Juggling Time - Some Early Impressions Of Persona 3

I don't ordinarily blog about a game until I've seen a significant portion of it. The reasons for that are probably pretty obvious - I wouldn't want to misrepresent a game by saying things that might not be true, or make myself look stupid by bemoaning the lack of a feature that could only be half an hour's gameplay away. In the case of Persona 3, though, I feel like I can make an exception. I'm currently a little short of twenty hours into what I've been told will be a sixty-to-seventy hour journey. In that time I think I've seen enough of the different facets of Persona 3 to at least talk about a single aspect of the game, and how it's been instrumental in my enjoyment of this socially-oriented Japanese RPG - time management.

I called my protagonist 'Daniyu Kemasuta'. It's like my name, but Japanified
I called my protagonist 'Daniyu Kemasuta'. It's like my name, but Japanified

I'm sure I'm in the minority at this point, in that most of the Giant Bomb userbase has probably played and/or watched a Persona game by now, so I'll skip over the explanations. Initially the prospect of dividing my character's free time between dungeon crawling and interacting with NPCs seemed like it would be a bit of a boring grind, but in practice that couldn't be further from the truth. Each Social Link that I've established so far has begun to unfold a mini-narrative that's either genuinely interesting, genuinely funny, or both. I've found myself loosely planning out my week on a Monday morning, and have even got into a weekly routine that's served to streamline my social interactions and make juggling all those commitments just a tiny bit easier. So far I feel like I've been managing my time pretty effectively, spending enough time in Tartarus to maintain a steady experience gain, while also pouring as much of my free time as possible into keeping my acquaintances happy and studying for those pesky exams. I realise it probably sounds crazy, but I'm really, really enjoying this side of the game - a lot more than the combat, which feels pretty middle-of-the-road so far, or the Persona fusion, which I'm still not quite sure I've got the hang of.

I think the main reason that I've become so wrapped up in the schedule of Persona 3 is that I can still vividly recall what it was like to be that age and at school myself. I can remember the constant struggle to balance my time very well - in my final year of secondary school I was juggling no end of commitments. As well as trying to stay on top of my schoolwork and prepare for my A levels, I was working a part-time job, attending the local Youth Town Council meetings as a Councillor, playing darts one night a week all year round, playing cricket at weekends in the summer, and writing contributions for the school webzine. Alongside all that I was also striving to maintain healthy relationships with all my friends, practice regularly with my rock band, and every now and again play some video games. I know first-hand how difficult it is to juggle academic commitments with social ones and personal interests, and I think Persona 3 emulates that balancing act pretty damn well. Admittedly, we never had to save the world when we were at school, but you get the idea. To call Persona 3 a 'school-life sim' seems almost derogatory, but I really mean that in the best way possible.

I see quite a lot of both myself and my friends in the Persona 3 cast
I see quite a lot of both myself and my friends in the Persona 3 cast

What's even more impressive is that Persona 3 pulls it all off without sacrificing its cultural identity. Make no mistake - this is a Japanese game. From the anime cut-scenes to the J-pop soundtrack, Persona 3 practically oozes Japan at every turn. Thankfully, it does so in a way that still makes it approachable for Westerners like myself who have very little knowledge of Japanese culture. A big part of that is down to the fantastic translation work on the game, the best example I've seen so far being the MMO Social Link which has NPCs talking in abbreviated forms and leetspeak. What I find really interesting, though, is how that concept of time management transcends all cultural barriers. Even though the school and social aspects of Persona 3 are distinctly Japanese, they're still totally relatable to a Western audience because beneath the cultural dressing, we do exactly the same things. Strip away all that stuff and going for ramen with Kenji is really no different from grabbing a Big Mac with Fred. I guess that's part of why the Persona games translate so well, and have been so well-received here in the West. I know it's definitely a big part of why I've been enjoying the game so much.

A while back, I wrote a blog about my time with The Sims, and how my manipulation of those on-screen avatars was probably indicative of a desire for greater control over my own, real life. I think perhaps my enjoyment of the social routine in Persona 3 is hinting at something similar. As I write this I'm still unemployed, following over forty-five job applications in the last four months. The rough semblance of structure I once had at University is all but gone, and in its place is a spaceless notion of time - no commitments or appointments to keep, punctuated by unremarkable events and irregular sleep. To put it in perspective, I'm writing this blog at 6:30am after failing to get even a minute's sleep last night. It's safe to say I have no schedule, which is probably why my Persona 3 schedule means so much to me right now. In a crazy sort of way, it's providing me with the routine that I can't seem to pin down outside of the game.

I feel like I've picked up Persona 3 at just the right point in time. Still relatively young and fresh out of University, I can directly empathise with the game's school routine. Currently out of work and living a life where time is a relatively amorphous commodity, I can appreciate the rigidity of the game's structure in a way that makes me crave something similar outside of it. I'm really looking forward to finding out where the coming weeks and months at Gekkoukan High will take me, partly because I'm interested in how the story and characters will develop, but mainly because I'm really looking forward to working out how I'm going to manage my time before the next full moon. Thanks for reading guys, I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES (PS2)

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