By Video_Game_King 24 Comments
Well, this is certainly going to be awkward. For those of you unaware as to why, allow me to elucidate. A while back, I started this screenshot thread for Persona 3 in the hopes that it would quell my F8ing habits. Clearly, that hope died a prolonged death in a rainy ally, all alone, nobody to comfort it in its most terrifying moment. Fortunately, the fear that I've wasted my best material in that very thread, leaving this blog a hollow husk of words desperately trying to convey my enjoyment with this game, is only lying in a hospital bed somewhere while doctors poke it and scribble down its responses to being poked. Let's see if I can write more words than I took screenshots.
Now where the fuck do I start with this game? How about the pacing? Yea, sure, why not start with the hardest possible aspect of this game to describe? The story begins with local psychopath Brooklyn Rage riding into a town of afro-headed beasts and girls who consider suicide a hobby. Soon, he finds himself with an amazing power that essentially turns him into Japan's magical Batman, protecting the streets of Gekkoukan from the monsters of the night. Of course, by "soon", I mean "over what feels like a long period of time", because returning to my original point, the pacing is...weird? If you measure out the events in the narrative day by day, then this game slows to an absolute crawl. You're lucky if you get a major event every two months, at least in retrospect. I added that clause because it's very easy to feel like things are going really fast. Maybe not at first, when the game's easing you into its primary concepts, but give it time. Soon, Social Links and special events and other such things will have you feeling rushed cursing the name of Chronos as you demand more time for so many disparate events. Yes, it plays into the game's messages about time constantly moving forward, but.....actually, there's no end to that sentence. I just like that aspect of the pacing.
But ignoring that and considering the flow from event to event, Persona 3 ends up....still kinda slow. At almost any point in the story, you feel like you're in preparation for something bigger, even when the events that you're already experiencing are pretty big. This may be because the writers have the attention span of an excited cat, jumping to one shiny plot point only to abandon it just as quickly for the next. Uh oh, looks like Junpei's developing an inferiority complex about being a deuteragonist. Want to know how that's going to play out? Too bad. We're on Ken's introduction to the team. But not before we get to see what Akihiko's up to with his old buddy Shinjiro. It's a really disorienting approach to storytelling that leaves the overall product feeli-
Wait, why am I talking ill of the story? It's probably the best part of the game. Hell, I don't even know why I'm speaking ill of the pacing, because there are a couple of aspects of it that I really love. Namely, the plot twists. I know it's strange that a game like this can move so slowly and still catch you for a loop, but it's hard to deny that Shinji's death and Ikutsuki being a villain for all of twelve minutes and other such twists were predictable. At the same time, they fit really well into the overall story and take it in some interesting directions. And did I mention that Persona 3 really knows how to work over your emotions when it really wants to? It's almost like the developers knew what they were doing with this.
In fact, that's probably why I like the story so much: Atlus really fucking knew what they were doing with this game, as it displays a thematic focus and clarity that you don't see terribly often. Time moves forward for us all. Always look toward the future instead of wallowing in the past. Figure out a goddamn reason for living (or fighting, if you're a high school girl with mommy issues). You are going to see this message plastered absolutely goddamn everywhere in the game, from the high school kids who turn suicide into a superpower to the Christ allegory with a gun. Yes, it sounds incredibly forceful, but fortunately, the themes are worked into the story quite naturally. The story's easy enough to enjoy without examining its messages, and the game lays out its logic well enough that it never feels like the messages are strained or overly proselytizing, so it's quite clear that the writers put a lot of thought and effort into their end product. The only part I think they really overlooked are the Full Moon operations. Maybe you shouldn't have characters breaking the law on a whim because they're special and unlike everybody else, especially when half the characters are fucking psychopaths. (Do I even really need to explain that one?) Other than that, though, Persona 3 has the big picture thoroughly figured out.
It's just that in the smaller details, the story doesn't hold up as well. For instance, the Dark Hour, a mysterious time that opens up between midnight and the exact minute after midnight. Only a select few can access it, even though logic dictates that absolutely goddamn everybody should be aware of its existence. It's not taking place instantaneously; this shit occurs over the course of a full minute. How is somebody to ignore people moving around 60 times faster than normal? You can scream "transmogrified" and "Tartarus" all you like, but scenes like this and this and this kind of take the validity out of those arguments. That's not even getting into how physics work in this mystery realm, maybe because the game just makes crap up as it goes along to justify minor leaps in logic. I'd cite a few more examples of this nit-picking, but they involve some hefty spoilers, and for all the complaining about the story I've made in the past few paragraphs, trust me when I say that I want you to experience every goddamn word of it.
Because aside from the other reasons I've already listed, there are some really damn good characters to be found in this game. It may not look it at first, though, when half the characters are brutal psychopaths and the other are average to unlikable, but give it time. (Maybe midway through, when the game just decides to dump a slew of characters right in front of you.) You're bound to find somebody you like. It would be very easy to write this off as being due to the sheer volume of characters on display, and while that's definitely a major factor in their success, I'd say the writing's also a big component of it. Every character has their own memorable quirk or two and all the problems the characters have are easily to relate to, so it's easy for the game to move your emotions where it wants them to go. After all, who hasn't lost a dear friend or had an extremely possessive girlfriend? Even characters I didn't really like in the first place, like Yukari and Junpei, get their own redeeming nuggets in the story. The only exceptions are Keisuke the Clingy Sexist and Ken the Generic. But still, that's only two characters out of a cast whose size would make your average Suikoden game blush. What more could you want?
How about a feature whose sole purpose is to expose to more of the characters than you'd simply find in the story: Social Links! I've already discussed what makes the characters work, so that leaves only the actual mechanics to discuss. Within a Social Link? Piss easy! Just grab a matching Persona for the person you want to Link (preferably a high level one that you can fuse into something worthwhile later) and then remember to be polite and agree with every goddamn thing they say in the cutscenes that follow. And even that's not hard; most of the choices you're offered boil down to "Should I say that I'd like to hang out with them or urinate on their shoes?". You really have to go out of your way to fuck up a Link while you're in it. Outside it, though? That's actually very easy to fuck up. There's just so much to keep track of. Conflicting schedules, personal condition, tests and other such gaps in time, reversing. Don't get me started on the reversing (although that might be because it only happened to me once.) Quite a bit of the system is based on luck, but so much more of it is based on simply being aware of how the flow of time works in the game that it feels like the game's presenting you with a fair challenge. If you're somehow able to max every Link in the game, then you probably have more important things to do with your time, like maybe taking care of that impending Dalek threat.
But story and characters are only one half of the Persona 3 experience. An incredibly large half resembling Pac Man, but my point is that there's more to the game than what I've already listed. Namely, running around Tartarus and beating shit up. It's a nice, simple way to blow some time for a variety of reasons, like clear time limits, how the game encourages constant grinding, and the fast pace of the battle system. Sadly, though, another big reason is that the battles are ridiculously simple and easy. You only control your own character (more on that in a bit), and coincidentally, they're the only one allowed to use multiple Personae. Combine these two statements together, and every battle results in you spamming whatever elemental weakness is needed for the moment and watching the enemy flounder about. It's even worse if you've scanned the enemies before and have quick access to what their weaknesses are. The only reason you'd let your allies handle things is either because the mechanics back you into a corner or because you don't want to blow your SP load too early. Oh, and I guess there are also fusion spells thrown into the mix, but given how incredibly difficult they are to stumble across (I only found one on my own), it's best to treat them like an afterthought instead of a full-fledged feature.
What's that? Having AI partners whom you can't control adds an element of strategy to the mix? Well, discounting what I just said a moment ago about the other party members being accessories instead of full fledged partners....nope, not really. In order for this to be true, there would have to be a need to change how my allies behave in battle from time to time, and for the most part, that simply isn't true. They can handle themselves just fine and adjust their own behavior as they see fit. (Though I should acknowledge that exceptions arise near the end. Mitsuru will decide to murder anything within 95 billion lightyears of her sword, and Koromaru will ignore any elemental weaknesses just so he can play with his shiny knife.) It's good that this level of behavior was programmed into the various characters, but it removes a lot of incentive for me to play around with the various AI commands the game gives you. Have I made it clear that strategy isn't Persona 3's strong suit?
Meta strategy, on the other hand, is something this game has in spades. Not an easy thing to accomplish when your entire deck is full of wild cards. Before even picking your party members, you have to be completely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Same goes for your own weaknesses. Did you make sure that the Persona you just pulled out isn't weak to spells the enemies are casting? Or spells that you can cast (reflect is a bitch)? Because Persona 3 isn't the type of game to let you off lightly. Screw up even a little bit, and the game will bring the mighty hammer of Thor upon you to teach you not to slack off. Sometimes, you don't even need to screw up; the Reaper will still take your mortal soul away for all time. But if you actually put in the work and learn how things work, and you'll be rewarded with....well, those things I listed in the last paragraph. Believe me: it's better than I put it, especially given the strategy just oozing from every single hole this game possesses. Hell, even something like the All Out Attack requires careful consideration. Is it really worth it to damage all these guys when you know it'll knock them right back up?
And while I'm complimenting the game for a change, I might as well bring up the many gratifying boss battles. Those things I said before about the lack of strategy or AI commands? That's all gone. Combine the considerations for party strengths and weaknesses I talked about in this paragraph with the improvised strategy I kinda wish was present in the last paragraph, and you have this game's boss battles. This isn't even counting the scenario design of the fights. It's hard to forget something like a naked train lady or the wheel of fortune or the New York Knicks.
And while I'm "and I'm while"ing, how about I mention the graphics? For you see, this game's look is.....well, it's like the pacing: hard to describe, but I'll still fit in some really nasty things to say. Not about the actual game parts, though; those look fantastic. No, I'm talking about the anime cutscenes. The billions upon billions of anime cutscenes that, more often than not, look like crap. You want barely animated mouths? Here you go. How about faces with a glaring lack of detail? We have those in droves. No detail? That's here, too. Yes, there are some moments that look really well done, but they're just that: temporary fleeting moments awash in an ocean of bare designs. The music's alright, though. Has a modern sexiness to it that's hard not to like. (I know what I said.)
Unlike The Answer, apparently. Nobody seems to like that. Well, nobody except me, apparently. Yep, turns out I genuinely like The Answer inside and out. In it, we get to see how the various characters we've come to know and mock respond to the loss of a dear friend. You know, something the original game never gave itself time to explore in any meaningful depth. Surprisingly, it also delivers something that The Journey already has in spades: character development. How's that supposed to work when you're dealing with set characters whose pasts and foibles and whatnot have already been explored in depth in a story the game outright expects you to have played beforehand? Somehow, it finds a way, and for at least a couple of the characters, it works out really well. Who knew Ken could have something approaching a character? Because while he doesn't seem to have it when he's yelling about his mom, he certainly has it when he's yelling about his mom. Yea, maybe it drags on for a bit too long (blame Yukari for that one) and the conclusion could have been neater, but overall, it's a worthy addendum to The Journey that fulfills its role respectably enough.
Maybe it's the gameplay none of you liked in The Answer. After all, I can understand anger aimed at erasing all that progress you made over the 100 or so hours in The Journey, despite the game having clear access to your saves from it. That's difficult to justify, which probably explains why the game tries so hard to do just that, at least early on. But at its worst, this is only a temporary issue that resolves itself quickly. Soon, you're bumming around the halls of
Tartarus Basement Sand World, enjoying Persona 3 all over again. There's just one small change: the bosses are balls hard. Unless you're well prepared ahead of time, expect to have your ass kicked hard and any victories to be prefaced with the word "barely". But the key phrase in that last sentence was "well prepared ahead of time". That's what makes The Answer's bosses fun: they force you to be aware of your own elemental weaknesses and whatnot. After getting killed once or twice, you're going to head off to Igor to fuse away your faults, and then you're back off to battle, configuring your party just so and hoping everything goes as planned (IE that your partners' AI doesn't go rogue on you, because that's something of an occasional problem). There's a tangible enjoyment to working out how to take these guys down (both in and out of battle), and finally beating them only multiplies that level of enjoyment.
So the story to The Answer is alright, and the bosses in it are all kinds of fun. Where does the malice for it lie? Perhaps we can find out in the billions upon billions of notes I took for the game. Because this blog isn't long enough, I'm going to explain why exactly it's so long: 160 goddamn notes. The record holding game before this just so happened to be.....Persona 4? I guess this kind of thing runs in the family. Although looking back on that blog I just linked does raise some interesting thoughts. For instance, my prediction of 2014 was only off by a couple of months. Well done, past me. But more worthy of investigation is how my Persona 4 blog could have been longer. Does that statement apply to this? DEAR GOD, I HOPE NOT. I already feel utterly crushed under the sheer volume of words I just clacked out. There's no need to add more wood to the bonfire. In fact, how about I end things here before my hands rebel against me and try to squeeze my brain out of my head?
- How is it that such a strangely paced tale could be written so well?
- And how is it that a lot of the battles devolve into spamming weaknesses, but they still have strategy?
- And the graphics....OK, those anime cutscenes suck. But at least there's The Answer.
OK, you know what? Fuck it. This is a Renegade Ego first: I'm ending the blog early. It's just way too goddamn long. At over 3000* words, it's only a few words shorter than my Sonic CD blog. If I made a video review of this, it would last over twelve fucking minutes. Persona 3 should be enough to generate discussion value, so tune in next week when I cover...something else, I guess.
*Holy shit. I just realized that this is actually less than the number of screenshots I took of the game. Not even Edgar Allan Poe could write anything as horrifying as that realization.