The Social Network - Some Later Impressions Of Persona 3

- A quick note before we start - this blog is going to be a follow-up from (and in many ways a sister piece to) the Persona 3 blog I wrote last November. If you haven't already read it, I recommend doing so. It gives a pretty good impression of the first thing that made this game really resonate for me - the emphasis on time management. This blog concerns itself with the second thing - its highly memorable Social Links. It's also worth noting there will be some spoilers for the game, for both its main plot and the sub-plots of its Social Links, so if you'd rather not know how any of that pans out, I'd advise against reading this.

My time with the Journey portion of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES is drawing to a close. After starting the game about three months ago, I'm currently half-way through January (which, I've been reliably informed by both the game and a friend, is the last month in the game's calendar). The end of the world beckons, the promise of cataclysm just over two in-game weeks away. Logic dictates I should be spending near enough all my time in Tartarus, grinding levels and pushing to reach the top before the month ends. But instead of doing the sensible thing, I find myself frantically rushing around town, trying desperately to tie up the various Social Links that I haven't seen through to their conclusions yet. And not because I'm trying to fuse those top-tier Personas, either - I'm doing it purely because I want to see how each of these self-contained mini-stories ends.

It's the social side of Persona 3 I'm going to remember most

When I come away from Persona 3, it's going to be the socialising aspects that I'll remember most. Sure, the plot's been pretty neat, throwing up some genuinely surprising twists and a few incredibly dark moments. The nuances of the combat system have been fun to learn and experiment with, although it's pretty unremarkable from a mechanical standpoint. But over the course of my hundred-plus hours with the game, those things have paled beside the brilliance of the supporting cast that I've been interacting with at every possible opportunity. The characters of Persona 3, both playable and non-playable, have ingrained themselves in my mind over these last few months, and I'm sure they'll be staying there for many months (maybe even years) to come.

A big part of what I love about the Social Links in Persona 3 is the characters themselves. All of the Social Links I pursued featured characters that were well-written, believable, and full of personality without coming across as too archetypal. Take Kenji for instance - on the surface he fancies himself as something of a ladies' man, but as you spend time with him and witness the saga that unfolds between him and his teacher, you start to see the exoskeleton break apart, exposing a young man who's struggling to come to terms with his own insecurities as he has his heart broken for the first time. Another example that bears witness to the two sides of a person in conflict is the brilliantly-translated MMO Social Link. As the seemingly innocent relationship progresses you learn that the person you're talking to is actually your school teacher, revealing both the professional external appearance she puts on at Gekkoukan High and the internal battle that she faces as a flawed human being. A lot of the Social Links are like this, and every one is a joy to watch unfold. The believable, captivating character development played a major role in drawing me into the game's world and pushing to see how each sub-plot would end.

Seeing characters like Maiko coping with their losses is pretty inspiring

In my first blog about Persona 3, I speculated that my love of the game's emphasis on time management might have stemmed from a lack of structure in my own life at the time. I'm not going to suggest that the Social Links I've been cultivating in Persona 3 are substitutes for real-world friendships, but I do think there are aspects of the in-game socialising that mirror aspects of my own life, and that's been a comfort to me in my current circumstances. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of the Social Links in Persona 3 are tied to the concept of loss. This is something that I can really identify with at this point in time, having lost a great deal over the last few months. As a consequence, it was these Social Links that hit me hardest - whether it was the death of Bunkichi and Mitsuko's son, or the divorce of Maiko's parents, or the terminality of Akinari's illness, all their stories touched me in a way that I could immediately relate to. I don't think it's a coincidence that these were the first three Social Links I maxed. What's really comforting, though, is that all these stories end in a moment of hope and happiness. The old couple who run the book store learn to let go of their attachment to their son's persimmon tree. Maiko comes to accept that her parents' separation isn't her fault, and will make everybody happier in the long run. Akinari leaves this life having finished his story, and knowing that it all meant something. These heart-warming conclusions have been a firm reassurance to me that every cloud has a silver lining, and no matter how bad things might seem right now, something good will come out of it in time.

I'll get by with a little help from my friends...

At the start of Persona 3's end-game, the player is given a choice to make - whether they will kill Ryoji, the human manifestation of Death and the facilitator of the Fall, or spare his life. Killing him will not stop the world from ending, but it will rob the party of all their memories. This would leave them oblivious to the impending doom, but would also tear apart all the friendships and memories forged over the course of the game. Those who intend to see things through to the end and face Nyx choose to let him live instead. When I made that choice not to kill Ryoji, though, I wasn't doing it purely out of a desire to see things through. There was an element of that to it, but ultimately it was bigger and deeper than simply stopping the Dark Hour or saving the world. I made that choice because I didn't want all the incredible friendships I'd forged to count for nothing. I want to fight Nyx in order to preserve those friendships and safeguard those memories. They're what have really mattered to me.

When I finish the Journey, I don't plan to start playing the Answer straight away. In fact, I'm not sure if I plan to play the Answer at all - the Journey feels like a perfect self-contained story, and most of what I've heard about the Answer has been less than favourable. Perhaps the biggest deciding factor is that apparently the Answer is completely devoid of Social Links. Given how huge a part they've played in my enjoyment of Persona 3, I'm not sure I'd want to play more of the same game with that aspect stripped away. Instead, I plan to continue plodding through Skyrim. My spellsword Nord character is currently level 39, and now that I've finished the Companions quest line, I want to complete the College of Winterhold, Civil War and main quest before I put that down as well. There's also more Final Fantasy VII to endure, and I suspect I'll be putting out the next episode before the week is out. As always, thanks very much for reading guys. Catch you all around the site.

Dan

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

14 Comments
15 Comments
Posted by dankempster

- A quick note before we start - this blog is going to be a follow-up from (and in many ways a sister piece to) the Persona 3 blog I wrote last November. If you haven't already read it, I recommend doing so. It gives a pretty good impression of the first thing that made this game really resonate for me - the emphasis on time management. This blog concerns itself with the second thing - its highly memorable Social Links. It's also worth noting there will be some spoilers for the game, for both its main plot and the sub-plots of its Social Links, so if you'd rather not know how any of that pans out, I'd advise against reading this.

My time with the Journey portion of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES is drawing to a close. After starting the game about three months ago, I'm currently half-way through January (which, I've been reliably informed by both the game and a friend, is the last month in the game's calendar). The end of the world beckons, the promise of cataclysm just over two in-game weeks away. Logic dictates I should be spending near enough all my time in Tartarus, grinding levels and pushing to reach the top before the month ends. But instead of doing the sensible thing, I find myself frantically rushing around town, trying desperately to tie up the various Social Links that I haven't seen through to their conclusions yet. And not because I'm trying to fuse those top-tier Personas, either - I'm doing it purely because I want to see how each of these self-contained mini-stories ends.

It's the social side of Persona 3 I'm going to remember most

When I come away from Persona 3, it's going to be the socialising aspects that I'll remember most. Sure, the plot's been pretty neat, throwing up some genuinely surprising twists and a few incredibly dark moments. The nuances of the combat system have been fun to learn and experiment with, although it's pretty unremarkable from a mechanical standpoint. But over the course of my hundred-plus hours with the game, those things have paled beside the brilliance of the supporting cast that I've been interacting with at every possible opportunity. The characters of Persona 3, both playable and non-playable, have ingrained themselves in my mind over these last few months, and I'm sure they'll be staying there for many months (maybe even years) to come.

A big part of what I love about the Social Links in Persona 3 is the characters themselves. All of the Social Links I pursued featured characters that were well-written, believable, and full of personality without coming across as too archetypal. Take Kenji for instance - on the surface he fancies himself as something of a ladies' man, but as you spend time with him and witness the saga that unfolds between him and his teacher, you start to see the exoskeleton break apart, exposing a young man who's struggling to come to terms with his own insecurities as he has his heart broken for the first time. Another example that bears witness to the two sides of a person in conflict is the brilliantly-translated MMO Social Link. As the seemingly innocent relationship progresses you learn that the person you're talking to is actually your school teacher, revealing both the professional external appearance she puts on at Gekkoukan High and the internal battle that she faces as a flawed human being. A lot of the Social Links are like this, and every one is a joy to watch unfold. The believable, captivating character development played a major role in drawing me into the game's world and pushing to see how each sub-plot would end.

Seeing characters like Maiko coping with their losses is pretty inspiring

In my first blog about Persona 3, I speculated that my love of the game's emphasis on time management might have stemmed from a lack of structure in my own life at the time. I'm not going to suggest that the Social Links I've been cultivating in Persona 3 are substitutes for real-world friendships, but I do think there are aspects of the in-game socialising that mirror aspects of my own life, and that's been a comfort to me in my current circumstances. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of the Social Links in Persona 3 are tied to the concept of loss. This is something that I can really identify with at this point in time, having lost a great deal over the last few months. As a consequence, it was these Social Links that hit me hardest - whether it was the death of Bunkichi and Mitsuko's son, or the divorce of Maiko's parents, or the terminality of Akinari's illness, all their stories touched me in a way that I could immediately relate to. I don't think it's a coincidence that these were the first three Social Links I maxed. What's really comforting, though, is that all these stories end in a moment of hope and happiness. The old couple who run the book store learn to let go of their attachment to their son's persimmon tree. Maiko comes to accept that her parents' separation isn't her fault, and will make everybody happier in the long run. Akinari leaves this life having finished his story, and knowing that it all meant something. These heart-warming conclusions have been a firm reassurance to me that every cloud has a silver lining, and no matter how bad things might seem right now, something good will come out of it in time.

I'll get by with a little help from my friends...

At the start of Persona 3's end-game, the player is given a choice to make - whether they will kill Ryoji, the human manifestation of Death and the facilitator of the Fall, or spare his life. Killing him will not stop the world from ending, but it will rob the party of all their memories. This would leave them oblivious to the impending doom, but would also tear apart all the friendships and memories forged over the course of the game. Those who intend to see things through to the end and face Nyx choose to let him live instead. When I made that choice not to kill Ryoji, though, I wasn't doing it purely out of a desire to see things through. There was an element of that to it, but ultimately it was bigger and deeper than simply stopping the Dark Hour or saving the world. I made that choice because I didn't want all the incredible friendships I'd forged to count for nothing. I want to fight Nyx in order to preserve those friendships and safeguard those memories. They're what have really mattered to me.

When I finish the Journey, I don't plan to start playing the Answer straight away. In fact, I'm not sure if I plan to play the Answer at all - the Journey feels like a perfect self-contained story, and most of what I've heard about the Answer has been less than favourable. Perhaps the biggest deciding factor is that apparently the Answer is completely devoid of Social Links. Given how huge a part they've played in my enjoyment of Persona 3, I'm not sure I'd want to play more of the same game with that aspect stripped away. Instead, I plan to continue plodding through Skyrim. My spellsword Nord character is currently level 39, and now that I've finished the Companions quest line, I want to complete the College of Winterhold, Civil War and main quest before I put that down as well. There's also more Final Fantasy VII to endure, and I suspect I'll be putting out the next episode before the week is out. As always, thanks very much for reading guys. Catch you all around the site.

Dan

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

Posted by Cloudenvy

I love Persona 3 so much, I was surprised at how much more I enjoyed the story and the majority of the social links compared to Persona 4, both are fantastic games though.

Also; DON'T PLAY THE ANSWER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

As we were discussing earlier, I took more of a clinical approach to several of the S-links in order to maximize the Personas I was using, but I wish I had the energy to go back through and play it your way. While some of the S-links I picked mirror yours, such as the old couple (whose story I enjoyed), there were some that just didn't jive with me. I mentioned Bebe already, but the sports S-links and my relationships that bloomed out of them (I think I picked the swimming links, with a relationship blooming with the young woman involved in another sport - soccer maybe?) weren't exactly thrillers. However, at that point, I was playing the game to maximize efficiency in combat, as I'd heard the games could be ridiculously tough. Knowing what I know now, though, I'd like to go back through and make picks naturally - something I fully intend to do with Persona 4.

Moderator Online
Posted by Aus_azn

While I liked P3 nonetheless, I just liked how P4 wasn't as...dark? Well...you get what I mean, I hope. Doesn't stop both of them from being among my favorite games of all time.

@Cloudenvy said:

Also; DON'T PLAY THE ANSWER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER.

THIS MAN SPEAKS THE TRUTH.

@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

However, at that point, I was playing the game to maximize efficiency in combat, as I'd heard the games could be ridiculously tough. Knowing what I know now, though, I'd like to go back through and make picks naturally - something I fully intend to do with Persona 4.

You have a lot more leeway with building social links in P4. To max out everything in P3, you literally had to be flawless, no exceptions, and the game's difficulty didn't really make it less imperative that you made the right choices. I'll be honest, I used a guide with P3 because of how badly I got owned the first time around (where I hit a wall and couldn't advance because of how hard it was).

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Aus_azn: That's really good to hear. I don't suspect I'll be playing Persona 4 for quite some time, but when I do, it's good to know I can be a bit more casual. I didn't have a super rough time with Persona 3, but I'll admit, until I could have full control over picks of my team, I had a pretty rough go.

Moderator Online
Posted by WilltheMagicAsian

@Cloudenvy said:

Also; DON'T PLAY THE ANSWER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER.

This, tenfold.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

It's nice to see that my random suggestion of this game over Deus Ex a few months ago has proven enjoyable. Not really sure what else to say that I haven't said already, other than the part where I took a fairly surgical approach to S. Links with a very min/max-y mindset. Oh, and @Cloudenvy said:

Also; DON'T PLAY THE ANSWER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER.

I now have a PSP and I got Persona 3 Portable with it. If I ever get around to playing the girl's route maybe I'll write something on it. I'm not sure if starting a 60 hour RPG when I have a few more midterms to go is a bright idea however.

Posted by Pepsiman

As other people have been saying, you can (and probably should, really) pretty safely avoid playing The Answer because, as you suspect, it kind of tarnishes what was originally a perfectly fleshed-out, self-contained experience in The Journey and takes it in some weird and awful territory. You will not necessarily come away from it still fond for certain characters and that's mostly because the writing doesn't really do a good enough job of justifying the changes they undergo. You learn a few extra details about the nature of Personas and Shadows (although they're all basically included in 4's plot) and the ending has some interesting implications involving 3's ending and the game's overall relationship to the rest of the series, but none of it is really executed well enough to justify the 30+ hours of nearly non-stop combat. Most egregiously, it takes 3's superb ending and drives it to the ground in ways that still irk me to this day. I love 3 and 4, but The Answer is very much so an unnecessary black sheep. 4 barely recognizes its existence at all anyway and only openly acknowledges it completely in a subplot you can't even complete until a new game plus anyway.

But yeah, like you, the Social Links are what resonated with me the most when I went through the game for the first time. Right when FES came, I was in a pretty narcissistic place in my life, having broken ties with two of my closest friends at the time right before graduating from high school. There's no need to delve into specifics, but suffice it to say, after a few months of ongoing fighting, I was just tired of it all and Persona 3 gave me the chance to get immersed in something other than my troubles for a few weeks. I went into it expecting a pretty interesting game and came out of it blown away by the sheer power a well-written cast of characters could have on my gameplay experience. The fact that Atlus lets you see that they're all flawed without being unnecessarily self-indulgent and that their outlook on life has as much to do with their own interpretation and perspective as it does with actual circumstances did a lot in helping me cope with my own issues. As somebody with next to no real interest in role-playing games prior to playing it, it really opened my eyes as to the potential the genre has at its best, even when it plays its card pretty traditionally in terms of battle mechanics like 3 does. I'm ultimately of the opinion that 4 is ultimately an even more refined and enjoyable narrative experience in that regard (not to mention that Atlus actually made an effort to integrate Social Links directly with the battle mechanics to make your relationships feel really impactful), but I know that game owes its existence to 3, which still help up for me surprisingly well when I went back to it a few years ago for the PSP edition.

Posted by OriginalGman

Wow, I'm very surprised by the universal hate for The Answer, and I don't remember seeing it AT ALL before this blog post. I understand people's grievances with it, not least of which being all the combat and lack of a compendium, but other than that I thought it was fine for what it was. I wasn't expecting a journey as satisfying as The Journey, obviously, and it certainly did Answer a few things (see what I did there?). Planning your persona fusion way ahead of time was my least favorite part, but getting to learn so much more about all the characters was a great reward. There were some great animated cutscenes, and a much higher concentration of them than the main game had! And did you all forget the big fight at the end? Not the final boss, the battle before it, that had one of my favorite songs from any Persona game.

Was The Answer necessary? Maybe not, but small additions to the end of any RPG are probably unnecessary if it was a good game to begin with and offered a satisfying ending. But if you just want to play more Persona 3, and you probably will, then there is no reason not to play The Answer. It exists, it's part of the canon (probably), and if Persona 4 taught us anything, it's not to look away from the truth.

Posted by Hailinel
@OriginalGman The Answer exists, but it is still terrible. A align of combat and characters that are assholes to each other for no reason. Don't play it if you don't want the enjoyable parts of the game spoiled.
Edited by Cloudenvy

@OriginalGman: A lot of people think that The Answer effectively ruins a couple of characters and completely destroys the perfect ending of Persona 3.

It's not about not being as satisfying as the main game, it's about completely destroying what they did in the main game.

Posted by OriginalGman

@Cloudenvy: @Hailinel: The Answer actually made me like a lot of characters more, Aigis and Yukari especially. I fail to see how they destroyed anything, but whatever, I'm not here to argue that. I've just never before see this kind of outpouring of dislike for the expansion, as before today I thought it was well received by almost everyone. Either way, I don't think that "keeping the story pure in your mind" is worth depriving yourself of getting to play more Persona 3, which The Answer offers. If you never want to play a Halo game again because they added a giant plant monster, I guess I can understand where you're coming from, but you're going to miss out on some amazing games.

So I'll restate: The Answer is not terrible, and I have no idea where all this hate is coming from.

Posted by Cloudenvy

@OriginalGman: This is really the first time you see dislike for The Answer? it's almost universally hated by Persona 3 fans on GiantBomb and it's been hated on multiple times in various Persona 3 threads.

I really can't comprehend how The Answer made you like Yukari more, I really can't. It's not necessarily about keeping the story pure in mind, but rather I think The Answer adds nothing of value to the story of Persona 3.

But hey, if you're only in it for the gameplay then by all means.

Posted by OriginalGman

@Cloudenvy: Outside of dislike for the lack of compendium, yeah, I've never seen this many people hate on it. It's fine if you all hate it, but telling someone else who has no idea what it's about to avoid it just so the characters never change in their minds just seems irresponsible to me. You said it completely destroys what they did in the main game, so choosing to ignore it IS keeping the story pure in your mind, as I said. I guess this is the reason I don't hang out on message boards too often.

I'll be the first to admit that the gameplay in The Answer gets repetitive, that's not the draw. It's still satisfying to fuse persona, and the challenge was nice, but The Answer definitely DOES add to the story of Persona 3, and has some of the best boss battles of the game. I'm just trying to offer a counter-argument to a guy who I think deserves to play The Answer, not about whether or not you think Yukari is a bitch. (PS: she's only kind of a bitch)

Edited by Cloudenvy

@OriginalGman: Only kind of a bitch? you're crazy.

"I'm totally okay with fucking up my friends to see the dude I love again"

I'm asking him to avoid it because I think it's worth nothing, I don't think it's a good piece of content and I absolutely do not think it's worth playing through and I don't think it adds anything of worth to the story of Persona 3. That's why I'm saying that he should not play it.

If you think differently then fine, we have to agree to disagree.