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