Sunday, August 02, 2009

Persona 3

A few thoughts on the video-game I've been putting most of my video-game-playing-time into recently. It's fairly interesting, and I've been getting some 'razzing' on the matter, so.

This is a game about a group of high-school students who blow their brains out on a regular basis. (To fight monsters.)

So, yes, this. But there's more to it than that.

There's a lot of stuff in the game. It's a JRPG, which means that the game only really started an hour-and-a-half in (ridiculously!), and, sixteen hours into it, now - more, really, but a few restarts mean that the recorded time is somewhat less than the real one - I'm still perhaps a fifth of the way in. And that's only for the first campaign. See, this is Persona 3 FES, which has an added campaign nearly half as long as the first one - total estimated playtime, for the two campaigns combined, of about 100 hours...


Back to the point: first, there's story. Which is decent enough, more for the characters than anything else. (They're quite likeable, I find.) Then there's the combat: turn-based, indirect control of party-members, based on knocking enemies down by hitting them with their elemental weaknesses, then piling onto them in a cartooney ball of smoke. There's the titular Personas that you use to fight - the ones that you summon by shooting yourself in the head - which can be collected, leveled (independent of your character's level), fused, and turned into weapons. Like, swords. There's a shop for it.

Then there's the equipment. The side-quests. The Persona-combinations - I've already mentioned them, but there's such a ridiculously complex system involved that I feel I should mention it twice. Frankly, it puts me a bit out of my depth. There's all that... but that's not the part I'm most interested in.

It's the noncombat stuff that's most compelling to me. You are a junior in "Gekkoukon High School" - which the infamous "sib-sib", schooled in all aspects of Japanese, informs me translates to something like "School High School" - and, each day, you have some amount of time to spend on extracurricular activities. (Your nights are split between addicting yourself to coffee to improve your 'charm' and delving into the monster-filled interior of the dark tower Tartarus. Well, the coffee thing might just be me. But the monster thing is pretty general.)

In a given day, you might have many options. You could attend swim practice - or Kendo practice, or track practice, depending on which club you decided to join. Or you could attend a Student Council meeting. Or you could give money at a shrine, to improve your academics. (This is, as far as I can tell, the best way to improve your academics. Far better than studying.) Or you can take a girl from another world on a date. Or you can just throw up your arms and play video games.

But you can only do one of them.

There is a finite amount of time in the game. The calendar stretches for a year, though the internet-men inform me the actual length of the game is closer to ten months. Every day, you have pretty much only one thing you can do. (If that. Sometimes you're caught in exams, or similar situations.) And there's always a hundred things demanding your attention - an ever-increasing number of relationships to be maintained and improved.

(Why do the relationships matter? Why, because they dramatically increase the power of the Personas you can fuse, of course. It's a purely pragmatic thing. Befriend people, gain increased power.)

(Very, very weird.)

That choice - that tension-filled, perpetual decision of which thing you're going to spend your scarce time on today -

That is the thing I like most about Persona 3.

(Just wish I would stop dying to random encounters. Even on Normal, the combat can be hard. Sheesh.)

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