience.

So yeah, there’s my thoughts on this brand new part of my library.  To be honest, this game’s predecessors have meant so much to me that I’m almost certain to enjoy it even it’s a heaping pile of crap, so my objectivity is pretty busted, here.  Even so, I’ve been liking my time with it.  Brings a lot of the good from earlier in the series, draws on a lot of classic features, while the writing and characters seem poised to reach the heights that have been established by that which came before.  I’m liking it, even with that big tutorial tarnish.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear something calling to me.

The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective-Part 6, Other Characters

Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 4-Plot

Part 5-Player Characters

ANTAGONISTS

The Masked Circle

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These are the longest-lasting enemy group in the game, who you’ll be romping with for almost all the game’s plot.  The Masked Circle is a doomsday cult, led by the Joker, who seek to gather enough ‘Ideal Energy’ to destroy the world and drive humanity into a new golden age in space.  Yeah, the rumors allow pretty much anything to happen.  Those who make their wish with the Joker find themselves first forced to be a part of the Masked Circle, then sacrificed for their goals, their Ideal Energy drained from them until they’re left motivation-less husks.  Their leadership is made up of pastiches of your own group, as Jun seeks to replace your childhood crew with his own creepy cult fellows.  They lose a lot of steam after you break Jun out of his Joker guise, leaving them pretty much without leadership, but they do maintain a presence up to the end of the game, being one of the few organizations able to make a stand against the Nazi invasion.  Of course, they don’t stand for long against them, and they’re only fighting them towards their own twisted goals, but still, at least you’re not the only group putting up the fight.  You’re constantly running roughshod over them, interfering with whatever they have planned, but most of the time you figure out the full extent of their plans just after they put them into action.  Your interference only seems to make them stronger, too, thanks to your spreading the word about them and the power of the rumors at play.  At least until you start knocking off their leadership.  Once you reach that point, there’s no recovering for them.

Joker

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If you call your own cell phone number, the Joker will appear before you and grant you one wish.  At least that’s what everyone says.  Except that your crew tries it in the early game, and instead on sending you on a shopping trip to buy those larger pants you’re suddenly needing, he just sics a bunch of demons on you.  As stated previously, the Joker is Jun, still really, really pissed off at your crew thanks to the influence of Nyarlathotep and the false memories he has of all his childhood friends burning Maya to death.  To say his feelings towards you are troubles is an understatement.

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Joker is the head of the Masked Circle, he who directs their activities towards the fun, fun goal of destroying the world.  Making you suffer seems to mostly be a side project of his.  The Joker is all about ideals.  He highly values his own ideals, he respects other’s commitments to their own ideals above all else, and he thinks largely in terms of ideals.  As twisted as it is, he honestly believes that the destruction of the world and the ascension of its people are honestly what humanity wants.  Thing is, he’s much more of a big picture guy, and doesn’t much care for the individual.  So, the fact that thousands of people don’t really want their ideal energy drained away in pursuit of the Earth’s destruction doesn’t much matter to him.  He is completely serious about the Masked Circle and their goals, focused on them above all else.  He doesn’t even use them to go after you until you start messing with the circle first.

Like Guido/Kandori of last game, Nyarlathotep is his persona.  And like last game, Nyarlathotep ends up taking him over for his final battle in this guise, then flees his form once he’s defeated.  Free of Nyarlathotep’s corruption, Joker reverts to his old form, and joins you in undoing the mess he’s created.

King Leo/Tatsuya Sudou

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Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is Japan’s Foreign Minister.  Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is a bad, bad man.  Growing up in that environment did him no favors, compounding the troubles he already had with his schizophrenia.  He found a father figure in Jun’s dad, however, who helped him make some sort of sense of the voices he was hearing, believing them to be some sort of alien prophecy and codifying them into the Oracle of Maya doomsday thing the Masked Circle is buying into.

Some time after that, Sudou snapped.  Depending on how far back the rumor thing was in effect, this may have been a result of other’s beliefs about him, conflating his schizophrenia and his father’s bad reputation and thinking he was a violent figure.  Either way, he became a serial arsonist, and burned down the shrine kid you and kid Maya were hanging out in.  You broke out, Sudou stabbed you, and you awakened your persona and burnt out his eye.  I’m going to say you got the better of that one.  After that, he stalked Maya for a good long while, then joined up with the Masked Circle for reasons that are mostly up to conjecture, and serves as King Leo, the second in command to the order.

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Tatsuya Sudou, as should be obvious from the name unless you did the right thing and change your protagonist’s handle for something wicked sweet, is the counterpart for your lead.  Given Maya’s history with him, he serves to some degree as the Masked Circle replacement for her, too.  He’s an arsonist, so he likes blowing things up.  Throughout the section you’re dealing with him, he leaves behind clues that will lead you to buildings he’s rigged to blow.  You usually have two buildings at a time to choose from and have to pick the right one, enter it, and find the bombs in order to properly bring a halt to his deeds.  Or, if you’re of a lazy mind, you can choose the wrong one and skip a few dungeons entirely.  It culminates in a big encounter in an aviation museum where you have to rescue an entire field trip, beat him in a big slogknocking fight, and jet of there in an exploding blimp.  Probably one of the high points of the game, in all.  As you might guess, he gets a sadistic glee in death and violence, and actually burns a man alive by means of introducing himself.  His persona is Reverse Vulcanus. Continue reading

The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective, Part 5-Player Characters

Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 4-Plot

Part 6-Other Characters

Persona 2 came out in a time where video games, as a medium, was starting to deliver more than just the gameplay through the game.  Developers were putting more importance on plot, on presentation, and yes, on characters, among many other features aimed at delivering a deeper experience, at giving you something to enjoy beyond the mechanics.  Perhaps the biggest advancement Persona 2: Innocent Sin made is how it handled its characters.  Your cast was remarkably deep for its time.  So what do you say we explore who exactly we’re dealing with, here?

THE RUMOR MILL

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Your team, this time around, is a group of mostly high schoolers from all sorts of walks of life, brought together by circumstance and kept together by that one guy who just really, really hates you all for reasons you can’t understand.  You’ve all got the power of persona, the ability to call on the manufactured personality you use to deal with the world to smite your enemies, but, aside from Revelations:Persona alumnus Yukino, none of you recall actually getting that skill.  In fact, all of you bar Yukino have some very noticeable gaps in your memory.  There’s reason for this.

As it turns out, most of you knew each other as kids.  Quite good friends, in fact.  You all played the persona game together and thus were given your godly superpowers, and a few of you even awakened your personae as children.  All well and good, right?  Except for one of your friends.  Rather than a traditional personae, he got the embodiment of humanity’s capacity for self-destruction, who messed with your memories, corrupted your friend, and kicked off this whole game.

Most RPGs will give you a pretty sizeable cast for your main party, plenty of members to build an active party out of, switching in and out as you see fit.  Not so, in Innocent Sin.  Your party is almost entirely static, with only one member changing, and entirely dictated by the plot.  You’ve got absolutely no input into your group, so you better enjoy the team you’ve been given.

Personality-wise, everyone’s very distinct.  You’ve got the strong, silent type in your main, the genki girl Lisa, the manly bravado of Eikichi, the peppy optimism of Maya, the stoic Yukino, and the dour, reserved Jun.  For the most part, they play along pretty well.  Your group is a little dysfunctional, and it’s not unusual for spats or various ill-conceived activities to break out, but overall your team is pretty thick.  They don’t start out that way, of course, but that is one of Innocent Sin’s strengths, in that you get to watch your team growing closer together as you all learn more about each other.

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The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective, Part 4-Plot and Themes

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Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 5-Player Characters

Part 6-Other Characters

Plot

So, plots have always been more important in RPGs than in most other genres. If you’re going to be dragging the player around for like forty hours, if you’re going to be making them read a light novel’s worth of text, you got to have something going on to provide sufficient drive for all that. The Persona series in particular is known for being the more plot-focused branch of the whole Megaten franchise. So how does Innocent Sin stack up? Well, it’s got some growing pains, but you know, it’s still making a lot of steps in the right direction, and it’s definitely worth the experience. Namely, Innocent Sin uses something that you don’t see too often in video game storytelling, and that I raved about last time in the tone section. It has some subtlety to its storytelling. It doesn’t present everything up front, you’ve got to absorb and consider to get the full picture. Granted, the amount of actual depth there is pretty limited, but hey, for a PS1 era RPG released when everyone else was scrambling to catch up in the wake of the Final Fantasy VII bombshell, it does pretty well for itself.

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The plot in Revelations: Persona was pretty lacking. It was certainly there, but didn’t really aspire for more than to be a simple justification for the gameplay. Well, the Persona 2 duology has a lot more going on. Not only does the plot have some degree of focus in this game, but it actually goes back and makes the Persona 1 plot retroactively better. It’s Eternal Punishment, the second game of the duology, that relates more to Persona 1, but Innocent Sin still sets the groundwork for it. Namely, it makes Nyarlathotep, who you may remember as being one of the bad guy’s persona from the first game into his own separate entity, a master manipulator and the main villain behind this game. As it turns out, the last game was just part of a greater contest between him and Philemon regarding the whole destiny of mankind. They’ve taken the rather shallow conflict of last game and added a bit of depth by tying it into something greater. A really smooth way of handling it, in all. The plot here ties the series more closely to Jungian psychology than the original game had managed to. Of course, there’s the titular personae making themselves apparent, but the game also introduces the elements of shadows, those parts of yourself that you don’t want to acknowledge, and the idea of the collective unconscious, one of the more major tenants of Jungian psychology. The collective unconscious drives most of the game, in fact, giving rise to both your ultimate enemy and your most powerful ally, as well as granting rumors their reality-warping power.

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The narrative generally takes place over three phases. Or acts, if you’d like to fit it into the traditional structure. All of them are mostly conflict-driven. In other words, the plot’s drive works like almost every other game you’ve played before. The first starts off mostly down to earth, introducing you to your characters and setting up the conflict with the Joker, the cell-phone based wish granting genie that’s pissed off at you personally for something you don’t even know you did. Essentially, the first act is focused on building you into that world and your characters, and most of the conflicts are pretty interpersonal ones centered on relatively familiar locations. Your main is at the center of the first act’s plot, although each of the other characters get their own moments of focus. In the second act, Joker starts up the Masked Circle, a group of terrorists who serve as an analog to your own party. There, the conflict starts to expand a bit, as the Masked Circle are attacking the general public within Sumaru City, but thanks to them being largely focused on fighting you, and them being built of members that correspond to your own, it’s still a very small, personally-scaled conflict. Here’s where the idea of the global-destruction gets built, although it doesn’t really pay off with the Masked Circle. Your main, thanks in large part to being the silent lead, starts taking more of a backseat during this section, and the other members of your party end up leading more of the general happenings. And then come the Nazi’s. As often happens when they get involved, things blow up from there. The consequences finally hit the grand scale the SMT series is known for, with the Last Battalion and the Masked Circle duking it out over who’s going to rise as gods over the freshly devastated Earth. The character focus at this point shifts pretty squarely from the traditional members of your party to Jun Kurosu, the new member to join your squad in the final act. One thing to note here is that due to Innocent Sin being the first part of a duology, while most of the individual plot threads do end up wrapped up by the end, the overarching plot only just gets started here. You still end up creaming most of your major opponents and leave both the Masked Circle and the Nazis on the ropes, but you don’t beat all of them, and the game ends on a massive cliffhanger leading into Eternal Punishment. As for how the next game handles the lead, well, we’ll talk about that next time around.

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The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective-Part 1, Introduction

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Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 4-Plot

Part 5-Player Characters

Part 6-Other Characters

A bit of a change in format for this one. So, usually, when we’re doing these big retrospectives, we’ll just write up about twenty pages worth of text covering as much of a game as we’re able, add in some pictures usually shamelessly stolen from all over the internet, then put it up here in one lump sum. I’ve been starting to rethink that format, though. I’m not sure if just having one big, massive, 10,000 word+ post is best for myself the writer or for you the reader. So we’re going to try something new here. Something novel. Something that’s going to keep poor Matt from having to spend four reading sessions to get through the whole post. This time around, we’ll break things up, covering them topic by topic. We’ll divide the big massive study of this game into bite-sized, easily digestible sessions. Hopefully this will give a better experience for all involved. Sound good? Good. Let’s go!

So! Persona 2! I’ve been looking forward to doing this one. All the mainline Persona games have got some deep, deep roots in me. I’ve spent a good long while immersing myself in the series, and it’s one of the few franchises I actually consider myself passionate about. I’ve carved out a good bit of prime brain real estate for each of them. Yes, even the bad one. Persona 1 has it’s value as well.

Each of them, that is, except for Persona 2. Well, the first half of Persona 2. See, the second installment in this series has a really weird presence here in the western world. Persona 2 is a duology. Two games for the price of one. There’s Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, each telling half of the story. And way back when these games were new, Atlus, far from the bold and expansive localizer they’re known as today, decided to only release the latter game. The second half of the story. Flipping to the middle of the book and just starting from there.

There’s quite a few theories as to why that might be. Maybe it was because Atlus USA was a small department with too much on its plate at the time. Maybe it was because they couldn’t get it ready in time for the rush. Maybe it was because of the gay options in a time before America was ready for it. Maybe it was because of Hitler.

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Nobody knows! But the fact of the matter is that we missed out on the first installment of Persona 2. Eternal Punishment came out, and trust me, it was a bit of a challenge making sense of that alone. Still, I powered through it, and while I know that game well, Innocent Sin was always a gap in my Persona knowledge, only experienced vicariously, until finally, the game got re-released on the PSP a few years ago. It’s still the game I’m least experienced in.

So this installment of our retrospective series covers the first release in the Persona 2 duology, Innocent Sin. Eternal Punishment will get its own, probably shorter post. Just seemed like the best way to do things.

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Mark Danced Crazy for the Persona 1 Retrospective!

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I knew it. I freakin’ knew it. I suppose some part of me has known it all along. I’ve got something that makes me different. Something that makes me unique. And no, it’s not my incredible good looks. Although that does fit the bill, too. I’ve got a power, something no one else has. Right now, I’m just not sure what to do with it. Maybe I’ll be a superhero, using it to make the world a better place. Then again, I don’t think there’s much call for a superhero with the power to make developers release more games by writing huge amounts of words about a series.

Don’t give my that look. Once might have been a coincidence. Yes, you could easily write off the fact that I started writing a retrospective series about Saints Row, only for Saints Row IV to release, as mere happenstance. Twice, though, that creates a pattern. The very month I posted my introduction for the Persona Retrospective, Atlus announced the next games in the series. Not just one game, either. Four new Persona games, all as a result of me putting my powers to good use. World, you are welcome.

Of course, that does mean that I actually need to retrospect these games, for the magic to work. Which should be easy enough. The Persona series is one of my absolute favorites. All the games in the series are strong, except for… the first… one… euuuuuuuuuugh.

Now I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Some background information here. I wasn’t kidding when I said the Persona series is special to me. Years ago, I was just about ready to give up on JRPGs altogether, when I found my way to Persona 4. I was blown away by it, falling in love with its world and characters, finding myself completely immersed in its strategic gameplay several steps above what most JRPGs were offering, and being incredibly drawn in by the games characters. I love that game so much, I’d marry it if US law would let me. Those bigots. That game still remains the best JRPG I’ve played, and has a strong position as one of my favorite games. Working backwards from there was a joy as well. Persona 3 had its odd gameplay choices, but the story and characterization were both very strong and the game itself was quite fun to play. Persona 2 showed me an odd style of gameplay I never would have thought worked, but they actually managed to make a great offering out of it.

Then came Revelations: Persona, which managed to insult me on a personal level.

personacover

And no, it wasn’t the bad translation that did it. It wasn’t the old school design, the weird experimentations, or the excuse plot, although those certainly didn’t help. No, I can trace the piece that enraged me so much back to one specific moment.

Even if you play it bereft of context, the game’s still not very good. The dungeon design is horrible, the gameplay is overcomplicated, and the whole experience just shows a weird lack of thought. Still, I was firmly a Persona fan by the time I reached this game, so I was determined to stick it out and fully experience where the series got its roots. I did this for 30+ hours, finally reaching the final dungeon. The way dungeons were designed, you only ever got a save point/refresh station at the start. I had made use of those, then took my trek towards the final boss. I spent hours doing so, navigating the maze, the enemies, the various hazards, and managed to make it to the last floor. Just before I reached the boss, however, I was attacked by a new group of enemies. A group that quickly wiped out my party, save for my main character. Every enemy in this game has strengths and weaknesses, and those are a complete mystery until you’ve beaten them once. Fearful that any of my attacks could be reflected and kill me, I attempted to run. And failed. I tried again. And failed. I kept trying to run for seriously fifteen minutes, to no avail. My resistances were set up to where none of the enemies could damage me. However, not knowing what attacks they might reflect, I couldn’t safely strike out myself, without possibly ending my own life inadvertently. So I kept trying to run, but it wouldn’t let me go, no matter what I did. Finally, I tried casting a spell. Of course, it reflected and killed me in one blow. Back to the loading screen for me. Of course, with the way the game’s set up, the last save point was at the start of the dungeon, three to four hours earlier. All that work, all that time, wasted because the game refused to let me run and did not point more than one save point in that hours-long dungeon.

I immediately threw that game back on the shelf and never touched it for years. Not even after it got rereleased for the PSP. Not even when people tried to tell me it was a lot more lenient with the save points. Even when I had the PSP remake bought for me, I still never bother playing more than a token amount of it.

Eventually, I stopped being so bitter and gave it an honest try again. Still, some resentment lingers to this day.

So hey, there’s a note to start a good retrospective on, huh?

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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.