A Reawakening

As an individual whose gaming career began with exposure to some of the greatest games of all time, (Street Fighter II, Sonic II, and Final Fantasy were the first three titles I ever played), the last dozen years or so have been disappointment after disappointment.  Sure, there have been some awesome releases; but as genres get more and more narrowly defined, and honed, games start to look more and more like one another, and even the good ones just do "it" better.  I was so hungry for something new that I started playing games in genres I didn't even like, and random stuff I'd find on discount racks, (No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, etc.).  Eventually, I gave in, turning into that Halo-playing, Guitar Hero-evangelizing kid who'll lay down $60 for the next iteration of whatever.

Fast-forward to this year, and, just like any good Giant-Bomber, I watched the Endurance Run with baited breath.  Like many, I picked up the title after about a week of watching Jeff and Vinny make their way through the first dungeon.  I wasn't expecting a whole lot, telling myself it was probably just a solid JRPG with above-average voice-acting, and a nice hook.  Indeed, even after sinking about 10 hours into it, that's all it was shaping up to be; yet, this would eventually be the title that would rekindle my love affair with gaming as a medium.  So, what changed?  Any devoted follower of the Endurance Run can probably already guess, but this was the first time in over a decade that I felt myself emotionally invested to a game's cast.  What so many games try so desperately to achieve with high-profile voice-actors, 'cinematic' cutscenes, and 'immersive' graphics, this last-generation JRPG brought to you by the publisher that brought you Amazing Tater has outshone them all.  As someone who only recently graduated high school, it was amazing to see just how spot-on they were, choosing to opt-out of the conventional androgynous protagonist, and buxom damsel-in-distress for a homosexual street tough, and a detective rubbing up against the harsh societal prejudices that still force gender-specific occupational choices.

Still, personality isn't always enough.  What SMT: Persona 4 does brilliantly is force you to care.  While offering only a seemingly superficial incentive for fraternizing with the multitude of other players caught up in the midst of this drama, it's enough for you to give every plot-line a chance to evolve and develop organically until you actually find yourself wanting to hear more regardless of what the gameplay benefits are.  As weirdly sad as this sounds, you develop relationships with these characters that are almost akin to real friendships, (see Vinny bummed out that Nanako got thrown into the TV). 

But, as much as it may seem, this is not so much a love letter to Persona 4 as it is a plea to would-be game designers and developers.  Make me care.  Give me a reason to identify with your character, don't just tell a compelling story.  Don't make my harmatia a weakness, make it my strength.  Do whatever it takes to make me powerful, but helpless, even if that includes killing the protagonist off mid-game if that's what it takes.  Sacrifice high production values to spring for a better writer, and most importantly, don't be afraid to have imperfect personalities, people that don't fit stereotypes that people find pleasing, or 'normal.'  It adds a depth that is the reason why some of us play games.

7 Comments
8 Comments
Posted by Seraphim

As an individual whose gaming career began with exposure to some of the greatest games of all time, (Street Fighter II, Sonic II, and Final Fantasy were the first three titles I ever played), the last dozen years or so have been disappointment after disappointment.  Sure, there have been some awesome releases; but as genres get more and more narrowly defined, and honed, games start to look more and more like one another, and even the good ones just do "it" better.  I was so hungry for something new that I started playing games in genres I didn't even like, and random stuff I'd find on discount racks, (No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, etc.).  Eventually, I gave in, turning into that Halo-playing, Guitar Hero-evangelizing kid who'll lay down $60 for the next iteration of whatever.

Fast-forward to this year, and, just like any good Giant-Bomber, I watched the Endurance Run with baited breath.  Like many, I picked up the title after about a week of watching Jeff and Vinny make their way through the first dungeon.  I wasn't expecting a whole lot, telling myself it was probably just a solid JRPG with above-average voice-acting, and a nice hook.  Indeed, even after sinking about 10 hours into it, that's all it was shaping up to be; yet, this would eventually be the title that would rekindle my love affair with gaming as a medium.  So, what changed?  Any devoted follower of the Endurance Run can probably already guess, but this was the first time in over a decade that I felt myself emotionally invested to a game's cast.  What so many games try so desperately to achieve with high-profile voice-actors, 'cinematic' cutscenes, and 'immersive' graphics, this last-generation JRPG brought to you by the publisher that brought you Amazing Tater has outshone them all.  As someone who only recently graduated high school, it was amazing to see just how spot-on they were, choosing to opt-out of the conventional androgynous protagonist, and buxom damsel-in-distress for a homosexual street tough, and a detective rubbing up against the harsh societal prejudices that still force gender-specific occupational choices.

Still, personality isn't always enough.  What SMT: Persona 4 does brilliantly is force you to care.  While offering only a seemingly superficial incentive for fraternizing with the multitude of other players caught up in the midst of this drama, it's enough for you to give every plot-line a chance to evolve and develop organically until you actually find yourself wanting to hear more regardless of what the gameplay benefits are.  As weirdly sad as this sounds, you develop relationships with these characters that are almost akin to real friendships, (see Vinny bummed out that Nanako got thrown into the TV). 

But, as much as it may seem, this is not so much a love letter to Persona 4 as it is a plea to would-be game designers and developers.  Make me care.  Give me a reason to identify with your character, don't just tell a compelling story.  Don't make my harmatia a weakness, make it my strength.  Do whatever it takes to make me powerful, but helpless, even if that includes killing the protagonist off mid-game if that's what it takes.  Sacrifice high production values to spring for a better writer, and most importantly, don't be afraid to have imperfect personalities, people that don't fit stereotypes that people find pleasing, or 'normal.'  It adds a depth that is the reason why some of us play games.

Posted by EvangelBlue

Well Said

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@Seraphim: Thing is, I believe that the type of game that can have characters that you truly care for are almost only found in RPGs since those are mostly story-driven.  But the sad truth is that most gamers couldn't give less of a shit if they cared for the characters or not.  They just want a fun game, therefore developers focus more on the gameplay, music, art style/graphics than story.  That's probably  why most games have a below average story.
Posted by griefersstolemykeyboard

Completely agree, nothing to add to this.

Posted by metalsnakezero

A lot of the great games I have do have these complex characters that fit in well with the story and theme of the game. I can see game with good gameplay like gears of war have these characters that we can't recognize with and it makes it hard to go back to the game. I haven't stop playing Persona 4 and other games with similar style of character development and identity and hope to see more of this in the future.

Posted by natsumesosexy

While Persona 4 certainly had some pretty fantastical elements, what stood out about that game for me was how much of it was how decidedly un-epic compared to most RPGs.  A personal gripe of mine re: RPGs is how empathic characters are usually sacrificed for bloated, grandiose plots.  Men with ruffled shirts and steam-powered cities talking about the existence of God or something.  And they always end up feeling a little too aloof and just silly.  Persona 4 kept it real.  Chie's shadow voicing how she envies Yukiko's looks and abilities while also deriving satisfaction from Yukiko's dependency on her?  Nothing ambitious or self-important, just honest themes.


Persona 4 restored my faith in the RPG as the potential genre for meaningful character development and interactive narratives.  It's got a long way to go, though.  Let's hope that whenever P5 comes out it can maintain this one's magic.
Posted by Crocio

Spot on!
What I'm wondering is that if the graphics themselves take away from the characters depth?

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@Crocio said:
"Spot on!What I'm wondering is that if the graphics themselves take away from the characters depth?"

Not the graphics, but perhaps the style of presentation.  If you look at Persona 3 or 4 and look at the actual character models, they look pretty bad and their mouths don't even open when they talk.  But that's why there's the anime image that appear next to the text when they talk; to show emotion and make the character seem more real.