Apparently I’ve made a habit of playing a new Persona game every summer. In 2017, it was Persona 5, 2018 saw Persona 4: Golden, and this summer I finally got around to playing Persona 3 Portable. Part of this newly formed annual tradition is practical. Persona games are not short, and I really don’t like taking breaks in the midst of big games when work starts to pile up, so summer is the best time to really dig in and enjoy games like this. Aside from that, it’s actually become something kind of special for me. I’ve mentioned previously that I somehow, at some point, started getting seasonal summer depression every year. So having a game from a series that I’ve grown to love to distract me, even for just a couple of weeks, and one that imprints itself onto my memory in such a warm and magical way that only the best kinds of video games can, has become invaluable to me. Even though I ran out and bought the PlayStation 2 versions of Persona 3 and Persona 4 when I fell in love with Persona 5, I ended up choosing the PS Vita version of P4: Golden and the PSP entry of Persona 3, because in both cases I’d read that slight improvements had been made to things like combat that appealed to me.
Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by how good P4: Golden looked on my big HDTV. The scaling on the PS Vita software must be great, because I didn’t see nearly the kind of mud or aliasing that I’d expected to, given that it was designed for a screen the size of a medium cell phone. P3 Portable, on the other hand, looked pretty ugly when I first booted it up. And, well, the next several times I played it as well. Not that I was surprised. It was made almost twenty years ago for a four inch, low res screen. But even in terms of artwork and design, I was initially struck by how much… simpler this game was, compared to P4 and P5? ‘Simple’ is not the right word, but I could see early on in the game that many of the design elements (like the fluid menu screens, use of a primary color theme, etc.) were present but perhaps not as polished or iterated upon/layered as they would become in later installments.
I’m sounding very negative for a game that I started this blog out implying that I liked very much, but my initial impressions were indeed somewhat muted by the lack of polish and the technical limitations. Speaking of technical limitations, even though I played this version on my PSTV, apparently the screenshot function doesn’t work for PSP ports, so I ended up using my phone to take pictures of my TV. So I apologize for any centering or blur issues, even though in many cases the pictures I took made things like fonts look softer and less jagged. Anyway, I want to say that all of these thoughts about how graphically inferior the game looked lasted a fairly short time. After getting into the story, and probably getting used to the visuals, I virtually forgot about the issue. Character, background, and creature designs were very familiar, so after a while the outdated graphics just didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game.
And enjoy the game I did – maybe not as much as P4 and P5, but the same emotional pull snagged me in this entry as well. There are a lot of things to like about these games, but I think it’s the cast of characters and the relationships you build with them that draws me in the most. I’ve said before that my absolute favorite games are the ones that stick with me when I stop playing them – the kind that I find myself absent-mindedly imagining myself living in when I close my eyes to go to sleep. The worlds of the Persona games are rich and colorful and vibrant, but without the many characters that inhabit them, they are lonely and dull places to fantasize about. P3’s cast isn’t my favorite, but there are some absolute standouts, like Aigis, Ms. Toriumi, Chidori, and, even though he doesn’t speak, Koromaru. These and other characters have such interesting and unique backgrounds and side-stories that they really bring the world to life. And, of course, one of my favorite features of these games is the romance system. Although, I, uh, I have a bit of a confession to make:
Okay, hold on, I know I look bad here, but let me explain. P3 doesn’t allow you to max out romanceable character’s social links without, well, romancing them, and not only did I want to max everyone, I also wanted to see every relationship play out for research. No, seriously! The Persona games are going to play a central role in my dissertation so I wanted to document the end of each relationship. But, you know what? Judge if you want, but I had a lot of fun dating everyone. There were a lot of fun ladies in this entry! And, as Chihiro will remind you:
So. Yeah. Take that. Anyway, the first woman I saw was Mitsuru, and with her red hair and motorcycle, I was convinced that she would be the one I would fall for. But after talking to her for a while, she seemed very stiff and all-business, and I couldn’t seem to break through the walls she had put up to keep people at bay. So my first girlfriend was Chihiro, and I actually thought she might be my Ultimate Boo, too, because she was so shy and nerdy and kind and pretty. Alas, it wasn’t to be. I was also very keen on Aigis, and she is definitely Ultimate Boo Number Two, but the universe has a way of bringing things full circle sometimes, so of course I ended up totally falling for Mitsuru after all. Sure, she was all work and no play early on, but once I got closer to her and saw a peek behind the curtain of her life, it made perfect sense, and I grew to admire that about her. She wasn’t a robot (no offense, Aigis!), though. She was sensitive, passionate, fierce, and a freaking genius. Oh, and drop dead gorgeous, with her crimson hair, high boots, and perfect face.
Okay, I’m letting the romance dominate this discussion, but a quick final note about the cast of characters. Playing these games in reverse order ended up producing exciting ‘cameos’ from characters in later games. The beach scenes were funny enough on their own, but I was literally laughing out loud when I saw Ms. Kashiwagi from Persona 4, because I knew what was coming. Obviously her appearance in P4 was more like a real cameo, but still. It was hilarious. And holy crap, President Tanaka is a dick.
P4 and P5 obviously had lots of religious and cultural design elements from other nations/religions, especially in the designs of the shadows. I always thought the idea of essentially summoning Christian characters such as Satan and Lucifer to fight for you was interesting and potentially provocative, depending on who you asked. So I was especially surprised and, to be honest, tickled, to see some incredibly blatant Christian symbolism in P3, far more than in the other two games. You can still summon Satan and Lucifer to fight for you, but this time one of the primary antagonists bears a striking resemblance to certain depictions of Jesus, halo and all. And at a certain point your entire party is crucified. Add this to the fact that your characters have to commit mock-suicide in order to summon their personas, and I am totally blown away by the lack of controversy surrounding this game. I guess it was niche enough to escape any serious mainstream attention. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course. I shudder to think of how the rest of the series might have played out if the original P3 had been legitimately censored or boycotted.
I haven’t been all that careful with spoilers here, but I’m usually pretty adamant about not being too explicit in explaining things so that I don’t spoil too much. But I can’t respond to the ending of the game without spoiling it in some sense. So, if you are concerned about that, skip ahead a bit. I’m not here to analyze it or anything, but I will say that it kind of fucked me up. I mean, the main character’s fate is technically implied, not explicitly spelled out, but it’s pretty clear that I died a slow, gradual death. Not only that, I did so in Aigis’s lap, just as she concluded her long internal journey of understanding her humanity and the fact that she will outlive me. I was happy to have the opportunity to run around and see my friends before the end, but of course many of them noted that I looked sick, which was hint enough to me that I was on the way out. Ugh, It was rough.
So once again I found myself completely immersed in and in love with a Persona game. I will eventually go back and play the first two games in the series, even though I hear they aren’t quite the same as the most recent three. Although I played through both P4 and P5 more than once, I don’t have time to play through P3 a second time, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to check out the female protagonist and how her story is, apparently, somewhat different than her male counterpart’s. Maybe I’ll have time again someday. Until then, I have other games to fill my time, like…
…Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight! I told you this was a Persona 3 extravaganza! I bought this game when it came out, but I didn’t want to play it until I played Persona 3 proper. When I first played Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, I was so enamored with the beautiful, crisp, high definition character models of my beloved P5 cast, and the original P5 was released less than two years earlier, meaning the leap in graphical fidelity wasn’t exactly huge. So imagine my response going immediately from the antiquated, twenty year-old P3 Portable to the same kind of glittering, gorgeous renditions of my now-also-beloved P3 cast.
My thoughts about this game are very similar to my thoughts about P5: DiS, because, well, the games were made in tandem and follow the same exact formula. I’m not complaining. It was a beautiful, fun extension of my time with these characters that I love. Most of the original P3 voice actors returned, and many of them sounded exactly the same, so it was an overload of sensory exhilaration. The gameplay itself is fairly basic but fun enough, and I love the attention to detail with the fun costumes, accessories, and levels, but the heart of the experience is seeing the cast interact with one another, their reaction to Elizabeth, and exploring their individual rooms.
So I don’t have much else to say about the game other than that I had a lot of fun and , thus, ended up getting the platinum trophy for it, but I will repeat something that I said about P5: DiS. Seeing the care that went into developing these great new character models and levels, and the willingness to hire returning voice actors, made me wonder if Atlus would go through all of this work just for these dancing games. Creating assets that can be used and reused is becoming pretty common practice in the industry because it saves so much development time and money, and it’s hard not to wonder if P5: DiS’s character models will end up in Persona 5 Royal, so is it that much of a stretch to think that there will be some kind of new version or reboot or spinoff of Persona 3? Maybe, maybe not, I suppose. But I for one would welcome a return to Gekkoukan High, Paulownia Mall, and anywhere Mitsuru wants to take me on a date. Because she’s gonna be my sugar momma. Don’t @ me, as they say.